The Cell Phone-Cancer Debate

Ronald B. Herberman, MD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, recently warned faculty and staff there of a possible link between cancer risk and cell phone use.

Ronald B. Herberman, MD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, recently warned faculty and staff there of a possible link between cancer risk and cell phone use.

Herberman’s memo to about 3,000 faculty and staff advised that children should use cell phones for emergencies only, citing the possible effects on their developing brains as a cause for concern. Herberman also encouraged adults to keep the phone away from their heads and use a speakerphone or a wireless headset to reduce the effects of electromagnetic radiation.

Herberman based his warning on unpublished data from a massive ongoing research project called Interphone, which involves scientists across Europe. Published research focuses on more than 5,000 cases of brain tumors.

A 2008 University of Utah analysis provides an opposing viewpoint. It evaluated nine studies—including several cited by Herberman—that enrolled thousands of brain tumor patients. The authors found “no overall increased risk of brain tumors among cellular phone users. The potential elevated risk of brain tumors after long-term cellular phone use awaits confirmation by future studies.”

The US National Research Council—which isn’t participating in the aforementioned Interphone project—reported in January that the brain tumor research had “selection bias,” meaning that it relied on people with cancer to remember how often they used cell phones.

The largest published study of cell phone use and cancer, which appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2006, tracked 420,000 Danish cell phone users, including thousands that had used the phones for more than 10 years. It found no increased risk of cancer among those using cell phones.

Yes, cell phones emit radiofrequency energy—a type of radiation that is a form of electromagnetic radiation, according to the National Cancer Institute. And although studies are being done to determine if there is a link between it and tumors of the brain and central nervous system, the NCI website notes that there is no definitive link between the two.

Unfortunately, the jury is still out on this one, hence the controversy surrounding Herberman’s passionate claims.

What are your feelings on the subject? Can proper usage combat the allegedly fatal effects of cell phone radiation? Are we too concerned? What advice would you give your patients?

Additional Resources:

Are Cell Phones Safe? Questions and Answers

Cell Phones and Cancer: No Clear Connection

Pittsburgh Cancer Center Warns of Cell Phone Risks