Cell Phone Use Linked To Increased Cancer Risk

A recent study says frequent cell phone users face a 50% greater risk of developing tumors of the parotid gland than those who don't use cell phones.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

February 14, 2008

3 Min Read

Frequent cell phone users face a 50% greater risk of developing tumors of the parotid gland than those who don't use cell phones, according to a recently published study.

The parotid gland is the largest human salivary gland; it's located near the jaw and ear, where cell phones are typically held.

The reported annual incidence of salivary gland tumors is one to three per 100,000 people, according a 2006 article by Mark Kidd in Ear, Nose and Throat Journal. Based on that data, a 50% increase would raise one's theoretical high-end risk of developing a tumor in the head from 0.003% per year to 0.0045% per year.

To put the possible danger into perspective, consider that the annual incidence of death by car crash in the United States is about 14 per 100,000 people, according to Department of Transportation statistics.

The study, led by Tel Aviv University epidemiologist Dr. Siegal Sadetzki, appeared last December in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Sadetzki's findings are sure to add to confusion surrounding the already contentious debate about the health effects of cell phone radiation. Many other studies in recent years have found no increased risk of cancer due to mobile phone use, but a few have stopped short of ruling the possibility out and a few have said increased risk of cancer is small but real.

The U.K. Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme last year "found no association between short term mobile phone use and brain cancer," and noted that "the situation for longer term exposure is less clear."

Professor Kjell Mild of Sweden's Orebro University, however, also published a study last year and found that using a cell phone over a period of more than 10 years raises the risk of brain cancer and that children are particularly susceptible to this risk because of their developing skulls.

In 2006, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a Swedish salivary gland study, "Mobile Phone Use and Risk of Parotid Gland Tumor," and the authors found no increased risk of tumors caused by cell phone use.

One area where the two parotid gland studies differ is in the number of participants. The 2006 Swedish study included 172 people with benign and malignant tumors, and 681 health control subjects. Sadetzki's study included nearly 500 people with benign or malignant tumors and about 1,300 healthy control subjects.

Sadetzki says that the Israelis were early cell phone adopters and heavy users of the technology, a tendency that suggests higher radio frequency exposure than other populations. Her study found an increased risk of cancer for frequent cell phone users in rural areas, which may be attributable to the increased radiation output required when phones try to communicate in areas with fewer antennas. She believes that frequent mobile phone users and children face the largest increased risk of health effects.

"While I think this technology is here to stay, I believe precautions should be taken in order to diminish the exposure and lower the risk for health hazards," Sadetzki said in a statement. She recommends the use of hands-free devices at all times, holding the phone away from one's body, and making shorter, less frequent calls. She also advises that parents limit the amount of time children can talk on mobile phones.

And if you really want to protect your health, buckle up and drive with care.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights