Cell towers do not increase childhood cancer risk

by Crystal Phend

Mobile phone base station towers boost cell reception, not childhood cancer risk, a British population-based study showed.

Children whose mothers lived near a high-output cell phone antenna mast while pregnant were no more likely to develop childhood cancer than those who lived farther away, found Paul Elliott, MBBS, PhD, of Imperial College London, and colleagues.

Exposure to an intermediate level of cell tower power output was associated with an adjusted odds of 1.01 (95% confidence interval 0.87 to 1.18) for any childhood cancer, they reported online in BMJ.

The highest in utero exposure group likewise saw no increase in childhood cancer incidence overall with an adjusted odds ratio of 1.02 (95% CI 0.88 to 1.20).

It’s possible that the study, despite being the largest of its kind, may have missed a small effect for certain less common childhood cancers, noted John F. Bithell, BA, MA, DPhil, of the University of Oxford, England.

However, overall, the anxiety about environmental risk from cell tower proximity is likely unfounded, he concluded in an accompanying editorial.

“Moving away from a mast, with all its stresses and costs, cannot be justified on health grounds in the light of current evidence,” he warned in BMJ.

Levels of individual exposure to radiofrequencies are much lower from cell towers than from mobile phones themselves, he said. The largest study to date found no increased risk from use of cell phones at any “plausible” level.

Thus, what patients should worry about is not the frequencies they’re exposed to, but the way they use the phone, Bithell suggested.

“The risks are dwarfed by the well-known dangers of distraction while using mobile phones, especially when driving –even when using hands-free equipment,” he wrote in the editorial.

But because of the high levels of public concern, Elliott’s group conducted a case-control study including all 1,397 cases of central nervous system cancer, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas in children up to age 4 years in the U.K. national cancer registry from 1999 to 2001.

Another 5,588 children from the U.K. national birth registry, individually matched by sex and date of birth, served as controls.

Childhood cancer cases didn’t have mothers that lived any closer to cell towers at the time of birth than did controls (mean 1,107 versus 1,073, P=0.31).

Total power output of base stations within 700 m of the mother’s address at time of birth was likewise similar for cases and controls (2.89 versus 3.00 kW, P=0.54).

Modelled power density — the best estimate of in utero exposure, according to Bithell — at the mother’s home address was also no different between cases and controls (−30.3 versus −29.7 dBm, P=0.41).

After adjustment for small area measures of education level, socioeconomic deprivation, population density, and population mixing, the researchers found no difference between the lowest modelled power density exposure and intermediate exposure (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.37) or the highest exposure (RR 0.76, 95% CI 0.51 to 1.12) for brain and central nervous system cancers (P=0.33 for trend).

Likewise for leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, intermediate modelled power density exposure (RR 1.16, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.48) and the highest exposure during pregnancy (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.34) didn’t appear to increase risk compared with the lowest exposure (P=0.51 for trend).

The researchers noted that these findings counter reports of apparent clusters of small numbers of cancer cases living near mobile phone antennas, which “are subject to possible selection and reporting biases.”

The size and national scope of their study would avoid these biases, but the study could not account for attenuation of radiofrequency field strength inside of the home or individual exposures or exposure from other sources of electromagnetic fields, such as maternal use of cell phones.

Crystal Phend is a MedPage Today Senior Staff Writer.

Originally published in MedPage Today. Visit MedPageToday.com for more oncology news.

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  • Doc99

    Sheesh! Next, you’ll be telling us vaccines don’t cause autism.

  • http://www.wirelesswatchblog.com jail bush

    More information about the biological effects of non-ionizing radiation from wireless technology is coming out every day. Enough is not being done by cities, counties, states and the Federal Government to protect us from the potentially devastating health and environmental effects. Through the 1996 telecommunications act the telecoms are shielded from liability and oversight. Initially cell phones were released with no pre-market safety testing despite the fact the Government and the Military have known for over 50 years that radio frequency is harmful to all biological systems (inthesenewtimes dot com/2009/05/02/6458/.). Health studies were suppressed and the 4 trillion dollar a year industry was given what amounts to a license to kill.
    On it’s face, the 1996 telecommunications act is unconstitutional and a cover-up. Within the fine print city governments are not allowed to consider “environmental” effects from cell towers. They should anyway! It is the moral and legal obligation of our government to protect our health and welfare? Or is it? When did this become an obsolete concept? A cell tower is a microwave weapon capable of causing cancer, genetic damage & other biological problems. Bees, bats, humans, plants and trees are all affected by RF & EMF. Communities fight to keep cell towers away from schools yet they allow the school boards to install wi fi in all of our schools thereby irradiating our kids for 6-7 hours each day. Kids go home and the genetic assault continues with DECT portable phones, cell phones, wi fi and Wii’s. A tsunami of cancers and early alzheimer’s await our kids. Young people under the age of 20 are 420% more at risk of forming brain tumors (Swedish study, Dr. Lennart Hardell) because of their soft skulls, brain size and cell turn over time. Instead of teaching “safer” cell phone use and the dangers of wireless technology our schools mindlessly rush to wireless bending to industry pressure rather than informed decision making. We teach about alcohol, tobacco, drugs and safe sex but not about “safer” cell phone use. We are in a wireless trance, scientists are panicking while young brains, ovaries and sperm burns.