Mobile Phones and Brain Tumors: No Risk?

Smartphones are in almost every pocket among young people today. According to the Swiss study JAMES[1], 99% of teens between the ages of 12 and 19 own a cell phone. But what about the risks, especially with regard to the brain, associated with the use of this accessory that has become so well known? MOBI-Kids, a large-scale international study involving research institutes from no less than fourteen countries, examined the issue. The researchers came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of an association between electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and brain tumors in children and adolescents. The results were published in February 2022 in the journal Environment International [2].

Daily precautions

Here’s how to limit your and your children’s exposure to electromagnetic fields according to the recommendations ofAmerican Cancer Society:

  • The most obvious way is to simply use your smartphone less and establish screen time for your kids.
  • The other very effective way is to move the phone away from your head. To make calls, activate the loudspeaker mode or video chat features of your phone, or provide yourself with a hands-free device such as wired or wireless headphones. The amount of waves that reach the brain is reduced in this way. Note that Bluetooth® headsets or earbuds emit waves with much lower power levels than mobile phones themselves.
  • Write messages instead of calling. However, for obvious safety reasons, do not send text messages while crossing the road or driving.

The researchers analyzed the situation of almost 900 people aged 10 to 24 who suffered from brain tumors – about half of them with gliomas (reading frame). These young people were asked about the frequency of use of their mobile phone and WIFI. These responses were compared with data from telephone operators by agreement with the participants. Some of them have also agreed to install software on their phones to quantify calls (number and duration), messages and internet data transfer for a month. Other factors were also examined: household exposure to electromagnetic radiation (induction cooker, chargers), medical history, whereabouts, drinking water sources, etc. At the same time, parents were asked about exposures that could have occurred before conception, during pregnancy and in the baby’s first years. Eventually, medical information was collected about the tumor, its precursor symptoms, diagnosis, etc. To better assess the impact of electromagnetic radiation on the brain, the researchers also questioned “control cases”. For each of the participants with a brain tumor, two control patients with a similar profile (gender, age, geographical region, date of interview), but hospitalized due to appendicitis, were questioned. Their telephone habits were also analyzed.

Encouraging but not final results

The study, conducted between 2010 and 2015, shows no link between brain tumor and cell phone use. Can we really be reassured? For the interviewed experts, it is still difficult to determine definitively. “It is very complicated, in the field of medicine, to prove, as here, a total absence of a connection between two factors,” says Dr. Andreas Hottinger, director of the Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors at Vaud University Hospital Center (CHUV). Admittedly, this research is of good quality and covers a large number of topics, but, notes Dr. André von Büren, Associate Associate Physician in Pediatric Onco-Haematology at the University of Geneva (HUG), “all selected participants did not respond to the questionnaires. If the response rate had been 100% in both groups, the results would have been more representative”. specialist, we still lack the perspective to reject any suspicion.

But, and this is good news, the MOBI-Kids results confirm the normal epidemiological trend for glioma: “The risk naturally decreases from the age of 10 to the end of adolescence, the subjects use their mobile phone a little or a lot,” reassures Dr. Hottinger. study also shows that even if a direct connection were to exist after all, its effect would remain very low.

Other clinical trials, mainly performed in adults, show little or no risk. As for learned societies, attitudes are divergent. International Agency for Research on Cancer (International Agency for Research on Cancer), based on studies published up to 2011, classifies electromagnetic radiation as possibly carcinogenic to humans. For US Food and Drug Administration (Food and Drug Administration), based on recent studies and the national trend in cancer rates, there is insufficient evidence to support a causal relationship between exposure to radiofrequency radiation and tumor development. Regarding the American Cancer Society (American Cancer Society), she does not speak. While we wait for all the light to be shed, let us remain alert and vigilant (reading frame).

What is glioma?

A glioma is a tumor that develops in the brain or spinal cord. This term includes several types of cancers depending on the cells affected. The MOBI-Kids study looked in particular at glial cells responsible for nutrition, cleansing, and neuronal protection.

The severity of the tumor and the patient’s prognosis depend on the molecular and genetic characteristics of the affected cells. Low-grade glioma, the most common in children, has the best prognosis. High-grade glioma, less common in children, is more unfavorable.

The peak of the appearance of low-grade gliomas is between 2 and 5 years. In Switzerland, approximately 250 new cases of childhood and adolescent cancer are diagnosed each year. Among them are about fifty brain tumors, half of which are gliomas.

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Published in Le Matin Dimanche on 06/05/2022

[1] Bernath J, Suter L, Waller G, et al. JAMES – Young people, activities, media – Swiss survey. Zurich, 2020: Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

[2] Castaño-Vinyals G, Sadetzki S, Vermeulen R, et al. Use of cordless telephone in childhood and adolescence and neuroepithelial brain tumors: Results from the international MOBI-Kids study Environ Int. 2022; 160: 107069. doi: 10.1016 / j.envint.2021.107069.

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