Mobile phone use has not caused a rise in brain cancer in Australia, says a new study led by the University of Sydney.
Despite the near complete uptake of mobile phones among Australians over the past 29 years, the communications devices, which emit electromagnetic radiation, are not correlated to incidences of brain cancer, the authors claim.
Has the incidence of brain cancer risen in Australia since the introduction of mobile phones 29 years ago?, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology on Thursday, goes against the claims of American epidemiologist Devra Davis, whose visit to Sydney in November raised concerns over the dangers of mobile phone use.
Mobile phone use has risen to 94 per cent since 1987, when the first mobile phone call was made in Australia.
For the study, trends analysis of mobile phone use was compared with national cancer data, which shows 19,858 males and 14,222 females aged 20-84 were diagnosed with brain cancer between 1982 and 2012.
Expected estimates of brain cancer incidences were based on former studies that indicated an up to 150 per cent increase in the disease in heavy mobile phone users.
But, taking into account a predicted 10-year lag rate for the disease to emerge, the scientists found no correlation between rises in phone use and the disease, besides among the oldest age group.
“Brain cancer incidence between 1982 and 2013 has not increased in any age group except those aged 70-84,” the authors state, showing that incidences of cancer, for the most part, flatlined over the study period.
The rise in incidences among the older group was more likely to be from increased accuracy around detection, the authors hypothesise.
“The rise started before mobile phones were even available in Australia. It’s almost certainly attributable to the rise in Australia of more advanced diagnostic techniques,” Simon Chapman, study lead and Emeritus Professor in Public Health at the University of Sydney, said.
He said that the paper was now the fifth national study – after those in the US, Nordic countries, England and New Zealand – that had reached the same conclusion.
“They are consistent in showing, over the time that mobile phones have been around – 29 years in Australia, there’s just been no increase in brain cancer in the population.”
He said the study took in extremely large numbers and used only publicly accessible data.
“It’s not as if we have some little study group with a hundred or a few thousands cases in it.”
Other studies have drawn links between rare forms of brain cancer and mobile phone users under the age of 20 and mobile phone use and ipsilateral (the same side as phone use) tumours.
In her book, Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family, Dr Davis warned that it might take up to 40 years for the true picture of brain cancer and mobile phone correlation to emerge.
If that were the case, we would be seeing early rises in brain cancer occurrence now, Dr Chapman said.
“It’s true that we may not see a peak in incidences for 40 years, but if we were to see a peak then, we would already be seeing the line not flatlining but rising,” he said.
“You hear people saying that mobile phones should always be used with hands free. I don’t know whether people ought to waste their money, I suppose it might give peace of mind, but there is nothing in the data that suggests anything is going on.”