Swedish study finds no overall risk of ear nerve cancer for regular mobile phone users, but more research needed for long term analogue users

A Swedish population-based case-control study1 has found no increased risk of a rare benign cancer of the ear nerve and regular mobile phone use. The study has also reported the “...data suggests an increased risk of acoustic neuroma associated with [analogue] mobile phone use of at least 10 years’ duration.” However, this result was based on only a small sample, because of the rarity of the disease.

“As always, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) welcomes new research on mobile phone safety, but emphasises that individual studies need to be seen in the light of the total research effort into mobile phone safety,” Graham Chalker, AMTA CEO said.

“No single study can answer any scientific question, and this study, like all others, must be viewed not in isolation but against the backdrop of significant previous research.

“When you take a step back and look at the weight of scientific evidence, as several independent organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) have done, there is no scientific basis for concern about the safety of mobile phones,” Mr Chalker said.

The WHO’s current fact sheet on radio frequency emissions says:

None of the recent reviews have concluded that exposure to the RF (radio frequency) fields from mobile phones and their base stations cause any adverse health consequences.

On cancer specifically, the WHO also said:

Current scientific evidence indicates that exposure to RF fields, such as those emitted by mobile phones and their base stations, is unlikely to induce or promote cancers.

The new study, which appears in the November issue of Epidemiology, is part of the 13-nation INTERPHONE study coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France.

“Until we have the results of the other national studies, as well as the overall analysis of the data that will be undertaken by the International Agency for Research into Cancer, a complete assessment cannot be made,” Mr Chalker said.

Once completed, it is expected that the INTERPHONE project and its individual national studies will have examined about 1000 cases of acoustic neuroma.

The Danish INTERPHONE study from February this year reported:

On the basis of these first data from the Interphone Study, we conclude that there is no evidence for an association between use of cellular telephones and the risk of developing acoustic neuroma.

An earlier published study, lead by Dr Joshua Muscat of the American Health Foundation, found the risk of acoustic neuroma was unrelated to mobile phone use.

“Because acoustic neuroma is a rare disease, individual national studies completed so far are limited by the small numbers of subjects who have used a phone for more than 10 years.

“The statistical finding of this study is based on a small number of cases (12) among long-term users and this is reflected in the wide confidence interval (1.6–9.5),” Mr Chalker said.

Acoustic neuroma is a slow-growing benign tumour of the auditory nerve and diagnosis is often associated with tinnitus or progressive hearing loss. This could mean that the onset of the tumour is more likely to be noticed on the side of the head that a person typically uses their phone, he said.

The authors of the Swedish study stated that “…misclassification of the exposure is an obvious problem since mobile phone use is self reported, and recall bias is a potential especially for long term users.”

AMTA supports further research, in accordance with the WHO’s research program, to advance the science in relation to mobile phones and health and so that there is accurate information to assist people to make informed choices in relation to mobile technology and health.

1.  Lonn et. al Mobile Phone Use and the Risk of Acoustic Neuroma. Epidemiology. 15(6):653-659,
http://www.epidem.com/pt/re/epidemiology/abstract.00001648-200411000-00003.htm

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