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10-Year Cell Phone / Cancer Study Is Inconclusive 248

Posted by kdawson
from the definite-maybe dept.
crimeandpunishment writes "A major international (retrospective) study into cell phones and cancer, which took 10 years and surveyed almost 13,000 people, is finally complete — and it's inconclusive. The lead researcher said, 'There are indications of a possible increase. We're not sure that it is correct. It could be due to bias, but the indications are sufficiently strong ... to be concerned.' The study, conducted by the World Health Organization and partially funded by the cellphone industry, looked at the possible link between cell phone use and two types of brain cancer. It will be published this week."
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10-Year Cell Phone / Cancer Study Is Inconclusive

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  • It's all relative (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:24PM (#32230160) Journal
    At least from this we know that cell phone radiation isn't causing some massive epidemic of brain cancer, and the affects, if there are any, are relatively small. That's not the biggest comfort you could have, but it's something (considering most of us are not going to give up our cell phones anyway).
    • by WarJolt (990309) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:28PM (#32230196)

      Most people who have high cell phone usage also share other behavior. CEO use cells a lot and have high stress. Stress is a key factor in a lot of cancers. It's hard to track the roots of the problem.

      • Re:It's all relative (Score:5, Interesting)

        by bjourne (1034822) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:46PM (#32230344) Homepage Journal
        And some stress could certainly be caused by cellphone usage. Not that I'm disagreing with you. Creating fair studies that takes into effect all independent variables is hard.
        • by WarJolt (990309)

          It could be caused by the stress of talking to people on the phone and perhaps some effect of the radio waves. Nothing has been proven.

        • Re:It's all relative (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @06:02PM (#32230482)
          The problem with "stress" is that it is hard to define. For some people, yes, cell phones could cause stress, for others such as me cell phones probably reduce stress by keeping me connected. If something major happens I'm easily notified via cell phone or can notify others. What causes stress for some people might not cause stress for others. For example I tend to get stressed out when things don't arrive quickly, mailed test scores for standardized tests used to stress me out much more than the test generally did because there was uncertainty and delayed consequences. So while some people might be stressed out because of constant access to information there are others who stress out a lot more because of lack of information.
      • by AusIV (950840)
        How much difference does it actually make if you're the one using the cell phone vs being anywhere in the vicinity of a cell phone and tower? I'm not asking about cancer risk, because we've already seen those results were inconclusive, but I'm assuming we have some way to measure exposure to radiation. I would guess people who live closer to cell towers are exposed to more radiation than someone who is using a cell phone all day, but that could be a completely false assumption. If that guess is correct, how
    • by JustNilt (984644)

      It's difficult to be sure. The fact they could find neither a conclusive link nor disprove one indicates they missed something which is likely associated. While it's rather difficult prove a negative, you usually can do well enough.

      My personal opinion is there's no direct link but since this is such a politicized issue people pretty much think what they want. The closest analogy I can think of is the vaccination/autism argument. The real

      • by jeff4747 (256583) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @09:07PM (#32231798)

        The fact they could find neither a conclusive link nor disprove one indicates they missed something which is likely associated.

        They did disprove it. However, the study author and the reporter really, really, really wanted to prove it so it was reported as "inconclusive".

    • by vlm (69642) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:48PM (#32230356)

      cell phone radiation isn't causing some massive epidemic of brain cancer

      Even if there were a high percentage of brain cancers from phone users, how would you tell the difference between cancer caused by RF wave, which has no theoretical basis or past proven medical experience/documentation, or cancer caused by weird plastics, weird dyes, lead paint, weird petrochemical outgassing from the plastic phones, which has a reasonable scientific biological basis for causing cancer, and unfortunately plenty of medical experience/documentation?

      Correlation Causation...

      • by blueg3 (192743)

        Are you talking about brain cancer from the plastics and dyes in a cell phone? (Lead paint doesn't cause cancer.) I think brain cancer caused by the RF radiation (which does have an unproven theoretical basis) has a stronger argument behind it than getting brain cancer from touching a cell phone.

        Regardless, it's easy to differentiate between them -- that's why people came up with the clever idea of control groups.

    • by frisket (149522)
      Isn't this one of those things where you have to be talking on your phone for several hours a day for several years? I use mine for an average of two calls a day, each lasting an average of 20 sec. Or is it the latent emissions (eg polling the nearest tower) or the non-voice work (texts, emails, tweets, etc) that do it?
      • by jibjibjib (889679)
        My phone's emissions when idle are for something on the order of a few seconds an hour. Non-voice work is also intermittent. And if the phone is 10 times further away from your brain, the received power at your brain is 100 times less.

        I believe that if you make one short call a day, the energy your brain receives from that call will probably still be enough to make all the other network traffic negligible in comparison.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      And this small possible influence all the while people generally don't use BT headsets. They might do that, for a start.

  • I was hoping that all those tools using blue tooth headsets were going to get prostate cancer as punishment.
    • by arielCo (995647)

      I was hoping that all those tools using blue tooth headsets were going to get prostate cancer as punishment.

      Hmm... they would have to wear their headsets on the wrong head for that ;)

      • by chromas (1085949)
        No, see, it grows in the upper head and then on erection, the bloods head south and trasport the tumoroids and cancerolies and possibly Cross the Border(tm) to setup new infestations. Seen it happen.
      • by balsy2001 (941953)
        I usually keep my phone in my pocket. The article was about the cell phone it self giving you cancer. You would be right when the article "blue tooth may give you cancer" comes out.
    • by sznupi (719324)

      Those not realising there are plenty of other places to keep your cellphone (also not quite so close to the body), certainly should.

  • Cell phones cause so much cancer that ... the most widespread studies cant tell whether they cause cancer at all. That is good news for cell phone users.

  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:34PM (#32230240) Journal
    So people who are convinced cellphones cause cancer are going to take their "possible increase" and declare scientists just definitively said cellphones cause cancer.

    On the other hand, cellphone companies may try to take "we're not sure that it is correct" and declare no link to cancer.
  • The whole question seems kind of silly because there is another source of radiation people are exposed to every day that is far more likely to cause cancer...the sun.

    You have a much higher likelihood of developing cancer from UV light than from microwaves.
    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>You have a much higher likelihood of developing cancer from UV light than from microwaves.

      Depends. It's probably better to be out in the sun than hiding inside in your parent's garage.

      Forest Rangers have an abnormally low level of skin cancers, and they absorb as much UV light as anyone. (Hint: It's called a tan.)

      Sunlight has lots of other benefits as well, not the least of which is you're probably exercising instead of playing WoW all day.

      • Sunlight has lots of other benefits as well, not the least of which is you're probably exercising instead of playing WoW all day.

        Human skin synthesizes Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Vitamin D is anti-cancer [sciencedaily.com], anti-rickets [wikipedia.org], anti-birth-defect, anti-flu (flu season takes place when the sun goes away for the winter), etc.

        So basically, Vitamin-D is the Medical-Industrial Complex's worst enemy.

        With that said, regular sunburns aren't good. It's usually best to stay out of the sun during the hottest parts of the day, approx. 12-2pm, and avoid sunscreen no matter what (which prevents the synthesis of Vitamin D).

      • by sznupi (719324)

        It's definatelly better to be outside. Some people take "in the sun" too far though... And I would guess Forest Rangers aren't one of those; at least the equivalent in my place has sensible clothing, given the place they usually work in (plus - often trees). But those specific places are generally damn healthy, too.

    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      It shouldn't be too hard to reduce exposure to cancer-inducing cellphone radiation if any such radiation exists- it helps to know definitively so we can take action as needed. Given we already have measures to reduce the risk of getting cancer from sunlight (limit exposure, use sunscreen), we can safely move on to seeking out other means of getting cancer and dealing with them.

      I would be very careful using the "why worry about X at all when Y is a bigger problem" argument. It is useful if you have to cho
    • You have a much higher likelihood of developing cancer from UV light than from microwaves.

      Citation needed. You're saying it's silly to investigate the likelihood of cell phones or microwaves causing cancer because you're more likely to get it from the sun. What is that based off of? Gut feelings about the relative likelihood?

      In science and especially health-related scientific questions, you test a hypothesis, you don't just assume. At some point someone thought the question of "could the sun's rays be causing cancer" was silly because obviously the sun, giver of all life, could not be causin

    • by Urkki (668283)

      You have a much higher likelihood of developing cancer from UV light than from microwaves.

      No problem, just cover your head with tin foil, and stop worrying about UV light causing brain cancer.

      And if you replace top of your skull with a transparent glass dome, don't be a cheapskate like I was, invest in glass with proper certified UV filtering! I mean, what's the point of transparent dome if you have to cover it with tin foil when going outside...

  • by Chicken_Kickers (1062164) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:42PM (#32230314)
    I have a problem with "medical surveys" in that they a prone to make correlation-causation errors. This seems to be a measurable problem that can be tested in the lab. Why don't people do this instead. Put a lab monkey next to an active mobile phone and keep them there for several years. After that, dissect the monkey for any signs of cancer. If there is, then alert the public. You then look into how it happened, i.e the biochemical interactions that caused it. Just "surveying" people introduces biases, other factors like diet and lifestyle and also crackpots.
    • by vlm (69642)

      Put a lab monkey next to an active mobile phone

      Don't forget to put a "control" lab monkey next to a Chinese made kids toy.

      Polymerized plastics are vaguely believed to be safe, unless they're the scare tactic of the month like plastics containing BPA. Partially unpolymerized monomers are vaguely dangerous. Some of the initiators / mold releases / dyes / lead paints used in the plastic industry are downright hazardous. Basically, if its plastic, and it smells when it's new out the of package, its probably dangerous to your health. The only question is

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Why don't people do this instead. Put a lab monkey next to an active mobile phone and keep them there for several years. After that, dissect the monkey for any signs of cancer.

      But that wouldn't let you rake in tens of millions of dollars of funding to keep yourself off the dole queue for the next decade (doesn't take a gaggle of scientists to feed a monkey every day).

      Plus the 'animal rights' nutters would burn down your house.

      • by iammani (1392285)
        You still can. For a better accuracy, use a 1000 monkeys instead. And to make sure it is *only* the cell phones that could cause the cancer in the monkeys, build a highly controlled environment, and feed carefully controlled food that is guaranteed not to cause cancer.

        And there you go, you could easily spend millions for such a setup.
    • by syousef (465911)

      Why don't people do this instead. Put a lab monkey next to an active mobile phone and keep them there for several years.

      Are you crazy? Do you know how much the phone bill would be man???

      After that, dissect the monkey for any signs of cancer.

      Why? We have so many teenage girls permanently attached to their cellphones that it seems like a waste of a perfectly good monkey. Of course some of the dads might object if their angelic daughters were dissected, but hey you have to sacrifice for progress.

    • Surveys don't try to prove causation, only correlation. I'm not really even sure what a correlation-causation error is, actually. The problem lies in what people think they imply.

      Still, you shouldn't discount a survey as a useful statistical tool. Especially for mapping trends over time. Most of what you dismiss as introduced biases is accounted for, and factored out. If you have ever read one of these types of studies they are careful to give results with various factors included as well as remov
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 16, 2010 @06:36PM (#32230760)

      > I have a problem with "medical surveys" in that they a prone to make correlation-causation errors.
      No they aren't. The people who conduct medical surveys such as this are invariably qualified epidemiologists who don't need to be told the difference between correlation and causation by some guy on slashdot.

      Now, the media reporting of such surveys quite often conflates correlation and causation; see:

      http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1174 [phdcomics.com]

      The final stage, not illustrated in the above diagram, involves some guy on slashdot conflating the actual surveys with media coverage of said surveys.

    • by idealego (32141) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @06:36PM (#32230762)

      It's not that simple. You're ignoring statistics. You'd need a certain number of monkeys and some of them would have to be controls. If the effect is predicted to be small you may need thousands of monkeys. Animal rights groups would have a fit over this.

      The monkeys would also have to experience the cellphone radiation in a similar way that humans would. The radiation would have to be emitted as if a cellphone were pressed up against their ear, and it would have to be intermittent as to simulate a human taking calls throughout the day.

      Different cellphone systems run on different frequencies. If there was strong evidence to suggest that one caused cancer we couldn't necessarily assume that they all do, including future networks running on different frequencies. The same could be said about the power of the transmitter--different phones transmit at different levels of power, and future phones may be very different.

      Some researchers believe that some cancers may take much longer than 10 years to show, so a thorough experiment may need to last 30 years or more. By the time good data is collected the cellphone networks would probably be using different frequencies and possibly lower power transmitters.

      I'm sure there are other factors that I'm not even thinking about. Setting up a bulletproof experiment of this nature and getting solid results in a reasonable period of time is at least difficult and maybe impossible.

      • by dissy (172727)

        If the effect is predicted to be small you may need thousands of monkeys. Animal rights groups would have a fit over this.

        I suppose we could use thousands of animal rights group activists instead of monkeys. Kill two birds with one cellphone!

    • by drfireman (101623)

      Both experimental and non-experimental studies are useful for this kind of thing. Neither is perfect, neither is useless. One of the great advantages of non-experimental studies here is that you can get enough data to estimate the size of a relatively subtle effect with enough accuracy to be useful, while taking into account numerous other potentially interacting factors. As a practical matter, you can't run a study of thousands of monkeys using cell phones, even if it were a good idea (which it isn't).

    • by jeff4747 (256583)

      This seems to be a measurable problem that can be tested in the lab. Why don't people do this instead.

      Because to perform such a test in a lab, we'd have to come up with a mechanism by which cell phones cause radiation. Since nobody's been able to do that, it's very hard to design a lab experiment.

      On the other hand, one can just postulate that cell phones cause cancer and then survey a bunch of people to see if that's true. No mechanism nor pesky experimental design required.

      • by jeff4747 (256583)

        Whoops.

        "which cell phones cause radiation."

        should be:

        "which cell phones cause cancer."

  • by Stenchwarrior (1335051) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:47PM (#32230350)

    Have they done this study against other types of radio frequencies like cordless land-line phones? What about emergency services workers that carry radios on their hips until needed...are they being checked for hip-cancer? Doesn't Nike or some other shoe maker have a device that fits inside a shoe so people can listen to FM whilst jogging? Watch out for heel-cancer! The point being, why are cell-phones being singled out as possible culprits where then are so many other devices out there that use radio technology?

    I think the media has way too much control over what is allowed to scare us into taking action. It seems that our efforts could be better directed toward something that actually makes sense. Let Mythbusters handle this type of shit.

    • Cell phones get singled out because it is a multi-billion dollar industry that has "deep pockets" for tort lawyers to sue out of existence.

    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      I agree with the sentiment, but if we were to single out one thing, it makes sense for it to be cellphones. Cellphones emit radiation that has to be picked up miles away, so a large portion is going through you. Most of what you mentioned receive radiation from miles away, so you are being hit by only a fraction of the radiation the source emits. Cordless phones only have to transmit a few feet- maybe a few hundred at most, so they can be low-power compared to your cellphone. Two-way radios would be emitti
    • 1. Hype?
      2. They have the highest frequencies.

      By the way: I always find it stunning that they think a radiation that is literally 1000 times weaker than freaking visible light, and also not remotely as intense, is what could create cancer.

      Hell, if that were the case, then we’d all die of cancer after a short time in the sun!

  • So you know what that means, right? We are all going to die horrible deaths. (Or at least some of us).

    There, I have concluded the inconclusive study.

  • USA Today (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nidi62 (1525137) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:52PM (#32230392)
    The article in USA Today has a nice little gem in it: "The authors acknowledged possible inaccuracies in the survey from the fact that participants were asked to remember how much and on which ear they used their mobiles over the past decade. Results for some groups showed cellphone use actually appeared to lessen the risk of developing cancers, something the researchers described as "implausible."" Now, I don't know why, but something about this statement seems kind of important.
    • Re:USA Today (Score:4, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Sunday May 16, 2010 @05:58PM (#32230448)

      Results for some groups showed cellphone use actually appeared to lessen the risk of developing cancers, something the researchers described as "implausible."

      People with UNDIAGNOSED very early stage brain cancer might have problems functioning in society, equals less likelihood of cell phone ownership. Not implausible at all.

      • What this statement, and the statements in the accompanying article mean is that the researchers clearly had a strong bias towards finding a positive result. It was quite clear that the authors don't understand what "inconclusive" means in this context.

        There is a simple idea associated with this sort of study that wasn't mentioned at all - correlation does not imply causation. That is that even if a correlation WAS found it still doesn't imply that cell phone use causes brain cancer.

        But the converse does no

    • by drfireman (101623)

      With these kinds of inaccuracies due to self-report, the question you need to ask is whether or not they're liable to introduce bias or just noise. In this case, I can imagine a source of bias (cancer patients may tend to recall more cell phone use than healthy people) contributing to the effect. Given the reported findings, this doesn't sound like a huge problem. Perhaps there are other reasons to suspect bias in the other direction, which would be more of an issue. But I haven't read the study yet (do

    • by Twinbee (767046)

      I remember hearing a while back that exposure to a small amount of radiation increases health (or decreases cancer risk). A bit like an 'immunization'. Would make sense here.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dudpixel (1429789)

      The article in USA Today has a nice little gem in it:
      "The authors acknowledged possible inaccuracies in the survey from the fact that participants were asked to remember how much and on which ear they used their mobiles over the past decade. Results for some groups showed cellphone use actually appeared to lessen the risk of developing cancers, something the researchers described as "implausible.""

      Now, I don't know why, but something about this statement seems kind of important.

      How can something like this be "implausible". Is it only implausible because they cannot explain it?

      Sounds to me like they knew what they wanted the report to say before they began the study. All they wanted was sufficient proof before hitting the 'publish' button on the report. They never found it so it is labelled "inconclusive" which really means, "we shall try again".

  • To stop [cellphoneionizer.com] these [waveshield.com] buncha [safecell.net] creeps [emfblues.com] from making a pretty dollar. This one in particular cracked me up:

    Our small, family business produces ceramic dielectric resonators which are individually made, by hand, with love and intention to absorb harmful emanations and rebroadcast the energy in neutral to beneficial ranges.

    Charmion McKusick, Biomagnetic Research

    (Good thing they rebroadcast bad waves into good waves, or they'd be violating some law)

    But then again, people will believe what they will

  • what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drDugan (219551) * on Sunday May 16, 2010 @06:54PM (#32230922) Homepage

    Science isn't inconclusive. There is statistically significant, or not. In this case, not.

    Test another hypothesis or test again if data looks fishy.

  • by ErikZ (55491) *

    pffft.

    The conclusions of their 10 year study were crystal clear. "Send us more money to do another 10 year study."

  • ... to ask for more money for 'further research'.

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