Cell Phone Use Up, Brain Cancer Rates Down

Cell phone usage has soared in the past two decades while rates of brain cancer in that same timeframe have slowly fallen, two intriguing facts that add another wrinkle to the debate over whether cell phones cause cancer.

Beginning in 1991, the previously rising rates of brain cancer incidence, which at the start of the decade had a brain cancer diagnosis for 70 out of every million Americans, began reversing course. By 2008, the latest year that the National Cancer Institute has figures for, that number had slipped to 65 out of every 1 million Americans receiving the devastating diagnosis.

While brain cancer diagnoses were slowly falling, however, cell phone use was exploding, and radiation beamed by phones into U.S. brains increased nearly 500-fold. The estimate is based on the fact that there are about 60 times more cell phones in the U.S. than there were in 1990, and each one is used for an average of 20 minutes a day, up from just minutes in the expensive early mobile phone days.

This clear disconnect for the past 20 years between radiation dose and cancer rates doesn’t prove that cell phones are safe, according to David Savitz, an epidemiologist at Brown University, who says the news can be either reassuring, or evidence that there may just be a long delay from the exposure and the development of a brain tumour.

Last week, the World Health organisation, or WHO, said its latest study revealed a link between brain tumors and cell phones’ electromagnetic radiation and urged further review and revisions of guidelines for safe mobile use. The agency deemed the devices, “possibly carcinogenic,” meaning they could increase the risk for certain types of brain cancer, a change in course from its past stance that the phones were safe.

The scientists in the WHO study, though, were not completely confident the electromagnetic waves were responsible for the brain cancers, and while their study caused a great deal of debate, many of the conclusions were more suggestive in nature. Still, its study suggests another tenuous link between the devices and the disease.

Additionally, the FCC does require a limit on the amount of electromagnetic energy phones can emit, which is a prudent route to take if it turns out that there is a connection between cell phones and brain cancer. But the evidence of that link takes longer than 20 years’ time to present itself.

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