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Do cell phones cause brain cancer? Controversial study says yes

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do cell phones cause brain cancer
Photo by Sergei Savostyanov\TASS via Getty Images

Do cell phones cause brain cancer? It might seem strange to think that because we’d all be in pretty big trouble if that was really the case.

But a controversial new study does link brain cancer to cell phone use because the number people with malignant brain tumors known as Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) have increased rapidly over the past several years.

Do cell phones cause brain cancer?

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, the brain cancer known as glioblastoma has the highest number of malignant tumors, with nearly 12,800 cases expected in 2018 alone.

A study measuring rates of GBM in the United Kingdom found that they’ve increased from 1,250 in 1995 to just under 3,000 now, according to the Telegraph. Researchers from Physicians’ Health Initiative for Radiation and Environment (PHIRE) believe that the sharp uptick could be related to the availability and popularity of cell phones.

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"Our findings illustrate the need to look more carefully at, and to try and explain the mechanisms behind, these cancer trends, instead of brushing the causal factors under the carpet and focusing only on cures," Professor Denis Henshaw of Cancer U.K., told the Telegraph.

Some experts slam the study, saying that it makes the connection, but there’s no proof.

"This study does not investigate or uncover any causes for this and merely speculates at possible causes such as radiation emitted from mobile phone," Andrew Sharrocks of the University of Manchester said. "There is zero evidence of a link between mobile phones and brain tumors."

What is glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma might be one of the most common types of cancer, but it’s nowhere near as well known as other types of cancer, like breast cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer.

Many people first found out about glioblastoma after Arizona Senator John McCain was diagnosed with it last summer. The aggressive cancer is hard to treat because the tumor spreads through "finger-like tentacles" through the brain or spinal column, according to the ABTA.

John McCain glioblastoma

Life expectancy with glioblastoma ranges from 14 months to two or three years, according to the ABTA, though 10 percent manage to make it five or more years post-diagnosis. McCain has remained in politics despite treatment, but he revealed this term is his last.

"I don't know how much longer I'll be here," he writes in his new memoir, "The Restless Wave."

"Maybe I'll have another five years, maybe with the advances in oncology they'll find new treatments for my cancer that will extend my life," he adds. "Maybe I'll be gone before you hear this, my predicament is, well, rather unpredictable. But I'm prepared for either contingency or at least I'm getting prepared."

A future with brain cancer caused by cell phones?

Not necessarily, but the California Department of Public Health (CPDH) issued a statement in 2017 on how to minimize the possible cancer and low sperm count risks posed by prolonged exposure to radio frequency energy put out from smartphones and other devices.

"Although the science is still evolving, there are concerns among some public health professionals and members of the public regarding long-term, high use exposure to the energy emitted by cell phones," CDPH director Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement at the time.

"We know that simple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults."