A new study published in the Journal of Public Health and Environment shows a clear and drastic rise in the number of deadly brain cancers in recent years, raising the debate that a contributing factor is the widespread use of mobile phones. A research team analyzed nearly 80,000 brain tumors over the last two decades and found that new cases of brain cancer now more than double on a yearly basis compared to the rates at the beginning of the study.
The cancer is a specific type of brain tumor that is highly aggressive and has extremely poor outcomes. This type of tumor is called Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), the same cancer that United States Senator John McCain is currently battling, and that also took the life of Senator Edward Kennedy back in 2009.
In 2015, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks published research that cell phone usage shows no verifiable increased risk in brain tumors. The recent study by the Journal of Public Health and Environment clearly contests this claim and once again opens up the debate among scientists and experts in the field.
Cancer.gov has published an extensive fact sheet on cell phones and cancer risk, and despite naming several formal studies, refrains from giving even a basic answer to the question, "yes" or "no." Cancer.org's current paper on the subject offers little else and those who go to the site seeking an answer will find a vast amount of information but be hard pressed to find the objective truth: does cellphone use increase the risk of brain cancer? It would seem that no one really knows.
Searching through news articles one will find a wide range of answers from "the risk is virtually non-existent" to "the risk is small" all the way to "there is a definite link". And while this latest study leans on the side of "definite risk", there is much research left to be done before we have a sure answer.
Lion Shahab, a senior lecturer in epidemiology and public health at University College London, said in a written statement, "This paper provides evidence for a rise in specific malignant brain tumors in England, showing that incidence has more than doubled over the last two decades. What the analysis does not show is that this rise is caused by mobile phones."
Yet even so, other experts state nearly the opposite, that just because it isn't "proven" that cell phones increase risk, it is "likely" that they do. No one has proven, with 100% certainty, that climate change is caused by humans, the science merely says it is "likely". In the same regard, we cannot say that just because something isn't proven doesn't mean it isn't likely.
So what is the proper course of action for all of us? Should we be afraid to use our cellphones? According to statistical cancer data, Glioblastoma Multiforme is an extremely rare cancer making up less than 1% of all newly reported cancers, even taking into account today's wide usage of cell phones. With this in consideration, there are few, if any experts recommending to avoid cell phone use. Many experts such as Mr. Shahab are apt to point out that simply because brain cancer rates have risen does not therefore prove that phones are the cause. So what does the latest research actually say, if scientists are still in such sharp dispute over the iphones people carry around with them?
When the science about any subject impacting human health is in the throes of a robust debate, a proper response from the public is to proceed normally, but cautiously. If a person was handed a closed box and told "there might be a sleeping baby in this box, or there might not be", it would be foolish to throw the box off the balcony until you first confirm a baby is not contained in there. You handle the box cautiously until you open it. This same logic applies to cell phones. Because cell phone use may be harmful, it only makes sense that we use them cautiously until we rule the question out (or in). It is recommended by scientists that this cautious approach means not sleeping with a cell phone close to your head, keeping it out of your pocket where it is pressed against your skin, and limiting conversations to reasonable lengths of time.
Health professionals say to refrain from creating additional stress or anxiety over phone use because the research may still be several years out. Psychological research also advises that if something is the source of anxiety, then one should take it out of their life. This means that if using a cell phone creates undue anxiety, then stop using it, or at least greatly reduce it. And if someone else is unaffected by all the controversy, then the only wise judgment to be made is to proceed normally, but with caution, until such time that scientific research provides more clarity.
Arthur Hunter is a computer programmer and co-founder of Theravive. He has been in the tech industry for over 20 years, with multiple Microsoft certifications. He has a love and passion for the intersection of technology and mental health and how the gadgets we use and the time we spend on them play a part in our mental well being, for better or worse. Together with his wife in 2007 they founded Theravive, which currently has thousands of licensed therapists and psychologists. He enjoys writing on occasion, reporting on mental health and technology. You can reach Arthur at 360-350-8627 or write him at webadmin - at - theravive.com.