Mobile phones could represent a public-health time bomb akin to asbestos or smoking, according to a study by neurosurgeon Dr Vini G Khurana. It suggests there is growing evidence of a link between excessive long-term use of mobiles and certain types of brain tumours — reigniting a long-running debate about the safety of the technology.
During a 14-month-long study Khurana reviewed more than 100 studies on the effects of mobile-phone use in recent medical and scientific literature — in addition to press and internet coverage — and concludes "there is a significant and increasing body of evidence… for a link between mobile-phone usage and certain brain tumours".
The risk may be as great as a twofold to fourfold increase of developing a tumour on the same side of the head as the "preferred side" for mobile-phone use, the report warns.
It states: "There is a growing and statistically significant body of evidence reporting that brain tumours such as vestibular schwannoma (acoustic neuroma) and astrocytoma are associated with 'heavy' and 'prolonged' mobile-phone use, particularly on the same side as the 'preferred ear' for telephony.
"It is anticipated that this danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking, and directly concerns all of us, particularly the younger generation, including very young children."
Khurana, a Mayo Clinic-trained neurosurgeon with an advanced neurosurgery Fellowship in Cerebrovascular and Complex Tumor Surgery from the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, and a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, points out that previous studies which found no evidence of a link between mobile use and an increased risk of cancer often did not include enough long-term mobile-phone users in their study sample.
Because 10 or more years is the length of time it can take for tumours to develop, Khurana says health studies of mobile phones must consider lengthy exposure to the devices — of a decade or more. He believes mobile technology has now been around long enough for any public health effects to begin emerging.
The report states: "The 'incubation time' or 'latency' (ie, the time from commencement of regular mobile-phone usage to the diagnosis of a malignant solid brain tumour in a susceptible individual) may be in the order of 10 to 20 years. In the years 2008 to 2012, we will have reached the appropriate length of follow-up time to begin to definitively observe the impact of this global technology on brain-tumour incidence rates."
While there is still no proven link between cancer and exposure to electromagnetic radiation from mobile-phone use, Khurana said the growing body of evidence is cause for concern. Children's use of mobiles is particularly worrying, he claims, suggesting their use of mobiles should be restricted to emergency situations only.
Khurana also calls for government and industry to take immediate action to reduce consumers' exposure...
...to mobile-related electromagnetic radiation and to ensure they are aware of the potential dangers.
Writing in the report, he says: "The author fears that unless the industry and governments take immediate and decisive steps to openly acknowledge and intervene in this situation, even while waiting definitive confirmation by large and well-constructed multi-centre studies worldwide, malignant brain tumour incidence and its associated death rate will be observed globally to rise within a decade from now, by which time it may be far too late to meaningfully intervene, especially for those who are currently children and young adults."
Khurana recommends adult members of the public should seek to minimise their use of mobile phones, using a landline instead wherever possible and/or favouring the speakerphone function on a mobile so the phone is held more than 20cm away from the head. Mobile users should also minimise use of Bluetooth devices and unshielded headphone accessories, he added.
A 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) report on mobile phone use and health backs up Khurana's view of the difficulties of establishing a link between mobiles and cancer without studying long-term exposure — and also advises a cautionary approach to the technology.
The WHO report states: "For the majority of tumours studied so far, a long latency period might exist, and the finding of any link to the use of mobile phones is complex. Consequently, most of the published research cannot elucidate the risk of long-term effects… Since there are still gaps in knowledge, continued research and better health risk analyses are needed. Moreover, without scientifically recognised adverse effects on health, it is not possible to produce evidence-based recommendations."
Back in 2004, a study by a Swedish research institute also suggested that 10 or more years of mobile-phone use may increase the risk of acoustic neuroma in humans.
Khurana's report reviewing the evidence for and against mobile-phone use and increased cancer risk can be read on the Brain-surgery.us site in full.