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ETpro's avatar

Could brain tumors cause heavy cellphone use?

Asked by ETpro (34461points) May 18th, 2010

The World Health Organization just released a massive 10-year study of cellphone users in 13 countries. The study, published in published in The International Journal of Epidemiology may raise more questions than it answers. For instance, it showed that one form of brain cancer is actually less frequent among all cellphone users than it is in the non-user population. However, it also found that those with the highest level of cellphone use had a 40 percent higher risk for a type of brain tumor called a glioma..

There may be a tendency to assign causality to the electronic device, but is that merited? Isn’t it equally possible that this particular type of brain tumor, in its early stages, causes sufferers to want to be incessantly on their cellphone—or that some as-yet-undiscovered brain anomaly that predisposes people to the tumor also predisposes them to want to yak forever on a cellphone? Will the WHO study cause you to alter your cellphone use in any way? If so, what will you change?

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9 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

I may now consider using the “Speaker Function” of my cellphone, rather than holding the cellphone to my ear. the only problem with this is that other people will hear all of my conversations and that will eliminate my privacy.

roundsquare's avatar

I thought there was some medical arguments for the direction of causality, but not sure.

ETpro's avatar

@john65pennington Looks like unless you are a heavey user of the cellphone, there is no risk. In fact, those who use them occassionally actually had a slightly lower incidence of meningioma than those who do not use a cellphone, or only use it in speaker mode.

@roundsquare If there was, I didn’t see it in the white paper, but I must admit that I did not read the entire report.

Ron_C's avatar

Not to be a critic, but isn’t the question backwards? I never heard of brain tumors causing cell phone usage. I have, however heard about the possibility that cell phones may cause brain tumors.

I am also under the impression that the problem was more likely when the old cell phones put out relatively high power at lower frequencies. I suspect that the low power, digital phones are much less likely to penetrate deep enough to disrupt cell growth in the brain.

I have developed sore ears while trying to hear the phone conversation in factories. I bought a nice head set with a noise cancelling microphone. That cleared up that problem.

perspicacious's avatar

I do not believe, nor have I read anything to suggest that having a brain tumor will cause one to be a heavy cell phone user. I must assume you asked your question incorrectly.

ETpro's avatar

@Ron_C and @perspicacious No, I meant it exactly as written. Has the study looked at what causes what in any way? It does not appear from the writeup that it did.

There has been a suspicion for years that cellphone radiation might increase the incidence of brain cancer, so it is easy to just assume that the question has the cart before the horse. Probably, it does. But not necessarily. It is reasonable to ask if a brain tumor, which typically can take years to fully manifest, might have an impact on behavior before it begins presenting serious symptoms and is diagnosed. So far, studies have all looked at the external demographics only, seeking to tie frequent cellphone use to incidence of cancer, but doing nothing to determine which causes which.

Ron_C's avatar

@ETpro Cool…..I never thought about it that way. Since brain tumors can cause changes in behavior, it is quite possible that a tumor could cause a person to talk, more, on a cell phone. I seriously doubt that there is any study that tried to find which came first.

roundsquare's avatar

@Ron_C Its a common thing to ask in come circles. People assume A causes B, but all we see is a correlation between A and B, so you need to question the causality. If A and B are correlated, there are usually 3 explanations:

1) A causes B
2) B causes A
3) There is some C that causes A and B

In fact, when people were wondering if smoking causes cancer, they asked this question. They wondered if:

1) Smoking increases the chances of getting cancer
2) People prone to getting cancer tend to like smoking
3) There is some other effect (maybe something genetic) that increases both the chances of cancer and the enjoyment of smoking.

It all follows from the old statisticians maxim: Correlation does not imply causation.

ETpro's avatar

@roundsquare Thanks. You said that so much better than I.

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