Can Cell Phones Cause Brain Tumors?

Ugh – I hate this topic. I love my cell phone. But as the real world use of cellphones has increased, we’ve all had a greater exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) and there has been a corresponding increase in brain tumors.

A new study published online in Pathophysiology indicating that use of a cell phone for 25+ years increases by 3x the odds of developing a type of brain tumor called glioma. About 30% of all brain tumors are gliomas and 80% of them are malignant. In real numbers, only 21,000 gliomas occur each year in the US, a very small number — unless a glioma strikes someone in your family.

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Fig. 1 Restricted cubic spline plot of the relationship between cumulative use of wireless phones and glioma. The solid line indicates the OR estimate and the broken lines represent the 95% CI. Adjustment was made for age at diagnosis, gender, SEI-code, and year for diagnosis. Population based controls were used.
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Fig. 2 Restricted cubic spline plot of the relationship between latency of wireless phones and glioma. The solid line indicates the OR estimate and the broken lines represent the 95% CI. Adjustment was made for age at diagnosis, gender, SEI-code, and year for diagnosis. Population based controls were used.
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Fig. 3 Restricted cubic spline plot of the relationship between latency of ipsilateral mobile phone use and glioma. The solid line indicates the OR estimate and the broken lines represent the 95% CI. Adjustment was made for age at diagnosis, gender, SEI-code, and year for diagnosis. Population based controls were used.
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Fig. 4
Restricted cubic spline plot of the relationship between latency of contralateral mobile phone use and glioma. The solid line indicates the OR estimate and the broken lines represent the 95% CI. Adjustment was made for age at diagnosis, gender, SEI-code, and year for diagnosis. Population based controls were used.

The study shows the risk of glioma increases with amount of time (in years) cell phones are used. Cell phone usage only reached the 50% of all US citizens in 2002, 12 years ago. But children are growing up using cell phones and will reach the threshold of 25+ years of cellphone usage (when tumors start to increase most significantly in this study) in their early-30s. Another warning from the study: “Due to the smaller head size, thinner skull bones and higher brain conductivity, a child absorbs higher rates [of RF-EMF] than adults.” Consider that when you hand over your smart phone for your toddler to play games on and make sure you put it in “airplane mode” first.

Overall a high risk was found for use of the third generation (3G; UMTS) mobile phones (4G and 5G phones were not included in the study as they are too new). Cordless phones should also not be overlooked; their radiation is similar to cell phones and the study includes cordless phones. However, cell phones are carried on or close to your body for much longer periods of time than cordless phones.

Few studies are perfect and this one is no exception. Types of cell phones used by subjects changed over the years as new phones became available. Other environmental risk factors could not be completely controlled. In a recent interview, L. Dade Lunsford, MD, Lars Leksell Professor of Neurosurgery, and director, Center for Image Guided Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh, cited some of the study’s shortcomings, saying “The study suffers from recall bias, with results possibly being affected by patients being anxious to solve the question of ‘why me?'”

I first reported on the issue of cell phone radiation last June after meeting with people from The Baby Safe Project. This campaign urges expectant mothers to keep cell phones out of their hands when not in use — because pregnant women’s hands naturally rest on the baby bump. Cell phone radiation exposure to such a small, developing body and brain is not known but it’s a risk no mother would knowingly take.

Here are some simple precautions that everyone can take, partially adapted from the Environmental Health Trust and The Baby Safe Project:

  1. Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body (e.g., in a pocket, a holster or a bra)
  2. Text, eMail or use your cell phone on speaker setting or with an “air tube” headset, also known as a “hollow tube” headset. There are several brands available; the largest one is Blue Tube headsets.
  3. Encourage your children to text and eMail. Have a traditinal cord phone in your home for long telephone conversations.
  4. Download video games (Apps)  so they can be played with the internet off (airplane mode).
  5. Avoid using your wireless device in cars, trains or elevators. Radiation flows in all directions from your phone, most of it away from you. But an elevator is a metal box that the radiation can’t escape. It bounces around until your body absorbs it. While in a moving car or train the phone has to switch from cell tower to tower. Each time it searches for a new tower, it creates a surge of radiation.
  6. Keep your cellphone and your cordless phone out of your bedroom when you sleep. Any 2-way device emits radiation when it sends out a signal. The radiation in a cordless phone is less than with a cell phone, but it will emit low levels all night.
  7. Whenever possible, connect to the Internet with wired cables.
  8. Don’t set up the Wi-Fi router in the family room. Keep a wall between the router and you. 
  9. Unplug your home Wi-Fi router when not in use (e.g., at bedtime). Bonus: If there are kids in the house it will keep them off the internet when they should be sleeping.

So far the number of malignant brain tumors is small and the link to cell phones and cordless phones isn’t conclusive. But it is worrisome and we urge you to take simple steps for your family’s safety.


Suzanne B. Robotti

Suzanne Robotti founded MedShadow Foundation in 2012. Learn more about Su and her mission.


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