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Skin cancers of the head and neck not linked to mobile phone use


phone user flickr timparkinson
Image Flickr/timparkinson
Mobile phone users are not more likely to have skin cancer around the head and neck compared to non-users, a study of more than 3 million people in Denmark has found.

 
The study compared the rates of the three most common forms of skin cancer between 355,701 private mobile phone subscribers and 3.21 million other Danish citizens from the national cancer registry.
 
“In our nationwide, population-based cohort study, we found no evidence of an increased risk of skin cancer of the head and neck among mobile phone subscribers,” the paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded.
 
The researchers said while UV overexposure from the sun is known as the major risk factor for melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSC) - which include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma - there are some concerns that mobile phone signals absorbed by the skin could also be a risk factor contributing to increased global skin cancer rates.
 
“The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radiofrequency radiation as possibly carcinogenic. Previous studies have focused on intracranial tumors, although the skin receives much radiation,” the researchers said.
 
“The lack of studies on the association between mobile phone use and risks of melanoma and NMSC, the availability of exposure data from the mobile phone subscriber cohort, and high-quality outcome data on skin and other cancers prompted us to examine these associations in a nationwide cohort study.”
 
The researchers used records from Danish mobile network operators to identify more than 700,000 mobile phone subscribers between 1987 and 1995. They eliminated subscriptions assigned to corporations because they couldn’t identify the individual subscriber (more than 200,000) and those with errors, which left 355,701 private mobile phone subscribers in the “exposed” category.
 
The researchers then compared skin cancer levels in the exposed group against 3.21 million non-exposed Danish citizens from a national database up to the year 2007 and adjusted the results for age, educational level, and income. The researchers also compared skin cancers of the body to those of the head and neck which would be expected to receive more mobile phone radiation.
 
“Subscribers were not more likely than nonsubscribers to develop skin cancers of the head and neck relative to the torso or legs,” the researchers said.
 
“We observed no overall increased risk for basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or melanoma of the head and neck.”
 
Because of the detailed information from mobile operators and the high-quality Danish cancer registries, data on this group of mobile phone subscribers has been used in previous studies, which found mobile phone users were at no greater risk of developing tumours of the brain or central nervous system.
 
Like the limitations of the previous studies, the researchers said that they were only able to identify mobile phone subscriptions that were registered in the name of individuals and had to eliminate the more than 200,000 corporate subscribers.
 
The researchers said the misclassification of corporate subscribers as non-exposed would only result in “limiting our ability to detect small risks or risks restricted to specific subpopulations.”
 
They also said their study was limited by a lack of exposure data, which prevented the researchers from evaluating potential risks associated with people who used their phones the most.
 
However, they said the study was not prone to potential bias like case-control studies which are based on self-reported phone use that could both inflate and deflate risk estimates.
 
“The main strength of our study was the nationwide approach, which was based on objective exposure data on mobile phone subscriptions and outcome data on skin and other cancers from high-quality prospective registers,” the researchers said.
 

“Future investigations should preferentially be based on large-scale study populations with detailed data on exposure as well as potential confounders, such as sun-exposure habits.”

Published 6 November 2013

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