Your Cell Phone Absolutely Will Not Give You Brain Cancer
A 29-year study out of Australia has crunched all the data and finds no correlation between cellphone usage and brain cancer. Hooray!
As we’ve told you before, your cell phone will not give you brain cancer. This time, our proof comes from the largest study conducted on the subject.
A group of top cancer researchers out of the University of Sydney pored over 29-years of data to come to that conclusion. They pulled their data from the Australian National Cancer Registry because all cancer diagnoses in Australia have to be legally registered. The team compared “age and gender-specific incidence rates of 19,858 male and 14,222 females diagnosed with brain cancer between 1982 and 2012, and mobile phone usage data from 1987 to 2012,” writes lead researcher Simon Chapman in the study, published by The International Journal of Cancer Epidemiology. The cell phone data begins in 1987 because that’s when they were first widely available in Australia.
After factoring in age-specific rates of cancer diagnoses, the immense increase of cell phone use, and a 10-year timeframe to develop a diagnosis, the researchers came to a very reassuring conclusion: “We found no increase in brain cancer incidence compatible with the steep increase in mobile phone use.”
Hooray! We can all keep using our cell phones without fear of developing brain tumors. The results weren’t all great, though: “Modeled expected incidence rates were higher in all age groups in comparison to what was observed,” with a predicted 2038 expected diagnoses of brain cancer for all age groups. However, the rise of brain cancer diagnoses will likely not be caused by cell phones. “Brain cancer incidence between 1982 and 2013 has not increased in any age group except those aged 70–84… [but] the increase began in 1982 before mobile phones were introduced.” Chapman believes the increase of diagnoses comes from better overall diagnostics, as he explains for The Conversation:
Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and related techniques, introduced in Australia in the late 1970s, are able to discern brain tumors which could have otherwise remained undiagnosed without this equipment. It has long been recognized that brain tumors mimic several seemingly unrelated symptoms in the elderly including stroke and dementia, and so it is likely that their diagnosis had been previously overlooked.
Chapman gave further reassurance to Medscape Medical News, saying that “age [is] the biggest predictor of most cancers," and “the radiation from cell phones is nonionizing, so it is highly unlikely to cause cancer."
Other interesting facts from the study include that the rate of brain cancer diagnoses is not equal among the genders. Men between the ages of 20-84 have had more diagnoses of brain cancers in the last 30 years. Women within that same age-range haven’t seen an increase in diagnoses. And all of these findings correspond with other studies from New Zealand, the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Reassuring as these results are, they’re not as comprehensive as other researchers would like.
"The study by Dr. Chapman and colleagues does not give incidence data for high-grade glioma located in the temporal or frontal lobe, so I am afraid that their study is not very informative," Dr. Lennart Hardell of University Hospital in Örebro, Sweden pointed out to Medscape. He continued:
We have consistently found an increased risk for high-grade glioma, including the most malignant type, glioblastoma multiforme grade IV, and use of wireless phones. Lumping together all types of brain tumors, regardless of location in the brain, hampers any conclusions on incidence trends.
Dr. Devra Davis takes issue with the fact that 10 years is simply not enough time to allow cancer diagnoses to manifest. Many other neurologists disagree with her, including prominent Sydney neuroscientist Dr. Charlie Teo:
If you look at the science on mobile phones and the link with brain cancer, it is quite compelling … we know that radiation causes cancer, but it takes about 10 years for it to develop, so we know that EMR electromagnetic radiation is going to take at least 10 years to create brain tumors and possibly longer, 15, 20 years.
So don’t worry about your cell phone giving you brain cancer. As far as science can tell, it won’t. If you’re still concerned, here’s a one-sheet from the National Institutes of Health -- and Eric Green breaking down the genetic makeup of cancer:
Feature image credit: Flickr/SparkCBC
What do we see from watching birds move across the country?
- A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
- The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
- Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
The migration of birds — and we didn't even used to know that birds migrated; we assumed they hibernated; the modern understanding of bird migration was established when a white stork landed in a German village with an arrow from Central Africa through its neck in 1822 — draws us in the direction of having an understanding of the world. A bird is here and then travels somewhere else. Where does it go? It's a variation on the poetic refrain from The Catcher in the Rye. Where do the ducks go? How many are out there? What might it encounter along the way?
While there is a yearly bird count conducted every Christmas by amateur bird watchers across the country done in conjunction with The Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently released the results of a study that actually go some way towards answering heretofore abstract questions: every fall, as per cloud computing and 143 weather radar stations, four billion birds migrate into the United States from Canada and four billion more head south to the tropics.
"In the spring," the lead author Adriaan Dokter noted, "3.5 billion birds cross back into the U.S. from points south, and 2.6 billion birds return to Canada across the northern U.S. border."
In other words: the birds who went three to four times further than the birds staying in the U.S. faired better than the birds who stayed in the U.S. Why?
Part of the answer could be very well be what you might hear from a conservationist — only with numbers to back it up: the U.S. isn't built for birds. As Ken Rosenberg, the other co-author of the study, notes: "Birds wintering in the U.S. may have more habitat disturbances and more buildings to crash into, and they might not be adapted for that."
The other option is that birds lay more offspring in the U.S. than those who fly south for the winter.
What does observing eight billion birds mean in practice? To give myself a counterpoint to those numbers, I drove out to the Joppa Flats Education Center in Northern Massachusetts. The Center is a building that sits at the entrance to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and overlooks the Merrimack River, which is what I climbed the stairs up to the observation deck to see.
Once there, I paused. I took a breath. I listened. I looked out into the distance. Tiny flecks Of Bonaparte's Gulls drew small white lines across the length of the river and the wave of the grass toward a nearby city. What appeared to be flecks of double-crested cormorants made their way to the sea. A telescope downstairs enabled me to watch small gull-like birds make their way along the edges of the river, quietly pecking away at food just beneath the surface of the water. This was the experience of watching maybe half a dozen birds over fifteen-to-twenty minutes, which only served to drive home the scale of birds studied.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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