3 min read

Cell Phones Won't Kill Your Brain

A U.K. study finds no correlation between short-term mobile phone use and cancers of the brain and nervous system.
Mobile phone use does not appear to be hazardous to human health, according to U.K. study published on Wednesday, though research gaps mean that the possibility of adverse health effects arising from mobile phone use cannot be entirely dismissed.

The Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) Programme's 2007 Report, a six year research program found no correlation between short term mobile phone use and brain cancer.

"None of the research supported by the Programme and published so far demonstrates that biological or adverse health effects are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones," the report concludes. "Reassuringly, no epidemiological association was found between short-term mobile phone use (less than ten years) and cancers of the brain and nervous system."

Concerns about the long-term effect of mobile phone use, however, will have to wait to be addressed by future research. "[A]t present, very few people have used mobile phones for more than ten years, so it is not possible at present to rule out the detection of an association [between cancer and mobile phone use] at some future date," the report says.

At present, a case-control study of brain cancers in children is being conducted in Sweden. And the MTHR recommends further studies of the long-term effects of mobile phone use, of possible effects on children, and of possible effects of diseases other than cancer, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

"This is a very substantial report from a large research programme," said Professor Lawrie Challis, chairman of MTHR, in a statement. "The work reported today has all been published in respected peer-reviewed scientific or medical journals. The results are so far re-assuring but there is still a need for more research, especially to check that no effects emerge from longer-term phone use from adults and from use by children."

The report also finds that while electrical hypersensitivity causes real symptoms, there's "no convincing support for the hypothesis that the unpleasant symptoms experienced by sufferers result from exposure to mobile phone or base station signals." However, it acknowledges that further research into TETRA (walkie-talkie) radio signals and base stations used by emergency services personnel is warranted.

Finally, the report finds that the while mobile phone use impairs drivers and raises the risk of accidents, the impairment is no greater than other in-car distractions such as talking with passengers or fiddling with the car stereo or air conditioning.

That said, the report offered a caveat: "There were, however, suggestions that the use of a mobile phone may draw on greater cognitive resources than other distractions."

The MTHR was established in 2001 with about $15 million (at today's exchange rate), half of which was provided by the British government and half of which came from industry. Having received a further $18 million over the course of subsequent years, the MTHR has completed 23 studies and seen 23 of its papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The MTHR is run by an independent management committee to ensure that none of the funding entities can influence its findings.

The World Health Organization recommends that "a precautionary approach to the use of [mobile phones] should be adopted until more scientific evidence on its effects on health becomes available."