Scientists Dispute “Million Woman” Cell Phone Cancer Study as Flawed
Most women in study used cell phones for under 30 minutes a week. Study did not assess wireless radiation exposures from wireless phones.
WASHINGTON, April 5, 2022—A powerful group of scientists, including epidemiologists and physicians and Environmental Health Trust experts, have convened to dispute a study on U.K. women recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that concluded cell phone use did not increase cancer risk. The group asserts that the study of older women – the majority of whom used the cell phone for under 30 minutes a week- provides false safety assurances regarding cell phones and cancer. The scientists are highlighting serious issues in the Oxford study which they say is “fatally flawed and designed in a way that cannot evaluate cell phone cancer risk.” The scientists note that numerous human and animal studies have found associations between cell phone radiation and cancer and they recommend the public reduce exposures to cell phone and other wireless radiation, especially children.
They highlight the inadequate exposure assessment of the Oxford study- how the researchers did not gather data on how many hours the women used a cell phone. The study only surveyed women twice in median years 2001 and 2011, asking if they “never”, “ever” or “daily” used a cell phone. The women were then followed through the U.K National Health Services databases on death and cancer. Women who used the phone once a day were lumped together with women who used the phone for hours a day. When this group of cellphone users was compared to those who reported never using a phone, no statistically significant associations were detected between phone use and brain cancer. Researchers did not gather any data on wireless phone use- another critical source of radiofrequency radiation exposure to the brain.
EHT criticized the study conclusions of “no risk” because most of the women reported cell phone use under 30 minutes or more a week. Kirstin Pirie, one of the study researchers, stated, “The participants in this study were not particularly heavy users of mobile phones, as only 18% of phone-users reported talking on a mobile phone for 30 minutes or more each week. As such, we were unable to assess the risks associated with considerably greater levels of exposure.”
“Studies that rely on outdated data are dangerous in the fact they don’t consider how people use cell phones today. Many of today’s users are on the cell phone hours a day and what is termed as ‘heavy use’ in 2011 is normal use today,” said Devra Davis, Ph.D., MPH, president of Environmental Health Trust and Fellow of the American College of Epidemiology. “When this study was originally started, some people were still using flip phones.”
“Wrong ages, wrong questions, wrong exposure information. Combining the numbers of brain cancers in older women reporting daily use and infrequent use of phones substantially lowers the chances of finding a real effect and tells us nothing about younger people that remain the greatest users of these devices,” Davis explained.
“Although the researchers claimed that ‘cell phone use under usual conditions does not increase brain tumor incidence,’ there is no way to know what ‘usual conditions’ means,” added Davis who has published hundreds of studies on environmental health issues and has testified before Congress on cell phone radiation. “The uses and users of phones have changed radically even in the past few years, with growing numbers of youngsters being exposed to a sea of radio frequency radiation that did not exist a few years ago,” she added.
Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., recently retired as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and former president of the Society of Toxicology stated, ”Carefully controlled experimental rodent studies from the U.S. National Toxicology Program experiments provide clear evidence that current levels of cellphone radiation can induce DNA and cardiac damage, as well as cancer. We cannot dismiss these findings in light of the continuing expansion of exposures to wireless radiation from phones and other devices at all age groups.”
“The absence of definitive positive findings between self-reported mobile phone use and tumors is not proof of safety,” Birnbaum said. “There is enough published research to support stronger regulations. The public needs to know that cell phones should not be held close to the head and body. Health agencies should issue clear recommendations to the public on how to minimize everyday exposures from cell phones, wireless devices and “smart” things.”
Frank Clegg, former president of Microsoft Canada, noted, “Since 2011, older adults’ use of smartphones has skyrocketed. This study makes conclusions that rest on older women’s reported cell phone use from more than a decade ago. This is completely inadequate to understand how much total time women spent with a phone against their head, nor can this study tell us anything about the risks to young children or pregnancy,” stated Clegg, now CEO of Canadians for Safe technology.
Clegg added that combining seldom cell phone users with regular and heavy users as of 2011, “Dilutes the pool from which to draw conclusions about risk.” He pointed to research showing skyrocketing use of wireless technology in older U.K. citizens since 2013, including a doubling of Smartphone ownership from 2013 to 2019 in respondents aged 55 to 75. (Source Deloitte’s UK Mobile Consumer Survey)
“This study tells us nothing about children and young adults that are the highest users of devices today. Younger children have thinner skulls which can absorb a roughly 10-fold higher local dose of cell phone radiation. Children’s brains are still in development and they are more vulnerable, “stated Anthony B. Miller, M.D., professor emeritus at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health of the University of Toronto who served as senior epidemiologist for the International Agency for Research on Cancer and was Director of the Epidemiology Unit of the National Cancer Institute of Canada. “In light of replicated research showing damage to memory thyroid cancer, sperm damage and genotoxicity, we strongly recommend caution. We have published our conclusion that this radiation is a human carcinogen. Public health authorities and physicians should warn the public that having a cell phone next to the brain is harmful and people should take measures to reduce wireless radiation,” Miller continued.
Hillel Baldwin, M.D., a neurosurgeon and a board member of Environmental Health Trust, added this call to the Oxford research team, “For a valid study to be carried out in this circumstance, it is important that researchers interview women to learn how often and how they have used their cordless home and wireless mobile phones over the past several decades (to more accurately assess exposure.) Without that information this study will be unable to provide a definitive conclusion. Other studies find memory, hearing and vision problems among heavier phone users. These are impacts that also must be carefully studied.”
“People should keep cell phones away from the body because they exceed permitted radiation exposure when placed against the skin. Use speakerphone or a headset, keep it at a distance – not in a pocket or bra, or close by at night. Turn off all wireless features when not in use,“ stated Meg Sears, Ph.D of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and chair of Prevent Cancer Now.
Paul Héroux, Ph.D., Professor of Toxicology and Health Effects of Electromagnetism of McGill University Medicine stated, “the downgrading of toxicological evidence showing adverse effects (NTP and Falcioni 2018) by an epidemiologist is inappropriate.”
“Most women in this age group did talk a lot on the phone, but they used home phones, not cell phones and most likely these phones were wireless cordless phones- which emit radiofrequency radiation, just like cell phones. However, this study did not gather any data on the hours of wireless phone use by the women. The lack of any assessment for RF exposure from wireless phones in this age group renders the study wholly inadequate to capture risk from radiofrequency radiation exposures to the brain,” stated Theodora Scarato MSW Executive Director of Environmental Health Trust who pointed out that the strengths of the Swedish studies was that they gathered data on the hours of cordless phone use, as well as cell phone use. In these studies, first use of cell or cordless phone before the age of 20 gave higher risks for glioma than in later age groups. Research shows over 85% of UK households had a landline during the years the Oxford researchers surveyed the women. How many of these women had a cordless phone in their home and how many hours did they use this phone? “In the Oxford study, women who used wireless phones for hours a week could be in all the groups completely skewing the conclusions of risk.”
“The press could aptly entitle their coverage of the study as “Study of women – most of which used cell phones for under 30 minutes a week – found not to have higher risk for brain cancer” or “Older women who barely use cell phones found not to have higher brain cancer risk,” stated Scarato who shared Environmental Health Trust informational resources to minimize cell phone radiation exposure as “over a dozen countries recommend people keep the phone away from their brain, especially for children.“
A systematic review and meta-analysis of case-control studies published in 2020 by Choi et al., found cellular phone use with cumulative call time more than 1000 hours statistically significantly increased the risk of tumors. The Switzerland Institute of the Environment expert published a 2021 review which found increased oxidative stress in the majority of animal studies and cell studies with exposures within regulatory limits.
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About Environmental Health Trust
Founded in 2007, Environmental Health Trust, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is a think tank that promotes a healthier environment through research, education and policy. EHT conducts cutting edge research on environmental health hazards and works with communities, health, education professionals and policymakers to understand and mitigate these hazards. Currently, EHT works with scientists, policymakers, teachers, parents and students to promote awareness on how to practice safe technology.
The Environmental Health Trust has worked on the issue of wireless radiation for over a decade submitting thousands of pages of evidence to the FCC in the years leading up to the court’s decision. EHT scientists testified in 2009 Senate hearings and 2008 congressional hearing on cell phone radiation- the last ever held. EHT scientists have published numerous studies on the health effects of non -ionizing electromagnetic radiation and organized numerous national and international scientific conferences on the issue. Visit www.ehtrust.org for more information.
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