FAQs and Facts
ACRBR Position Statements represent the consensus view of the ACRBR Board.
ACRBR Position Statement on Interphone – 17th May, 2010
Professors Rodney Croft, Michael Abramson & Malcolm Sim
Printable version (PDF format)
It has taken over 10 years, but now the results of the largest study designed to investigate whether mobile phone use
is associated with brain tumours in adults has been released1. The study, known as Interphone, was today published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Interphone combined data from 13 countries on two types of brain tumour (meningioma and glioma), and compared mobile phone use in more than 5000 people who suffered from these tumours, to that of age- and gender-matched control participants. The rationale behind this approach is that if mobile phones increased the risk of brain tumours, we would expect that cases with brain tumours would have used mobile phones more than controls without brain tumours.
RESULTS & INTERPRETATION
The main findings of Interphone were that: (1) mobile phone use of greater than 1 year was not associated with any increased risk of meningioma (usually a benign brain tumour), and (2) mobile phone use of greater than 1 year was not associated with increased risk of glioma (an aggressive malignant brain tumour).
Many other analyses were also conducted. As argued by the authors, these need to be assessed as a complete set of analyses and any one result cannot be taken in isolation, as the number of such additional statistical tests (i.e. hundreds) substantially increases the probability of any increased risk in any particular analysis being due to chance.
Key features of these additional analyses include: (1) Overall, mobile phone use was lower in those who suffered meningioma or glioma, than in controls; (2) There were more analyses suggesting a lower risk of brain tumours from mobile phone use than suggesting an increased risk; (3) The highest cumulative level of mobile phone call time was associated with increased risk of both meningioma and glioma, but this was only for the cases where start of mobile phone use was between 1 and 4 years before the diagnosis and the number of cases was small. If mobile phone use played a role in tumour development, an increase in tumour risk would be expected in those starting mobile phone use ‘greater the 4 years’ before their diagnosis, but this was not found in the Interphone results; (4) For all other measures of mobile phone use, no increased risk of either glioma or meningioma was found.
As is argued in the paper, none of these additional results provides support for the conclusion that mobile phone use causes or protects against developing brain tumours. For example, the finding that there was an increased risk of gliomas in the group with the highest 10% of mobile phone call time in short term users, is limited in that: (1) Glioma risk did not increase with increasing phone usage, but rather there was just one discrete group that had an increase; (2) There were reported usage levels in that particular group that did not appear realistic, and once those data were removed, there was no longer an increased glioma risk; (3)That finding comes from a measure of mobile phone use (cumulative call time) which has been shown to be unreliable in both Interphone2,3 and ACRBR research4.
Exposure Duration – As exposure latency is limited to a maximum of 12 years in this study, no comment can be made regarding the possibility that mobile phone use may induce tumours with a latency of greater than 12 years.
Comparability of Exposure to Modern Day – The exposures reported in Interphone are substantially lower than those reported in the present day. Thus there remains the possibility that higher levels of exposure than those in Interphone may be related to brain tumours. However, it should be noted that the levels in Interphone are similar to those in other studies which have claimed that mobile phones do cause brain tumours5, and so the exposure levels within Interphone are able to address those claims.
Age Range – As the minimum age studied in Interphone was 30 years, no comment can be made regarding the hypothesis that mobile phones induce tumours in younger people, whose nervous system is still developing. Further studies are required, such as the current Mobi-kids study investigating mobile phone use and brain tumours in those aged between 10 and 24 years.
Other Tumour Types – Interphone has also analysed acoustic neuroma and parotid gland tumour data. These were not reported in the present publication, and so the above discussion is restricted to meningioma and glioma.
Until now there have been concerns that mobile phones were causing increases in brain tumours. Interphone is both large and rigorous enough to address this claim, and it has not provided any convincing scientific evidence of an association between mobile phone use and the development of glioma or meningioma. While the study demonstrates some weak evidence of an association with the highest tenth of cumulative call time (but only in those who started mobile phone use most recently), the authors conclude that biases and errors limit the strength of any conclusions in this group. It now seems clear that if there was an effect of mobile phone use on brain tumour risks in adults, this is likely to be too small to be detectable by even a large multinational study of the size of Interphone.
1 E. Cardis et al., Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2010; doi: 10.1093/ije/dyq079.
2 M. Vrijheid et al. Validation of short-term recall of mobile phone use for the Interphone Study. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 2006; 63: 237–43.
3 M. Vrijheid et al. Recall bias in the assessment of exposure to mobile phones. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 2009; 19:369–81.
4 I. Inyang et al. A new method to determine laterality of mobile phone use in adolescents. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 2009; doi: 10.1136/oem.2009.049676.
5 e.g. L. Hardell et al, Case-control study on the use of cellular and cordless phones and the risk for malignant brain tumours. International Journal of Radiation Biology, 2002; 78(10):931-6.
ACRBR Position Statement on Khurana, Teo, Kundi, Hardell & Carlberg, 2009
Rodney Croft, Michael Abramson, Irena Cosic
John Finnie, Ray McKenzie, Andrew Wood
Printable version (PDF format)
In March this year Khurana, Teo, Kundi, Hardell & Carlberg published a literature review that investigated possible associations of long term mobile phone use and brain tumours (Khurana et al., Surgical Neurology, March 26, 2009). The paper attracted considerable media interest here in Australia, where the issue was broadcast on such programs as Channel 9’s “60 Minutes”, and ABC’s “Lateline”. Given the wide publicity, it is possible that that the use of this paper in the media may have misled audiences about this issue, thus the ACRBR has put together these brief comments on the paper.
Summary of Khurana et al (2009)
The paper reports on a number of issues pertaining to the debate on whether mobile
phones cause brain tumours. These include:
- A meta-analysis of the epidemiological literature relating to brain tumours and mobile phone use of > 10 years, where it is reported that there is an overall association between mobile phone use and glioma, but not acoustic neuroma nor meningioma;
- A meta-analysis of the epidemiological literature relating to brain tumours and mobile phone use of > 10 years on the same side of the head as the tumours, where it is reported that such use is associated with increased risk of glioma and acoustic neuroma, but not meningioma;
- A report of the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States (CBTRUS) incidence rates from some regions of the USA, where Khurana et al report that, although there are issues to do with comparing recent and older brain tumour incidence rates, they think there might be an increase;
- A brief review of the BioInitiative Report, where it is claimed that the Report has shown many negative health effects of low level EMF exposure; and
- A brief review of the current literature relating to experimental research (i.e. research more able to demonstrate causation) that has addressed the issue of low level EMF and health, arguing that it shows there are negative health consequences of mobile phone exposure
1/ A meta-analysis of the epidemiological literature on associations of brain
tumours and mobile phone use of ≥ 10 years
Although the focus of the paper relates to tumours that are reported to be on the same side of the head (ipsilateral) as patients used their mobile phones, Khurana et al. also conduct a meta-analysis regardless of tumour laterality. Here they report that there is an overall association between mobile phone use and glioma, but not acoustic neuroma nor meningioma, for those who used a mobile phone for ≥ 10 years.
However the methods section suggests that this analysis is not appropriate, as they have excluded research that did not look at laterality, which makes the data incomplete. Further, there are few details of how the meta-analysis was conducted. This is particularly important as such meta-analyses generally require the assumption of homogeneity to be met in order for the results to be meaningful (and no test of homogeneity is provided).
2/ A meta-analysis of the epidemiological literature on associations of brain
tumours and mobile phone use of ≥ 10 years on the same side of the head as the
This is the focus of the paper, where it is reported that there is an increased risk of glioma and acoustic neuroma (but not meningioma) for those who reported using a mobile phone for ≥ 10 years on the same side of the head as the tumour.
As the literature has convincingly demonstrated that there is no such association for shorter latencies, this would indeed be an important finding. However, this analysis suffers from the same lack of detail as described above, and so no conclusions can be drawn from this analysis. It may also be noted that as a meta-analysis, this does not present new data, but rather a different analysis of data that has already been reported. This should have been able to increase the number of cases in the analysis in order to provide a more precise measure of association. This could have been very useful as the number of cases in each study who reported using a mobile phone on the same side of the head as their brain tumour is very small, again making individual studies inconclusive.
3/ A report of CBTRUS brain tumour incidence rates from the USA
Given that the use of mobile telephony has increased dramatically since the 1980s, if mobile phones were indeed causing brain tumours then one would expect that brain tumour incidence rates would also be increasing. So far such increases in incidence rates have not been found. Khurana et al consider a data set concerning this from a sample of the USA population (CBTRUS 2007-2008 Report), acknowledge that the data does not suggest there is such an increase in malignant brain tumours, but then go on to say that they still believe there is an increase in benign brain tumour incidence rates.
This latter statement is particularly important because it was taken by the media to support the hypothesis that mobile phones cause cancer. However, it is important to note that these figures are only from a relatively small sample, and are not consistent with the figures released from the substantially larger International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) World Cancer Report 2008. That is, IARC estimate that there is no actual increase in cancers, but rather that due to recent improvements in diagnostic techniques that slightly more cancers (in the vicinity of 1% annually) are detected. The technique that has resulted in the detection of more brain tumours is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Another issue that may relate to the increase in the CBTRUS incidence rates is that a new law came into force in 2004 in the USA (US Public Law 107-260). This law resulted in increased surveillance of benign tumours, and may explain why the CBTRUS figures do not represent international trends. The ACRBR thus agrees with IARC that current data are “not showing any excess risk of brain cancers and other neoplasms associated with the use of mobile phones”.
4/ A brief review of the BioInitiative Report
Khurana et al provide a brief review of the BioInitiative Report, which is a web-based report that does not follow normal scientific peer-review procedures2 and claims that there is substantial evidence showing mobile phones are harmful. If this was an accurate report of the state of science, then this would indeed suggest that mobile phones are harmful.
However Khurana et al. do not provide a balanced appraisal of the BioInitiative Report, a report which is not consistent with the current state of science as espoused by leading independent expert committees (such as the World Health Organisation). A more detailed critique of that report can be found on the ACRBR FAQ website. The interested reader may also wish to consult other independent critiques of the report, such as by the Health Council of the Netherlands.
5/ A brief review of the current literature pertaining to experimental research (i.e.
research more able to demonstrate causation) that has addressed the issue of
low level EMF and health
Khurana et al. argue that this literature shows there are negative health consequences of mobile phone exposure. However, as per the BioInitiative Report (see above), this does not provide a balanced appraisal of the literature, and reaches conclusions that contradict those of major international expert committees. The current state of science is that there have not been any consistent demonstrations of health effects resulting from mobile phone-like exposures (see the World Health Organisation for more information on this).
Part of the difficulty may arise from the authors’ failure to appreciate science as a body of research, where instead they have focused on particular studies that reported health effects without regard for relevant conflicting data. This strategy is unusual given that the authors acknowledge at one point that there have not been consistent findings of harm (i.e. “although the literature is inconsistent in terms of experimental reproducibility”, page 7), but then they ignore this variability and conclude that reported effects are real, regardless of whether other studies have found the opposite.
This is particularly important as science operates in a probabilistic fashion, with all results referred to as relatively likely or unlikely. This method is typically set up so that 1 in 20 results that are reported will appear to be real, but may actually be due to chance alone. Thus without considering the other research that fails to find an effect, it is a little like concluding that you are magic because you can toss a coin 4 times and get heads each time (i.e. it would not seem so remarkable if one considered the other 15 experiments where you tried to do this but failed).
In summary, the ACRBR believes it is important to recognize that Khurana et al. do not
present any new data that is relevant to the mobile phone health debate. The preexisting
data they consider are not synthesised in a meaningful fashion. Many of the
conclusions made in the paper contradict those made by international expert
committees, without providing adequate reasons for rejecting the standard view. On the
contrary, we believe that the standard view of science, which is that there is currently
no evidence that mobile phones have any negative health effects (as espoused by
such groups as the World Health Organisation; see above), is an accurate reflection of
the literature to date.
1 Note that ‘benign’ and ‘malignant’ are not always applicable to the particular brain tumours reported in this literature. For example, acoustic neuromas are typically referred to as benign, but can also have fatal consequences. For more information on such distinctions, please visit http://brain.mgh.harvard.edu/PatientGuide.htm.
2 It should be noted that some BioInitiative Report authors have also released individual papers that have followed normal peer review processes (for example, Carpenter & Sage, Rev Environ Health 2008, 23(2):91-117). As there are commonalities between aspects of the BioInitiative Report and these papers, the interested reader may wish to consult the latter for a peer-reviewed discussion of some of the issues addressed in the present Position Statement.
The ACRBR Perspective on The BioInitiative Report
Rodney Croft, Michael Abramson, Irena Cosic
John Finnie, Ray McKenzie, Andrew Wood
Printable version (PDF format)
In 2007 a group of interested individuals collated a series of views on the non-ionising radiation
health debate. This was entitled the BioInitiative Report1, a web document dated August 31,
2007. The BioInitiative Report presents a series of views that argue for a change in public
exposure standards, but which are largely inconsistent with current scientific consensus. The
ACRBR have received numerous queries about this report from the general public, and have
provided this document to answer a few questions to clarify its perspective on the report.
Do the BioInitiative Report authors represent an authoritative international body?
Often in assessing public health issues, bodies are formed to evaluate evidence and offer
recommendations about particular issues. The model that most scientific expert bodies in this
area (e.g. World Health Organisation (WHO)) employ is to engage independent experts to
provide a review and recommendations on an issue. Independent experts are engaged because it
is meant to provide an objective evaluation of the issue. This contrasts strongly with the
BioInitiative Report, which is the result of the opinions of a self-selected group of individuals
who each have a strong belief that does not accord with that of current scientific consensus. An
indication of this may be seen in the group’s stated purpose, which is “to document the reasons why
current public exposure standards for non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation are no longer good enough
to protect public health” (Section 2, page 1), rather than to provide a scientific evaluation of the issue.
Similarly, the standard model normally seeks a consensus view. In terms of the BioInitiative Report,
the preface by Carpenter and Sage state that this is not a consensus document, but is rather a
collection of individual views, where “the information and conclusions in each chapter are the
responsibilities of the authors of that chapter” (Section i, page 1). Thus the ‘Summary for the
Public and Conclusions’, released both independently and as part of the full Report, should be
read as Sage’s view on the matter, and there is no indication in the Report that the authors of
other chapters share her views. This does not mean that what is written in the Report is invalid,
but it means that we need to evaluate the content of the report itself, and cannot rely on there
being a consensus from an independent authoritative body to help us judge the merits of these
What is the scientific status of the BioInitiative Report?
In science we generally differentiate between peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed publications,
where the peer-review comes from independent experts in the area. The reason for this is that
peer-reviewed work is only published after independent scientific peers have reviewed the work
and agreed with its scientific merit, making it easier for the reader to be confident with
conclusions drawn in the publication. Conversely, without independent peer review, there is far
less opportunity to correct errors and ensure that the conclusions are appropriate, and thus
scientists treat peer-reviewed publications as their main scientific literature source. It should be
noted that this does not mean that publications lacking independent peer review are flawed (or for
that matter that peer-reviewed publications are perfect), it is more that scientists would typically
withhold judgment about publications until peer review has occurred.
The BioInitiative Report has not undergone such independent peer review, and so the conclusions
that it reaches would normally be viewed more as views of some of the authors, rather than
strong contributions to science. In fact the Report does not identify the level of review that it has
undergone, merely mentioning that “another dozen outside reviewers have looked at and refined
the Report” (Section 1, page 4). This is particularly important since many of the statements and
conclusions in the Report are contrary to scientific consensus. Thus rigorous scientific evaluation
would need to be performed to determine whether the inconsistencies are due to errors in the
report, or errors in the scientific consensus. While such independent peer review would normally
be undertaken prior to publication (to avoid misleading conclusions should problems be
identified), some informal independent peer review has now occurred in response to publication
of the BioInitiative Report. For example, the Health Council of the Netherlands (HCN) recently
published a report that noted a number of inadequacies in the BioInitiative Report, inadequacies
that would normally be addressed during the peer review process2.
Of particular note is that the BioInitiative Report does not appear to apply principles consistently,
which biases its conclusions. For example, in arguing for a link between 50/60 Hz power lines
and breast cancer, the Report does not consider some of the evidence that argues against such an
association. It also provides an argument for excluding other evidence (poor exposure
assessment) that is not employed for studies arguing for an association between 50/60 Hz power
lines and childhood leukemia (even though they are subject to the same exposure assessment
limitations; see Section 12 of the Report). Another issue is that there are statements that do not
accord with the standard view of science, and the Report does not provide a reasonable account
of why we should reject the standard view in favour of the views espoused in the Report.
Should we be convinced by the BioInitiative Report?
Overall we think that the BioInitiative Report does not progress science, and would agree with
the Health Council of the Netherlands2 that the BioInitiative Report is “not an objective and
balanced reflection of the current state of scientific knowledge” (page 4). As it stands it merely
provides a set of views that are not consistent with the consensus of science, and it does not
provide an analysis that is rigorous-enough to raise doubts about the scientific consensus.
It is worth noting that the state of science in this area is continually being debated and updated by
a number of expert bodies comprised of the leading experts in this field. For example, the World
Health Organisation (WHO) Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) project3, the International
Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)4, the UK Mobile
Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme5, and here in Australia the
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Science Agency (ARPANSA)6 have all provided
authoritative analyses of the electromagnetic radiation bioeffects research. The WHO
Environment Health Criteria 238 also provides a thorough analysis of the literature to date in
relation to extremely low frequency (ELF, or powerline electromagnetic fields)7. We have
provided some web links to these below, and would strongly urge the interested reader to consult
these for a balanced perspective on this fascinating research domain.
1 BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields
(ELF and RF), August 31, 2007. http://www.bioinitiative.org/report/index.htm
2 Health Council of the Netherlands. BioInitiative report. The Hague: Health Council of the Netherlands, 2008;
publication no. 2008/17E. http://www.gr.nl/pdf.php?ID=1743&p=1
Prenatal and postnatal exposure to cell phone use and behavioral problems in children
Reviewed by Imo Inyang, Geza Benke & Michael Abramson
Printable version (PDF format)
What is this study about, where was it done and in what population?
This study was based on a larger Danish Birth Cohort which recruited a total of 101,032 pregnancies between March 1996 and November 2002. The authors investigated associations between in utero (prenatal) and post natal exposures to mobile (cell) phones and behavioural problems in children, using a questionnaire. The study was based on information about children born between 1997 and 1999.
What are the major strengths of this study?
The study had a large sample size (13,159) and a reasonable response rate (65%) and thus was sufficiently powered to detect subtle differences between exposed and unexposed. Almost half the children were unexposed, providing a good comparison group.
What are the weaknesses of the study?
This study has a number of other methodological limitations including:
- Failure to adjust for the effects of prematurity, gestational age and birth weight – all known causes of behavioural problems.
- Maternal recall may be influenced by previous negative or positive reproductive experiences
- Parity (number of pregnancies) may affect recall of exposure
- Paternal psychiatric history not discussed, but is also a risk factor for behavioural problems in children
- No discussion of breast feeding
- Abuse of alcohol and other psychotropic drugs not investigated
- Exposure to ionising radiation e.g. X-rays not assessed.
- Possibility of temporal confounding by other triggers such as effect of season on physical activity
What were the main findings?
There was a significant association (1.8 fold increased risk) between behavioural problems and both prenatal and post natal exposure to mobile phones after adjusting for the confounding effects of the sex of the child, mother’s age, smoking during pregnancy, mother’s psychiatric problems and socio-occupational levels.
How should the results be interpreted?
We need to distinguish between ‘association’ and ‘causation’. In this case, the authors found an association between prenatal and post-natal exposure to mobile phones based on 7 year retrospective recall of mothers and behavioural problems in children. An association means that the exposure and the outcome go together, but doesn’t mean that one necessarily causes the other. For example, it is possible that both mobile phone exposure and behavioural problems in children were due to a common cause, such as overworked parents. Although this was a cohort study, there was still potential for recall bias and associated exposure misclassification. As the authors note in the paper, results should be interpreted with caution.
What conclusions should be drawn?
Although this study demonstrated statistically significant associations between prenatal and postnatal exposures to mobile phones and behavioural difficulties in children, the authors failed to adjust for a number of possible confounding factors. The exposure assessment was limited and probably resulted in misclassification because of maternal recall bias. Therefore there is need for caution in accepting these results at face value.
Comments to Imo.Inyang@med.monash.edu.au
Neurosurgeon claims about mobile phones and cancer
April 8, 2008
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In a self published online report, Canberra based neurosurgeon, Dr Vini Khurana, claims that there is compelling evidence of a link between mobile phone use and brain tumours. The report purports to undertake a wide ranging review of the literature on the subject of mobile phone use and the incidence of brain tumours, mostly based on epidemiological studies undertaken in the last decade or so. The review was not published in a peer reviewed journal and presents no new research findings.
While making strong claims that “There is a growing and statistically significant body of evidence that brain tumours…are linked with “heavy” and “prolonged” mobile phone use…”, the review is inexpert and incomplete, containing a number of factual errors. In particular, Khurana fails to consider the relative scientific quality of different studies. This produces an unbalanced analysis of the literature, which is also selective in support of the author’s claims.
The ACRBR recommends a ‘weight of evidence approach’ when reviewing the RF health effects literature, giving priority to the results of published, peer-reviewed and replicated scientific research. Hence, the epidemiological evidence regarding a possible association between RF exposure and brain tumours has not indicated a causal relationship. For example, “Interphone”, the largest study performed to date, has not found any consistent relationship between mobile phone use and brain tumours, although compilation of data from this study is incomplete. In a recent update on their website (see http://www.iarc.fr/ENG/Units/INTERPHONEresultsupdate.pdf), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, which co-ordinates the Interphone study) reports little evidence in the main analyses for an overall association between mobile phone use and an increase in the incidence of head and neck tumours The ACRBR has completed a systematic review of all studies published so far (itself awaiting publication) and is also of this view, although this is contingent on the findings when the complete data from Interphone become available later this year.
It is also the view of the leading international health authority, the World Health Organisation (WHO) (see http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/en/), that research to date has not identified any association between mobile phone base stations and adverse health effects.
However, both the ACRBR and WHO agree there is a need for more research in certain areas to improve knowledge and better evaluate any possible health risk. In response to these concerns, the ACRBR has been funded by the Australian Government to conduct a wide-ranging program of research on neurological and behavioural aspects of mobile telephony, embracing epidemiological, human, animal and cellular studies. The ACRBR also specialises in the measurement and analysis of the absorption of energy from radio devices by biological systems, including humans.
ACRBR review of Lahkola et al: Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in 5 North European countries
April 1, 2007
Lahkola et al abstract: PubMed entry
Printable version (PDF format)
What is this study?
This investigation is part of the larger Interphone study, which is a case-control study examining the association between mobile phone use of up to 10 years and brain tumours. In this study participants were recruited from Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the South-Eastern region of the United Kingdom. This amounted to 1,522 subjects suffering from a particular brain cancer known as glioma (cases), who were recruited from national cancer registries and hospitals, and 3,301 healthy subjects (controls), who were recruited at random from national population registers or other publicly available lists of wide cross-sections of the community. To reduce systematic differences between the two groups, control subject were chosen to match case subjects in terms of age, gender, and region of residence. The researchers then compared differences in mobile phone usage patterns between the cases and controls to determine whether there was any association between their disease status (case or control) and their mobile phone use.
What were the findings?
No indication was found of increased glioma risk with mobile phone use for categories of ‘regular phone use’ (defined as use at least once a week for six months), duration of use, years since first use, number of calls or cumulative hours of phone use. Results were similar for men and women, for analogue and digital phones, and across the five countries. The authors report a marginally significant increase in the risk of glioma for greater than ten years of use, where the use is reported on the same side of the head as the tumour was diagnosed (ipsilateral). However, they also report a corresponding decrease in the risk of glioma where phone use occurred on the opposite side of the head as the tumour (contralateral). This is widely regarded as indicating recall bias in the results, meaning a skew in results due to inaccurate reporting of phone use by participants. The authors note this limitation in the particular finding and suggest that more research is needed to clarify this result.
How should the results be interpreted?
The overall results of this study, based on a large number of cases and controls, provide strong evidence of no increased risk of glioma associated with mobile phone use of up to 10 years. Results for the sub-category of ipsilateral/contralateral phone use of longer than ten years are drawn from far fewer subjects, providing far less certainty in those results. Additionally, the ipsilateral and contralateral results are contradictory, and the authors caution that such findings are “…difficult to interpret and lend themselves to…non-causal (artefactual) explanations.” In particular, it is worth noting that when the researchers restrict the data contributing to this result to only that which they consider to be of “good or very good” quality, the association reported is no longer evident.
What conclusions can we draw?
Overall, the only strong conclusion that can be drawn is that this study provides no evidence of an increased risk of glioma associated with mobile phone use up to 10 years. Firm results cannot be drawn regarding phone use of longer than 10 years, but it is hoped that the upcoming results from the full Interphone analysis from 13 countries will provide more information.
ACRBR Position Statement on Reported RMIT Cancer Cluster
August 3, 2006
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RMIT today released the findings of an independent review led by A/Prof LaMontagne
of recent investigations addressing an apparent
brain tumour cluster occurring in the top two floors of their Business Studies building in
Bourke St, Melbourne. The Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research
(ACRBR) has been monitoring this issue closely due to initial concerns by RMIT staff that this
‘reported cluster’ may be related to telecommunications base stations on the roof of that
The LaMontagne review was summarized as concluding that 1/ there is no evidence of a
brain tumour cluster, and 2/ there is no evidence of exposures at or above levels of concern
for known or suspected occupational or environmental risk factors for brain cancer. The
ACRBR has assessed this review, and believe that these conclusions are entirely
Consistent with this conclusion, the ACRBR would emphasize the following:
1/ As pointed out by the LaMontagne Review, given the size and age of the workforce over
those two floors, 7 cases of malignant tumour is about what would be expected based on the
incidence of cancer in the Victorian population.
2/ Radiofrequency (RF) fields in publicly accessible areas in the vicinity of mobile phone base
stations are exceedingly low and below Australian and International standards.
3/ Based on extensive investigation and consultation with research and community groups,
the leading international health authority, the World Health Organisation (WHO) (see
http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/en/), has concluded that there is no evidence of an
association between mobile phone base stations and adverse health effects.
4/ Investigation of apparent cancer clusters is rarely conclusive. Apart from well documented
events such as exposure to ionising radiation from atomic blasts or catastrophic reactor
leakages and contaminants such as asbestos, it is often difficult to identify an environmental
cause. Moreover, the cause of brain tumours is poorly understood (see
However, both the ACRBR and WHO agree there is a need for more research in certain
areas to improve knowledge and better evaluate any possible health risk. In response to
these concerns, the ACRBR has been funded by the Australian Government to conduct a
wide-ranging program of research on neurological and behavioural aspects of mobile
telephony, embracing epidemiological, human, animal and cellular studies. The ACRBR also
specialises in the measurement and analysis of the absorption of energy from radio devices
by biological systems, including humans.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is radiofreqency (RF) energy?
Radiofrequency (RF) energy is a type
of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation consists of waves
of electrical and magnetic energy which 'radiate' (that is, travel) through
space. The number of waves occurring per second is known as the frequency
of the electromagnetic radiation and is measured in Hertz (Hz).
Radiofrequency electric and magnetic waves occur at a rate of 3 kilohertz
(kHz) - 300 Megahertz (MHz) (that is, 3 thousand to 300 million waves per
Sources of RF exposure
Typical sources of radiowaves
include television and radio transmitters, and mobile phone signals, mobile
phone towers, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and microwave ovens. The
sun also emits radiowaves.
Are there other types of electromagnetic radiation?
Radiowaves are only one portion of
the electromagnetic spectrum. Other forms of electromagnetic radiation
includes ultraviolet light, visible light, and x-rays. Each of these types
of radiation are defined by their frequency.
What is the difference between RF and other forms of electromagnetic radiation?
The frequency of an electromagnetic
wave has very important consequences for the way in which it interacts with
the human body. Very high frequency electromagnetic waves, such as x-rays,
gamma rays, and radiation emitted from radioactive substances are classified
as ionising forms of radiation. This means that they carry
sufficient quantum energy to strip electrons away from atoms creating free
radicals which can be damaging to cells in the human body, subsequently high doses of ionising radiation is damaging to the human body
and human DNA and can cause cancer.
Radiowaves, visible light and microwaves are all considered non-ionising forms of radiation. This
is because, no matter how intense, non-ionising radiation is incapable of
breaking electrical bonds within atoms. However, non-ionising radiation
does cause a heating effect which is proportional to its intensity and if
present in sufficient quantity may be harmful.
Can radiowaves cause cancer?
There has been numerous studies of
the relationship between radiowave exposure and cancer, ranging from animal
and biological tissue sample studies to human studies in which the health of
human volunteers is monitored in relation to their exposure to radiowaves
(e.g. through mobile phone use). This literature has been reviewed by
numerous national and international committees, expert working groups and
agencies. Recently, National Radiological Protection Board (UK) reviewed 26
such reports regarding the health effects of mobile phones that were
published between 2000 and 2004. These reports were similar in their
conclusions and recommendations. Overall, these reports suggested that
mobile phone emissions may have subtle biological effects, but that there is
no strong evidence to suggest that mobile phone emissions have adverse
health effects such as cancer.
How might mobile phone affect the brain?
It is widely accepted that emissions
from mobile phones cause minute heating of the brain. This is due to two
factors. First, the electric field generated by mobile phone causes
electrically charged particles in brain tissue to move. The electrical
properties of the brain tissue provide some resistance to this movement, and
this produces heat. Second, the electric field causes water molecules,
which are positively charged at one end and negatively charged at the other,
to rotate such that they are electrically aligned with the electrical
field. Due to the cohesive properties of water, there is again some
resistance to this process, thus producing heat.
The power output of mobile phones
are limited by international standards to protect users from excessive
heating. These standards dictate that the average specific energy
absorption rate (SAR) in any 10g region of biological tissue produced by
radiofrequency emission must be less than 2 W/kg for the public and 10 W/kg
for those who are occupationally exposed. At these levels, the degree of
heating within the brain at the point closest to a mobile phone antenna is
thought to be less than 1°C. This heat is thought to dissipate quickly to
surrounding tissue and is thought to pose no health risk. Based on current
evidence, RF-induced heating of brain tissue is the only widely accepted
explanation for possible RF-induced changes in cognition (memory and
Nevertheless, there have been
several theories about how mobile phone emissions may interact with
biological tissue through mechanisms which do not involve heat (non-thermal
example, it has been suggested mobile phone emission could also exert
magnetic forces on the ferrimagnetic compound magnetite (Fe3O4)
which occurs naturally within the body. Because this compound is often
mechanically linked to cellular ion channels (the gates to the inside of
cells) within the brain, these forces
may open ion channels leading to altered nerve cell activity. However, this
and many other non-thermal theories are doubtful, as almost all supporting
evidence has been obtained using electromagnetic radiation outside of the
radiofrequency range or of far greater intensity than is emitted by mobile
phones. Based on present evidence and currently accepted laws of
biophysics, it has been argued in several recent scientific reviews that it
is very unlikely that mobile phones are able to interact with biological
matter through non-thermal mechanisms. Nevertheless, a select number of
proposed non-thermal interaction mechanisms have some experimental
support which requires further research.
What about mobile phone base stations?
The antennas used by base stations are placed up high and emit radiowaves in
a horizontal direction. Radiowaves spread out as they travel and hit
the ground at some distance from the antenna, like water from a water
sprinkler. This means that the point of maximum radiowave exposure is
located at some distance from the antenna. Typically peak exposure may
occur at 100 metres from the antenna, but even here the amount of radiowave
exposure received is considered very low and is considerably less than one
would receive when using a mobile telephone. However distances to peak
radiowave strength vary considerably based on the antenna height, tilt and
orientation (e.g. distance of 14 to 480 metres from the antenna have
recently been reported in Australia). The Australian Radiation Protection
and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) conducted a study in which radiowaves
were measured in the vicinity of 60 mobile phone base stations in five
Australian state capitals. In all cases the measured levels were found to be
far below the applicable exposure limits (follow this
link for the report).
Radiofrequency Emissions from Wireless Computer Networks
In order to reduce the inconvenience and trip hazards of running multiple connecting cables
between PCs, printers, modems and other internet connections, many homes, schools and offices
have installed Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) systems. These systems have the added bonus
of allowing, for example, laptops to be operated in the garden or other convenient locations
rather than being restricted by cable length. Wireless communication is typically achieved
by using a ‘router’ (which is a two-way transmitter and receiver) sited close to the main
wired or cable internet connection and a card or plug-in device in the computer, which also
acts as a transmitter and receiver of data. In office environments, numerous ‘access points’
(which are similar in function to a router) are placed at convenient points within buildings,
usually on ceilings or walls. Each of these routers or access points has to comply with rigid
RF emission standards with antennas designed for home or in-building use rated at less than
100 mW (which is similar to a mobile phone handset in normal operation). They typically operate
at frequencies similar to the new 3G (UMTS) network or higher. In order to prevent interference
the range of most domestic routers is around 30 m and the range for office locations is about
the same, although multiple access points will ensure adequate coverage for a large building complex.
Laptops and PCs also have a transmitting antenna, which often is an integral part of the internal
circuitry or plug-in device. The antenna is similar to a mobile phone handset antenna, but in
general, operates at a lower signal strength, since the router or access point is much closer
than the mobile phone base station, which could be kilometres away.
In terms of RF exposure, the worst-case scenario is probably the use of a laptop computer
actually on the lap, where parts of the body may only be centimetres away. There is also
the possibility of children playing near to the antennas of the computer or the router.
However, this is likely to be less than the exposure to the brain from a mobile phone handset,
where the antenna is probably much closer. In terms of duration of exposure, the transmission
of RF energy is greatest during data uploads from and downloads to the internet. This will usually
only occupy a small fraction of time spent at the computer.
The UK Health Protection Agency has conducted measurements from WLANS and have found RF
emissions to be well within international health and safety guidelines.
See also: note on use of personal data assistants (PDAs); Cordless Phones
For further information see:
The Use of Mobile Phones in Hospitals
In most hospitals there are local rules on visitor use of mobile phones.
Recently, there has been some relaxation of the earlier ‘blanket bans’ to
permit visitor use in certain designated areas. Mobile phones are increasing
being used by medical staff to inform relative of the outcome of medical
procedures, so it is incongruous to prohibit visitor use, particularly where
arrangements concerning patient wellbeing are concerned.
Blanket bans were originally introduced not because of concerns for possible
effects of RF emissions on health, but because in a number of isolated instances
sensitive hospital equipment, especially life support systems, were found to be
affected by the RF emissions from the phone handsets. However, if the phone or other
wireless device is more than 2 m from the equipment, the incidence of clinically
relevant interference is very low, but not zero. There is thus some justification
in designating some ‘phone and GPRS switch-off’ areas of the hospitals where sensitive
life-support equipment is expected to be. Nevertheless, because of the difficulty of
knowing, especially when replying to a mobile phone call, how far away particular
equipment is, these areas may need to include corridors and other public space. More
modern devices may be less capable of causing interference because of the higher
frequencies, lower transmit powers and different modulation schemes involved.
See also: Using mobile phones at motor service stations; Use of mobile phone on aircraft
For further information:
Lawrentschuk N, Bolton DM. 2004. Mobile phone interference with medical equipment and its clinical relevance: a systematic review. Med J Aust; 181:145-9
Using Mobile Phones at Motor Service Stations
Most motor service stations have warning signs at fuel bowsers to request that
mobile phones be turned off. These signs have no legal status but have been in place
for many years because of a concern not of possible health effects from RF emissions
but of fuel vapour ignition from electrical sparks. Whilst it is true that sparks can
ignite flammable vapour, modern mobile phone handsets are highly unlikely to produce
sparks, because the switches and keys operate on different principles to those used
in the early prototypes in the 1980s and which may have been the reason for initial
caution. There has not been a single incident in which mobile phone use has been
unambiguously implicated in the ignition of fuel vapour at filling stations, although
there have been unsubstantiated media stories. Curiously, nylon clothing (which can
cause significant sparks due to static electricity), is not banned at service stations.
Use of mobile phone on aircraft
On air flights the announcement is routinely made at the commencement of preparation for
take-off that all mobile communications equipment and hand-held games be turned off. This
is because the RF emissions from mobile phones can interfere with aircraft navigation and
other electronic equipment. At cruising altitude, the base stations are so far away that
the handsets have to transmit at full power to try to establish contact.
Qantas introduced a 3-month trial, commencing in April 2007, in which mobile phones and
personal data assistants (PDAs) can be used during domestic flights, because aircraft been
installed with a ‘microcell’ to monitor and relay calls. The handsets are thus contacting a
base-station a matter of metres away and thus power down to a minimum level.
Broadband over Powerlines (BPL)
An innovated solution to providing fast internet in homes is to deliver the data as an
additional RF current to the mains current provided by the power socket to the computer
or computer peripheral. The RF current represents a tiny fraction of the total current and
electronic circuitry can easily separate the two forms of current. What this means is that
in addition to the electric and magnetic fields (EMF) associated with the electric power
(so called Extremely Low Frequency of ELF fields) there are also RF EMFs. Since the values
of EMF allowed in safety standards are much lower at RF compared with ELF, there is some concern
that the fields could affect health. However, the currents are so small and the fields fall off
very rapidly with distance, so appear to be well within the limits for human exposure. The UK
Health Protection Agency has undertaken some measurements, which confirm this.