Leading scientists dismiss incorrect “30-minute mobile” media health claims

19 July 2010

Leading scientific experts have dismissed media reports that incorrectly claim the Interphone study found people who had used mobile phones for at least 30 minutes a day had a 40 per cent increased risk of cancer.

This claim has been repeated in the Australian media since the release of Interphone, the biggest study undertaken of its kind into potential health impacts of mobile phones. It was co-ordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The British Government’s National Health Service (NHS) National Health Service has criticised media outlets for “misleading” reporting of the results of the Interphone study.

“The research in question was a well-conducted analysis of several international studies that actually found no plausible evidence of a link between cancer and mobile phone use. Some newspapers have selectively quoted a few results in this research that suggest a significant link, but this is misleading in the context of the overall results. The researchers themselves explain these few anomalous results, and conclude that there are no conclusive signs of an increased risk of brain tumours,” the NHS said in a review.

“Overall, this study does not provide evidence that mobile phones cause cancer, a finding echoed by the majority of studies on the matter, although sadly not by most newspapers. While there is a need for further research into longer-term mobile phone use, this study certainly does not support the clear-cut claims of some newspapers that ‘talking for 30 minutes a day’ increases the risk of brain tumours. While there are a few spikes in results, these individual results should be interpreted in the context of the data as a whole.

“Overall, the emphasis some newspapers have placed on selected results of this research is misleading. This study does not provide evidence that mobile phones cause cancer. More research will follow and over time, as data gathers, the longer-term effects of mobile use can be assessed.”

The scientist who led Australia’s contribution to the global Interphone study, Professor Bruce Armstrong at a press conference, has also dismissed media reports it may be dangerous to use a mobile phone for more than 30 minutes a day.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued its new fact sheet after Interphone’s recent release. It, too, cautions against jumping to the conclusion that those who use phones for more than 30 minutes a day have a greater risk of cancer.

A retrospective case-control study on adults, INTERPHONE, coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), was designed to determine whether there are links between use of mobile phones and head and neck cancers in adults. The international pooled analysis of data gathered from 13 participating countries found no increased risk of glioma or meningioma with mobile phone use of more than 10 years. There are some indications of an increased risk of glioma for those who reported the highest 10% of cumulative hours of cell phone use, although there was no consistent trend of increasing risk with greater duration of use. Researchers concluded that biases and errors limit the strength of these conclusions and prevent a causal interpretation.

AMTA relies on the findings of independent scientific experts, such as the WHO. AMTA takes all aspects of mobile phone safety seriously and supports ongoing scientific research. Accurate science-based information will assist people to make informed choices about mobile technology and health.