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Cell Phones and Brain Tumors

Posted 8/15/2016 by UHBlog

Concerned about technology affecting your child’s development? Ask us.

Cell Phones and Brain Tumors

There may be a link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain and heart, according to a recent study conducted by the National Toxicology Program under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health. But that doesn’t mean you should confiscate your child’s mobile device just yet.

“You need to be careful about drawing conclusions when you hear a report that something causes something,” says pediatric neuro-oncologist Duncan Stearns, MD. “This study says there’s a potential link between exposure and cancer, not that there’s a clear link.”

The study, which followed rats in utero up to age 2, found that male rats exposed to high levels of simulated cell phone radiation frequency developed brain and heart tumors at greater rates than rats of both sexes in the control group and of female rats in the experimental group.

Still, Dr. Stearns says the jury is still out because:

  1. The rats were exposed to radiation for 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off over an 18-hour period every day – a much higher exposure rate than humans typically would have.
  2. Rat and human anatomies differ. Rats weigh less than humans and there may be variations in people’s brains and body parts that may make them more or less sensitive than rats to the type of radiation emitted by cell phones.
  3. It’s not known why female rats didn’t develop tumors.
  4. Although some earlier studies conducted on humans demonstrate a potential link between cell phone radiation and cancer, other earlier studies do not.

Until further research is done, Dr. Stearns says he is more concerned with the distractions and social aspects of cell phone use (such as walking or driving while texting, “sexting,” etc.) than he is with the possibility of them causing cancer. Acknowledging that future research may yet confirm a link between cell phones and cancer, he points to American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for safe cell phone use for children and adolescents:

These include:

  1. Limiting the length of calls.
  2. Not carrying cell phones in a chest pocket or bra. It makes sense to keep mobile devices as far away from the body as possible, in case future studies confirm a link between cancer and cell phones.
  3. Not holding the phone next to the ear. Instead, use the speakerphone setting or a wired headset and place the phone on the table. Again, this eliminates direct exposure to radiation.
  4. Trying to avoid making calls if signal strength is weak. Cell phones work harder (and, thus, react more to nonionizing radiation) when they have a weak signal.

“The big thing is to see what future research shows because now there are claims and counterclaims,” Dr. Stearns says. “Cell phones may turn out to be a small risk factor, but, from a standpoint of cancers and behaviors, there are things that are more important to avoid from a pediatrician's point of view – like don’t let your kids start smoking and watch their weight.”

Duncan Stearns, MD is a pediatric neuro-oncologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Stearns or any other doctor online.

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