Study Cell Phone Risk

Posted Dec. 27, 2009, at 6:47 p.m.

A Maine lawmaker is proposing that cell phones include a label suggesting a link between their use and brain cancer. Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, argues that enough studies have suggested the link, and so a better-safe-than-sorry approach is warranted. No other state has enacted such legislation, though San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom wants that city to require a similar warning.

Independent, sound science should drive any such mandated warnings, and to date, there is no definitive study making the connection between cell phone use and brain cancer. In fact, there have been studies that show the contrary.

ScienceDaily reports on a study released earlier this month published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. There has been “no substantial change in brain tumor incidence among adults 5 to 10 years after cell phone usage sharply increased,” ScienceDaily reported, summarizing the study. A doctor with the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Danish Cancer Society helped collect and analyze the annual incidence rates of two kinds of brain cancer. The researchers considered 60,000 patients who were diagnosed with the two types of brain tumors between 1974 and 2003.

“The researchers found that incidence rates over this 30-year period were stable, decreased, or continued a gradual increase that started before the introduction of cell phones,” according to ScienceDaily. “They also found no change in incidence trends in brain tumors from 1998 to 2003,” when cell phone use increased greatly.

The researchers recommended more follow-up study.

That’s a reasonable approach. Rather than mandate warning labels, those concerned about cell phones, and the potential health threat posed by their electromagnetic radiation, would do better to lobby Congress to attach a one-time fee to the nation’s largest manufacturers and sellers of mobile phones. The money raised should be dedicated to an extensive, independent study of the effects of cell phone use.

It is entirely possible that a health threat may be found. Cell phones have not been around long enough to draw definitive conclusions, so a longer-term study is needed. In Maine, there are an estimated 950,000 cell phone users among the state’s 1.3 million population, so getting accurate information is critical. Labels based on less than clear science will only generate fear and confusion.

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