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Myth buster: Mobile phones don’t give you brain tumours

New research from the University of Auckland shows the risk of brain tumours cannot be linked with with increased mobile phone use.

Professor Mark Elwood, cancer epidemiologist at the University of Auckland, led research on the trends in primary brain incidence in New Zealand between 1995 and 2010. Results indicate there is no general increase in brain tumours as a consequence of using mobile phones.

Elwood’s team examined the frequency (yearly incidence) of brain cancers, both in total and in sub-types highlighted in some other studies, in New Zealand from 1995 to 2010 using data from the New Zealand national cancer registry.

The results show there is no obvious connection between mobile phone use and brain tumours.

“There has been no general increase,” says Elwood. “In fact, for the wide age range 10 to 69 years, there has been a decrease of about 1% per year.”

Elwood notes on a global scale results from research on the correlation between mobile phone use and brain tumours have been inconsistent.

“Several major international studies have suggested either no risk or a slightly increased risk in high users, while some others have suggested substantial risks,” he says.

However, Elwood says the new research from the University of Auckland suggests previous reports of large increases in risk in mobile phone users are likely to be incorrect.

“This [study] adds to the evidence against there being a substantial increased risk in mobile phone users. This is consistent with most, but not all, similar studies done in other countries.”

Even so Elwood says the results cannot exclude the fact there may be a small risk.

“A study of this type cannot exclude a small risk, or one limited to a certain subtype of cancers, or a risk only arising after more than about 15 years of phone use,” he says.

Furthermore, he says, “We have no explanation for the decrease in brain cancers in New Zealand.

“In people aged over 70 years, there was an increase in some types of brain cancer. This has been seen in other countries and is likely to relate to improved diagnosis.”

The research team included research student Stella Kim, research fellow Sally Ioannides and Professor Elwood, who is a professor in the cancer epidemiology section of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Population Health, University of Auckland.