A memo has been sent by the director of a leading US cancer research institute, to thousands of staff warning of possible higher risks from mobile phone use.
Users should not wait for definitive studies on the risk, but should take action now, said Ronald Herberman, of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. He added that mobiles should be used by children in emergencies only, and that adults should try to keep the phone away from the head.
A link to higher brain-tumor risks has not been confirmed by any major study and Dr Herberman said his warning was based on early findings from unpublished data.
“We shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later”, he says.
“I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use”, the memo says.
Dr Herberman’s warning to 3,000 staff says that because their brains are still developing, children should be protected.
Switching sides regularly while talking on mobiles is one of the tips he listed.
‘Confused and inconclusive’
Last year, in the UK, a major six-year research study said that there were no short-term adverse effects to brain and cell function from mobile phone use.
Yet, there was a “hint” of a higher cancer risk in the long term, said the UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHR), and that it would look into the effects over a 10-year period with its research.
“We can’t rule out the possibility at this stage that cancer could appear in a few years’ time”, said Programme chairman Professor Lawrie Challis.
But the evidence for harmful effects was “still confused and inconclusive”, said Prof Alan Preece, Emeritus Professor of Medical Physics at the University of Bristol.
“Whilst I would agree that precaution for children is an excellent idea… it is only very long term heavy use that would seem to be sensible to avoid until there is positive evidence of harm.”, he added.
“In any case, modern phones cause far less exposure than their counterparts 10 or 20 years ago, and hands-free devices effectively solve the problem by removing heavy exposure to the head.”
Prof Will Stewart of the University of Southampton, who is a Fellow of The Royal Academy of Engineering, said he would be intrigued to see the early research.
“One cannot refute the ‘early findings from unpublished data’ since we have not seen them – but there is enough published data, including the MTHR review, to make the advice sound alarmist.”
Mobile phone use by children should be limited as a precaution, and under eight they should not use them at all, said an earlier UK report in 2005.
Radio signals and electromagnetic fields are emitted by mobile phones, which can penetrate the human brain. Some campaigners fear that this could seriously damage human health.
No increase risk as a result of mobile use was found by a US analysis by the University of Utah this year of thousands of brain tumour patients, though the effects from long-term use “awaits confirmation by future studies”.
In 2006, research reported by the British arm of an international project called Interphone, concluded that mobile phone use did not lead to a greater risk of brain tumour.
No increase risk of cancer was also found by recent Danish and French studies.
But this year, a study of 500 Israelis found that heavy mobile phone use might be linked to an increased risk of cancer of the salivary gland.