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Reuters explains problems with cell phone cancer study

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Reuters made a good effort to explain the latest cell phone & cancer study, pointing out the possible limitations in the methodology. Excerpt:

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“The Interphone study was an epidemiological case-control study that began with cases — people with brain tumours — and controls — people with no cancer — and asked them to remember how much they had used mobile phones in previous years.

Experts say that case-control studies can be useful in establishing whether a disease is associated with a certain exposure or lifestyle, but they are also susceptible to a number of possible biases that mean results can be unreliable.

One, known as “selection bias” or “participation bias,” comes about because of the voluntary nature of taking part in a study.

Almost 13,000 people were covered in the Interphone study and one potential problem may be that some of those who took part because they have a brain tumour did so because they already believed the disease was caused by using a mobile phone.

This could skew their estimations of how much they used a cell phone and how often they held it on one side of their head where their tumour appeared rather than the other.”

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JJ

May 18, 2010 at 8:32 am

Gary, great post. The reporting on this issue is fascinating. Here are two examples from oppostie ends of the spectrum.
University Of Ottawa Study Links Cellphone Use To Higher Risk Of Brain Cancer: http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7018726916#ixzz0oHrqPMTy
Mobile phones not proven to cause brain cancer: http://www.mobile-computing-news.co.uk/industry-news/4440/mobile-phones-not-proven-to-cause-brain-cancer.html

Elaine Schattner, M.D.

May 18, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I agree the study is inconclusive. But even if the results were clear, the study wouldn’t adequately address the potential harms people may incur from cell phone use. The hypothesis that cell phone use causes brain cancer is too narrow.
Many people carry cell phones in their jeans and other clothing pockets. Future studies should consider other potential toxicities of these commonplace devices.