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Study links heavy cell phone use to cancer

Feb. 15, 2005
Courtesy Tel Aviv University
and World Science staff

Sci­en­tists claim to have found a link be­tween heavy cell phone us­age and can­cer of the sal­i­vary gland. The re­search­ers sug­gest peo­ple use hands-free cell phones to avoid a risk.

The find­ings by Sie­gal Sadet­zki, an epi­demi­olo­g­ist at Tel Aviv Uni­ver­s­ity in Is­ra­el, and col­leagues ap­pear in the Feb. 15 is­sue of the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Ep­i­de­mi­ology. The group found that heavy cell phone users faced a high­er risk of both be­nign and ma­lig­nant tu­mors in the gland.

Mobile phone radia­tion may have a link to can­cer of the sa­li­va­ry gland, a new study sug­gests. (Im­age © G.F. Gal­li)


Peo­ple who used a cell phone heavily on the side of the head where the tu­mor de­vel­oped were found to have an about 50 per­cent high­er risk for de­vel­op­ing a tu­mor of the main sal­i­vary gland, or parot­id, com­pared to non-cell phone users, the re­search­ers wrote.

The study was done on Is­ra­elis, which is a key be­cause Is­ra­elis adopt­ed cell phone tech­nol­o­gy early and use it heav­i­ly, Sadet­zki said. 

Thus the ex­po­sure to phone radia­t­ion found in this study was high­er than in pre­vi­ous stud­ies.”This un­ique popula­t­ion has giv­en us an in­dica­t­ion that cell phone use is as­so­ci­at­ed with can­cer,” added Sadet­zki.

The study in­ves­t­i­gated nearly 500 peo­ple di­ag­nosed with sal­i­vary gland tu­mors, and com­pared them to 1,300 healthy sub­jects. Par­ti­ci­pants were asked to de­tail how of­ten and how long they typ­ic­ally talked on cell phones. The study al­so found an in­creased risk of can­cer for heavy users who lived in ru­ral ar­eas. Be­cause there are few­er an­ten­nas, cell phones in ru­ral ar­eas need to emit more radia­t­ion to com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tive­ly.

Sadet­zki pre­dicts that, over time, the great­est ef­fects will be found in heavy users and chil­dren. Risks from cell phones have been hard to prove, mainly due to the long time it takes can­cer to de­vel­op, she said.

“This tech­nol­o­gy is here to stay,” Sadet­zki said. “I be­lieve pre­cau­tions should be tak­en in or­der to di­min­ish the ex­po­sure.” She rec­om­mends peo­ple use hands-free de­vices, and hold the phone away from one’s body. Less fre­quent and shorter calls are al­so pref­er­a­ble, she added.

Chil­dren may be more sus­cep­ti­ble, so par­ents should lim­it young­sters’ cell phone use and in­sist they use speak­ers or hands-free de­vices, she added. “Some tech­nol­o­gy that we use to­day car­ries a risk. The ques­tion is not if we use it, but how we use it.” 

Pre­cisely how cell phones could af­fect the body is un­clear, but a re­cent Finn­ish Radia­t­ion and Nu­clear Safe­ty Au­thor­ity study found their radia­t­ion might subtly change the bio­chem­i­cal make­up of skin. That re­search ap­peared in the Feb. 11 on­line is­sue of the jour­nal BMC Ge­nomics.


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Scientists claim to have found a link between heavy cell phone usage and cancer of the salivary gland. The researchers suggest people should use hands-free cell phones to avoid any risk. The findings by Siegal Sadetzki, an epidemiologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and colleagues appear in the Feb. 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. The group found that heavy cell phone users faced a higher risk of both benign and malignant tumors in the gland. People who used a cell phone heavily on the side of the head where the tumor developed were found to have an about 50 percent higher risk for developing a tumor of the main salivary gland, or parotid, compared to non-cell phone users, the researchers wrote. The study was done on Israelis, which is a key because Israelis adopted cell phone technology early and use it heavily, Sadetzki said. Thus the exposure to phone radiation found in this study was higher than in previous studies.”This unique population has given us an indication that cell phone use is associated with cancer,” added Sadetzki. The study investigated nearly 500 people diagnosed with salivary gland tumors, and compared them to 1,300 healthy subjects. Participants were asked to detail how often and how long they typically talked on cell phones. The study also found an increased risk of cancer for heavy users who lived in rural areas. Because there are fewer antennas, cell phones in rural areas need to emit more radiation to communicate effectively. Sadetzki predicts that, over time, the greatest effects will be found in heavy users and children. Risks from cell phones have been hard to prove, mainly due to the long time it takes cancer to develop, she said. “This technology is here to stay,” Sadetzki said. “I believe precautions should be taken in order to diminish the exposure and lower the risk for health hazards.” She recommends people use hands-free devices, and hold the phone away from one’s body. Less frequent and shorter calls are also preferable, she added. Children may be more susceptible, so parents should limit their cell phone use and insist they use speakers or hands-free devices, she added. “Some technology that we use today carries a risk. The question is not if we use it, but how we use it.” Precisely how cell phones could affect the body is unclear, but a recent Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority study found their radiation might subtly change the biochemical makeup of skin. That research appeared in the Feb. 11 online issue of the journal BMC Genomics.