Brain cancer from cell phones: Chances, risk factors | Health

Tumors arising in the brain can be malignant (cancer) or non-malignant (benign), with life-threatening consequences where the affected person can develop serious symptoms like seizures, paralysis or loss of memory, speech, vision and other functions. In India, brain tumors are estimated to occur at the rate of 5-10 per 100,000 population however, studies few years ago have indicated a slight increase in the incidence of brain tumors in recent years, which was believed to be due to increased detection rate following improved access to medical care and advances in diagnostic tests since the key to a successful outcome is early diagnosis and prompt treatment of the tumor.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Suresh Sankhla, Neurosurgeon at Global Hospital in Parel Mumbai, shared, “The exact cause of tumor origin essentially remains unknown in majority of cases. However, there is now sufficient evidence to suggest that radiation exposure can produce brain tumors by causing direct damage to DNA. Since past few years, there has been a growing belief and concern in general public that the use or overuse of cell phones causes brain tumors as a result of the radiation emitted by these devices. It has also been miscommunicated that cell phones can affect mental health, sleep, and normal brain activities adversely leading to the development of brain tumors.”

Although long-term studies are ongoing, to date there is no convincing scientific evidence that cell phone use increases the risk of cancer. He revealed, “Cell phones emit radiation in the radiofrequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Second-, third-, and fourth-generation (2G, 3G, 4G) cell phones emit radiofrequency in the frequency range of 0.7-2.7 GHz and the fifth-generation phones (5G) are expected to use the frequency spectrum up to 80 GHz. These frequencies are classified in the nonionizing range of the spectrum, which is low frequency and low energy, too low to damage DNA. On the other hand, ionizing radiation, which includes X-rays, radon, and cosmic rays, is high frequency and high energy radiation that can damage DNA more easily.”

In one study few years ago, no association or link was found between cell phone use and brain tumors in 420,000 users followed over a period of 20 years or more. An another interview-based case-control study in 5117 individuals who had brain tumors and matched control study conducted in 13 countries using a common protocol, suggested no increase in brain or central nervous system tumors related to the higher use of cell phones. Danish Cohort Study, which was conducted in 358,000 cell phone subscribers for longer than 13 years, demonstrated no association between cell phone use and the incidence of brain tumor.

Presently, there is limited evidence that cell phone radiation is a cancer-causing agent and results of many other ongoing research studies are still awaited. As a result, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organisation, has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic in people. Dr Suresh Sankhla insisted, “If you are concerned about the possible link between mobile phones and brain tumors, consider limiting your use of cell phones, or use a speaker or hand-free device to keep the phone away from your head. The only consistent biological effect of radiofrequency recognized in the human beings is heating to the area of the body where a phone device is held (ear and head). The heating is of low-degree and not sufficient to increase core body temperature.”

According to Dr Mazhar Abbas Turabi, Consultant Neurosurgeon at Masina Hospital in Mumbai, “Cell phones emit nonionizing radiation which is low frequency and low energy. This energy is too low to damage DNA. In 2011, the WHO international agency for research on cancer categorised radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from mobile phone, as a Group 2B, a possible human carcinogen. Three large epidemiologic studies have examined the possible association between cell phone use and cancer: Interphone study; the Danish Study and the Million Women Study.”

He added, “These studies have been critically evaluated reviewed and reported. These studies were not for heavy phone users. The findings of these studies are mixed, but overall, they do not show an association between cell phone use and cancer. Mobile technologies are improving all the time, so that the more recent generations emit substantially lower output power. Nevertheless, given the lack of evidence for heavy users, advising mobile phone users to reduce unnecessary exposures remains a good precautionary approach.”