Danish study disproves cell phone-related cancer … or does it?

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Move aside “Mythbusters,” Danish researchers may have just busted the most feared urban legend of our generation.

A team of six from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen recently published a study which they say disproves the myth that cell phone use can increase the risk of brain cancer.

The study looked into the health of 350,000 people over the age of 30 who subscribed to mobile phone contracts. Researchers compared the rate at which they had brain tumors to the rates of those who were non-subscribers over a 17-year period.

The study should provide relief to weary consumers who saw the May report from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer which listed cell phone use as a “carcinogenic hazard,”  the same category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.

However, Dr. Steven Graves, a highly decorated scholar and former associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the way the Danish study was conducted raises some doubts.

“It is a retrospective study, that is it evaluates data collected previously, as opposed to being a study collecting new data to specifically answer a scientific question,” Graves said. “These types of studies are considered less strong than prospective studies.”

Graves said another limitation of the study was the actual amount of phone use by subscribers in the study sample is unknown. The investigators were only able to compare cell phone subscribers to non-subscribers. While one could infer an average amount of phone use for subscribers, Graves said, there was no way to measure whether the individuals in the study used their phone once a day for a few minutes or multiple times a day for many hours.

Despite those limitations, Graves said there was absolutely no evidence in the study to attribute cell phone use to an increased incidence of brain tumors.

“I think that it is reasonable to conclude that cell phone use in most individuals is unlikely to increase the risk of brain cancers,” Graves said. “Future studies may be able to determine whether longer exposure carries a small risk, but I think that all the hype around cell phone use and that causing cancer is mostly hype and not fact. ”

 

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