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Holly Firfer talks about cell phone studies

Holly Firfer
Holly Firfer  

CNN Medical Correspondent Holly Firfer reports on two new studies published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) and the New England Journal of Medicine that suggest there is no link between short-term cell phone use and brain cancer.

Q: How definitive are these new studies, and are they the most extensive studies to date looking into possible links between cell phones and brain cancer?

FIRFER: There have not been a lot of studies done in humans about the relationship between brain cancer and cell phones. They are definitive in that they don't believe using hand-held cell phones for a short amount of time over a short period (will lead to brain cancer), according to both studies (reported in) the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. The studies looked at a period of about four years, looking at about 100 hours of use over that time.


The studies are definitive over that short period of time, but what researchers aren't sure about is longer use.

Nowadays, you can get 1,200 to 1,500 minutes a month for a fairly inexpensive price, so people are using cell phones a lot longer. People have forgone land lines and are now using cell phones for personal and business reasons. The bottom line is we're using cell phones a lot more.

Even though cell phones have been around since the mid-1980s, they didn't really become as hugely popular as they are now until the late 1990s. So, long-term studies need to be done: What happens if you use the phone for 1,200 to 1,500 minutes a month for 10 years or 15 years?

And doctors still aren't sure about slow-growing tumors. That might also be an issue. They can look at a short amount of time, but who knows what will happen 10 or 15 years down the line. So, there's a lot more that needs to be done.

Q: Did the study only look at possible links to brain tumors? People do wear cell phones on their hips for hours on end: Did the study look into possible links to cancer in the hip area?

FIRFER: That's a great question. These studies were just looking at brain cancer. Even though earpieces and smaller cell phones have been around for a while, they've become more popular lately. From 1994 to '98 (the period the studies looked at), not as many people hooked them on their hips. But now that technology is changing and people are using the phones in different ways, I'm sure there will be research down the line looking at the whole body and radio frequency transmissions.

Q: Who funded these studies?

FIRFER: In the Journal of the American Medical Association study, it was partly funded by the Wireless Technology Research Group.

Q: Does that undermine the credibility of the study?

FIRFER: It's good to keep that in mind when evaluating this research. But it's also very important to note that the study was done in conjunction with some highly reputable institutions, for instance the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York University and the Columbia University School of Public Health. I think nobody would refute the findings of these very prestigious doctors, scientists and researchers.

But it is good to know all aspects (of how the study was funded).

As far as the (study that ran in the) New England Journal of Medicine, the National Cancer Institute was the driving force behind that study.

Q: Should cell phone users be concerned for their health?

FIRFER: What all experts say is that more research needs to be done on the subject, and research in fact is ongoing both internationally and nationally.

It's like any new technology. We just don't know at first (the long-term consequences). But it's good to know we have doctors and scientists and researchers that are looking out for us.

If there are concerns amid the public, there are things people can do. Certain cell phone manufacturers are voluntarily putting their radio frequency energy transmission numbers in the packaging. So, you can actively look for a cell phone with a lower number. If you are concerned about children and teens because we don't yet have a definitive answer as to how it affects younger people, you can limit children's use and time on cell phones.

If you're concerned yourself, don't use your cell phone as much and use cell phones that might have an antenna pointing away from your body. So, there are certain things you can do to be proactive and protective.

No, Cell Phones Don't Cause Brain Cancer
Brain cancer victim sues cell-phone providers
August 8, 2000
Are companies liable for cell-phone health risks?
August 2, 2000
Cell phone industry to publish radiation data
July 17, 2000
FDA to participate in study on mobile phones
June 9, 2000

American Medical Association (AMA)
Journal of the American Medical Association
  • Handheld Cellular Telephone Use and Risk of Brain Cancer
New England Journal of Medicine On-line
  • Cellular-Telephone Use and Brain Tumors
National Cancer Institute

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