A funny thing happened on the way to publication of a WHO sponsored study on cell phones and cancer risks. First the study was delayed for four years. Then a news embargo was placed on study participants. And finally, instead of reporting proof of cell phone dangers as had been reported all the way up until just days before the study was finally released, the study instead reported that it found no evidence of cell phone dangers, contradicting the study’s evidence as well as the opinions of some study scientists.
In actuality, the Interphone Study did discover that long-term usage increased the chance of glioma by 40 per cent, but dismissed the risk because of possible biases and errors. Six of eight Interphone studies found increased risks of glioma, the most common brain tumor, with one study finding a 39 per cent increase.
An Israeli study found heavy users were about 50 per cent more likely to suffer tumors of the parotid salivary gland. Two studies into acoustic neuroma, a tumor of a nerve between the ear and brain, reported a higher risk after using mobiles for 10 years. A Swedish report reported the risk as being 3.9 times higher.
Contradicting the study’s conclusions, Dr Elisabeth Cardis of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona who led the study said: "Overall, my opinion is that the results show a real effect." Bruce Armstrong, another Interphone researcher from the University of Sydney, said: "There is evidence that there may be a risk; Interphone has made that a little stronger."
Interphone has been rife with controversy almost from the day it was set up in 2000. Some of the criticism stems from the fact that mobile phone manufacturers partly funded the project to the tune of around 5.5 million euros, and there were concerns that such funding compromised the study’s independence. The scope of the project was also questioned, as it had left out children and adolescents, which are the groups most vulnerable and most susceptible to brain tumors. In addition, many observers and commentators have suspected that the four-year delay was due to disagreements among the researchers. Based on what has transpired, such concerns appear to have been valid.
Until an embargo was placed on all news about the study, all indications had been that the study would conclude that there was evidence of dangers from cell phones and recommend measures to decrease the danger. Last year the Daily Telegraph reported that a major WHO study will finally announce later this year that, "long-term use of mobile phones can cause brain tumors."
Recently, the London Times was reporting similar information. Then came the industry spin that should have provided a strong clue that something was afoot. On May 16th, a news release from the Mobile Manufacturers Forum group, which helped fund the study reported that the new study "provides significant further reassurance about the safety of mobile phones. The overall analysis is consistent with previous studies and the significant body of research, reporting no increased health risk from using mobile phones."
While several other countries have strengthened warnings about cell phones, Britain’s Department of Health continues to maintain that "the current balance of evidence does not show health problems caused by using mobile phones" and suggests only that children be "discouraged" from making "non-essential" calls while adults should "keep calls short".
Given the Interphone Study’s conclusions, it does not appear likely that Britain will be strengthening their guidelines soon. One can only conclude that the mobile phone manufacturers got their 5.5 million Euros’ worth.
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