Mobile phones and cancer: what does the evidence suggest?

Current evidence shows that there is no link between mobile phone usage and cancer.

The largest study of its kind ever carried out, Interphone, which examined the long-term effects of mobile phone usage, was published in 2011. The authors concluded:

“Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation.”

Indeed, while it was widely reported in the press that high exposure levels led to an increase of glioma, a further analysis of the study put forward a number of reasonable explanations for this result. For example, “phone use was under-estimated by light users and over-estimated by heavy users”, as evidence from a sub-study showed.

The study was partly funded by the Mobile Manufacturers’ Forum and the GSM Association. However, provision of funds to the INTERPHONE study investigators via the UICC was governed by agreements that guaranteed INTERPHONE’s complete scientific independence. Thus, the study was not commercially biased in any way. Moreover, the fact that some anti-cell phone activists, such as Mercola, have seized on the suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels suggests that they are not concerned about the partial funding by the Mobile Manufacturers’ Forum either.

In the absence of any known plausible mechanism by which mobile phones can cause cancer, any outliers should be viewed with scepticism. As the National Cancer Institute summarised:

“It is generally accepted that damage to DNA is necessary for cancer to develop. However, radiofrequency energy, unlike ionizing radiation, does not cause DNA damage in cells, and it has not been found to cause cancer in animals or to enhance the cancer-causing effects of known chemical carcinogens in animals.”

Another line of evidence demonstrating that mobile phone usage is unlikely to be causing brain cancer is the fact that, according to the National Cancer Institute:

“rates for new brain and other nervous system cancer cases have been falling on average 0.2% each year over 2002-2011.”

If mobile phone usage were causing brain cancer, we would expect, at the very least, a correlation between brain cancer rates and mobile phone usage. By contrast, mobile phone usage has gone up whereas brain cancer rates are decreasing.