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New research suggests that the risk of brain tumors in children and teens associated with routine cell phone use is probably quite small.
CELL PHONE USE IN CHILDREN AND TEENS AND BRAIN TUMOR RISK
A possible link between cell phone use and brain tumor risk continues to cause concern among cancer experts. However, because it would be unethical to intentionally expose human research subjects to prolonged periods of cell phone radiation exposure, it is not possible to perform a prospective, randomized, blinded study to completely resolve this important potential health issue. Because of this human research limitation, we are left with retrospective research studies that have attempted to estimate potential health risks associated with cell phone exposure (based primarily upon self-reported cell phone use among patients with brain tumors and those without brain tumors). Therefore, it is not surprising that there are conflicting research results on this topic, with some studies suggesting an increased risk of brain tumors associated with prolonged cell phone use and other studies finding no apparent increased risk of brain tumors with cell phone use. (I discuss much of this available research in my book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race.)
Because cell phone use clearly exposes the head and brain to some level of microwave radiation (and particularly when cell phones are used without hands-free devices), there has been particular concern about the possibility of brain injury and brain tumor formation among children and adolescents who use cell phones, as not only are their skulls thinner than those of adults, but their rapidly growing brains are thought to be more sensitive to any insults that might increase the risk of brain injury or brain tumor formation.
A newly published clinical research study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, represents an important advance in our understanding of the impact of cell phone use on brain tumor risk in children and adolescents. This European study is a case-control study, which compared children and adolescents (ages 7 to 19 years) who were diagnosed with brain tumors with “control subjects” (i.e., healthy children of the same age, sex, and geographical region, and who did not have brain tumors). In this case-control study, interviews were conducted with 352 children and adolescents (and their parents) who had been diagnosed with brain tumors, as well as 646 children and adolescents (and their parents) without a history of brain tumors. A novel approach in this particular clinical research study was the use of mobile phone records, in an attempt to improve the accuracy of self-reported cell phone use by the research volunteers.
The results of this study failed to find any association between the amount of cell phone use and brain tumor risk. Furthermore, there was no apparent association between the location of tumors in the brain and the areas of the brain that are known to receive the highest levels of microwave radiation from cell phone handsets.
The findings of this case-control clinical research study offer some reassurance that routine cell phone use probably does not significantly increase the risk of brain tumors in children and adolescents. However, I would caution readers that other similar studies have suggested an increased risk of at least benign brain tumors among people who extensively use cell phones over long periods of time. Moreover, recent research has shown that metabolism significantly increases in the areas of the brain that are exposed to the greatest amount of radiation during cell phone use, thus proving that brain exposure to cell phone radiation does indeed alter brain function during cell phone use.
In the absence of high-level clinical research data from a prospective, randomized, double-blinded clinical research study, my wife and I limit cell phone use by our two younger children to no more than 5 minutes at a time, and this is my recommendation to readers and patients as well.
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Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity
Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author
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