Science yet to rule out long-term health risks, Melbourne conference hears
||Prof. Mark Elwood says researchers have ruled out short-term health risks from mobile phone use
The last ten years of research has ruled out any short-term health risks from mobile phone use but science can’t yet rule out the possibility of long-term effects, however small they may be, Professor of Cancer and Epidemiology at the University of Auckland Mark Elwood has told an Australian conference.
“There was a lot of concern five or ten years ago that we would have a short term increase in cancers and we can now quite definitely say that we do not have that,” Prof Elwood said.
“We certainly do not have any short term effects, whether we have any long term effects is the question.”
In a presentation to the annual Science and Wireless conference in Melbourne in November titled “A Review of the Epidemiology: What does the science tell the community about the use of wireless in everyday life?” Professor Elwood reviewed a range of population studies and brain cancer incidence studies which have looked at mobile phone use and possible health effects.
While researchers aren’t currently in a position to give a definitive yes or no answer to whether mobile phone use can cause adverse health effects, Prof Elwood said the risks are small compared to a range of everyday activities.
“I think there is nothing wrong with saying there are uncertainties, we can’t give a simple yes or no message and I think most people are not surprised by that because there are so many things in life that we can’t give a yes or no message to,” Prof Elwood said.
“I certainly would not criticise any parent who allowed their children to use mobiles. In fact, I would be more critical of parents who allowed their children to get too much sunlight because that is a proven carcinogen.”
Professor Elwood said the problem with the current state of research was that the majority of studies had found no effects, but a few had indicated there may be a slightly increased risk of some forms of brain tumour for heavy long term users, although errors and bias in the studies could be a factor.
“It’s giving us still a confused picture after a lot of research, because most of the epidemiology is showing no strong effect, certainly no strong effect with moderate to reasonably high intensities of exposure and up to about ten years-time,” Prof Elwood said.
“The problem is there are a number of results concentrating on the highest exposures we’ve measured and concentrating on ten or more years after first exposure, which do show some increased risk. And it’s impossible to tell really whether that’s a real finding or whether that’s due to limitations in the studies.”
Professor Elwood said taking all of the research in to account, two possible conclusions could be drawn about mobile phones and the incidence of cancer:
One, there is no increased risk of cancer with the use of mobile phones and results that show an increased risk of cancer are explained by chance, biases and confounding factors in the studies.
Or two, there is a small increased risk of cancer after many years of heavy mobile phone exposure.
“I think those are the two positions that are defensible. I don’t know which of those is true, one of them must be wrong and I doubt if we’ll get the answer in the next few months,” Prof Elwood said.
Professor Elwood said the current World Health Organization (WHO) advice was “perfectly reasonable” and if people had concerns they could follow that advice to limit their exposure or, equally, they could ignore it, “which is reasonable because there may be no risk at all”.