04 October 2021

Mobile phones, 5G, radiation damage and cancer risk – an update for this, the 400th post

How often are you using your mobile phone, the time slips by and then you feel the warmth around your ear? “Oh my God! Am I giving myself cancer?” Ever worried? Well, to mark this 400th post, let us go Out on a Limb once more and examine the latest evidence; who that evidence comes from, how credible it is, and what is the most likely truth in this controversial matter, but first


    Thought for the day

       Both the Observer and the Observed 

       Are merging aspects of one whole reality 

       Which is invisible and unanalysable.


                 David Bohm – theoretical physicist


Mobile phones...

Biggest health risk? Almost certainly driving while using one. Biggest health benefit? Almost certainly providing reliable communication in emergencies and therefore saving many lives. 

But what of cancer? 

Do mobile phones increase our risk of developing brain cancers in particular?

Sadly, the answer depends upon who you ask. 

I say sadly because we commonly turn to science for evidence, and yet, that evidence we know is skewed depending upon who pays for the research – particularly when multi-billion industries are involved. 


Drug studies sponsored by Big Pharma have about 4x the odds of a positive conclusion compared to independent researchers. Yet this is a modest bias when compared to studies on the health effects of second-hand smoke; studies funded by the tobacco industry have 88x the odds of reaching a “not harmful” conclusion!

So what about mobile phone research? Most independently funded studies show an effect while most of the industry-funded studies do not. The bias? Not toooo bad – industry-funded studies have about 10x fewer odds of finding an adverse effect from cell phone use. 

How then does this show up in what you might read? Here are some examples 

From the USA FDA 

To date, there is no consistent or credible scientific evidence of health problems caused by the exposure to radio frequency energy emitted by cell phones 

And this from Cancer Council WA – under the heading of Cancer Myth 

Mobile phones are in widespread use and so it is important to continue to investigate and monitor any potential public health impact. Although there remains some uncertainty, current scientific evidence indicates that a link between typical mobile phone use or mobile base stations and cancer is unlikely. There is inconsistent evidence to suggest that very heavy users of mobile phones may have a slightly increased risk of cancer.

What are we dealing with here? 

In a major article published in 2020, concerned scientists had this to say

An important factor may be the influence on politicians by individuals and organizations with inborn conflicts of interests (COIs) and their own agenda in supporting the no-risk paradigm. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has repeatedly ignored scientific evidence on adverse effects of RF radiation to humans and the environment. Their guidelines for exposure are based solely on the thermal (heating) paradigm. The large amount of peer-reviewed science on non-thermal effects has been ignored in all ICNIRP evaluations. Additionally, ICNIRP has successfully maintained their obsolete guidelines worldwide.

Hardell L, Carlberg M. Health risks from radiofrequency radiation, including 5G, should be assessed by experts with no conflicts of interest. Oncol Lett. 2020;20(4):15. doi:10.3892/ol.2020.11876

What about 5G?
 The same authors continue…

The fifth generation, 5G, of radiofrequency (RF) radiation is about to be implemented globally without investigating the risks to human health and the environment. This has created debate among concerned individuals in numerous countries. 

In an appeal to the European Union (EU) in September 2017, currently endorsed by >390 scientists and medical doctors, a moratorium on 5G deployment was requested until proper scientific evaluation of potential negative consequences has been conducted. This request has not been acknowledged by the EU. 

The evaluation of RF radiation health risks from 5G technology is ignored in a report by a government expert group in Switzerland and a recent publication from The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. 

Conflicts of interest and ties to the industry seem to have contributed to the biased reports. The lack of proper unbiased risk evaluation of the 5G technology places populations at risk. Furthermore, there seems to be a cartel of individuals monopolizing evaluation committees, thus reinforcing the no-risk paradigm. 

We believe that this activity should qualify as scientific misconduct.

So in whom may we trust?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization. It is recognised as the authority when deciding what is and is not carcinogenic. The IARC identifies 5 categories: Group 1 carcinogens are agents that we know with the highest level of certainty do cause cancer in human beings, Group 2A probably cause cancer, Group 2B possibly cause cancer, Group 3 : not sure, and Group 4 probably do not cause cancer.

In 2011 the IARC evaluated cancer risks from radiofrequency (RF) radiation. Human epidemiological studies gave evidence of increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma. 

RF radiation was classified as Group 2B, a possible human carcinogen. 

Further epidemiological, animal and mechanistic studies have strengthened the association. 

Why no action – or at least cautions?

In spite of the findings, in most countries little or nothing has been done to reduce exposure and educate people on health hazards from RF radiation. On the contrary, ambient levels have increased. In 2014 the WHO launched a draft of a Monograph on RF fields and health for public comments. 

It turned out that five of the six members of the Core Group in charge of the draft are affiliated with International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), an industry loyal NGO, and thus have a serious conflict of interest. Just as by ICNIRP, evaluation of non-thermal biological effects from RF radiation are dismissed as scientific evidence of adverse health effects in the Monograph. 

This has provoked many comments sent to the WHO. However, at a meeting in 2017 it was stated that the WHO has no intention to change the Core Group.

Hardell L. World Health Organization, radiofrequency radiation and health - a hard nut to crack (Review). Int J Oncol. 2017;51(2):405-413. doi:10.3892/ijo.2017.4046

Recent research – there have been many papers published!

As examples, this 2017 systematic review reported a 33% increase in brain tumours with long-term use.

Prasad M et al. Mobile phone use and risk of brain tumours: a systematic review of association between study quality, source of funding, and research outcomes. Neurol Sci. 2017 May;38(5):797-810. 

This study, also from 2017 demonstrated 46% higher odds for tumours on the phone side of the head. Significantly, both these reviews included the industry-funded studies that have been accused of bias and underestimating the risk, however, in fairness they do note the available data they used to reach their conclusions is still rather flimsy. 

Yang M et al, Mobile phone use and glioma risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2017 May 4;12(5):e0175136. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175136. 

Despite – or because of this, some scientists are pushing hard to have the IARC reclassify cell phones as probable carcinogens or even elevate them all the way up into Group 1, at least for brain cancer and acoustic neuroma. 

As individuals, what to do?

There is no doubt mobiles have many obvious benefits and risks. Their effect on our relationships and way of doing business is enormous, and again, some effects we could call good, some bad.

In context, my clear sense is the cancer risks are real but quite small. Take the risk of developing brain cancer… Current statistics suggest there is a 1 in 161 (or 0.62%) risk of being diagnosed with brain cancer by the age of 85. Even if mobile phones were to double your risk to 1 in 80, that is still quite small. Way less than the risk associated with using a mobile while driving. Researchers at Monash University’s Accident Research Centre say driver distraction causes about 16% of fatal crashes, with only 7% of those distractions being mobiles (a statistic I find surprisingly low).

Still, it does make sense to minimise cancer risk wherever possible and there are things we can do

 1. Provide distance

Radiation intensity drops off exponentially with distance, so the further the phone is from your head the better. 

This is considered particularly important for children. 

Use a speaker phone (this is what I do whenever possible) or a hands free set (including Bluetooth). It is said this reduces any risks by around 100 fold.

2. Be patient

Fun fact – the few moments when your phone first connects to a new call, is when the emissions are high. So wait for a moment when taking a call before placing the phone near your head.

What about texting?

There is no evidence of finger cancer, so no obvious problem.

What about “protection devices”?


Most have been shown not only to be useless but to partially block the signals and so cause the phone to boost its emission. Better avoided.

What about Public Health messaging and business risks for employers?

Will requiring employees to use mobile phones ever have the same legal issues as requiring employees to work amidst passive tobacco smoke? Good question! 

This is discussed in the risk analysis literature. “From a public health perspective, it might be reasonable to provide cell phone users with voluntary precautionary recommendations for their mobile phone handling in order to enable them to make informed decisions”. But they say there is still “scientific uncertainty” and we need caution not to “foster inappropriate fears.” 

In the current situation, whether health authorities chose to inform the public about precautionary possibilities seems like more of a political decision than one based upon science. 

And personally, if I was an employer requiring staff to use mobile phones frequently, I would be concerned.

Summary


Use your mobile when necessary. 

Question yourself regularly – is it necessary? 

Keep the phone as far from your head as practical. 

Do not use the mobile while driving. Or eating. Or while talking face to face with anyone you value.

Enjoy…


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