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Studies Show No Direct Link Between Brain Cancer, Cell PhonesAired December 19, 2000 - 4:20 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Every year, 18,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with brain cancer. There is some concern that cell phones may play a role in the illness, but that's not what a new study found. CNN medical correspondent Holly Firfer takes a closer look at the study and its results.
HOLLY FIRFER, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are everywhere: in airports, on streets, in cafes. In fact, the number of cell-phone users has reached 110 million. That staggering statistic about a fairly new technology, still growing at a lightning pace, begs the question: Are they safe?
DR. MARK MALKIN, NEURO ONCOLOGIST: What we found was, whether or not one used a cell phone, how much one used a cell phone, if one did, had no bearing on their risk of brain cancer. There was no difference.
FIRFER: Dr. Mark Malkin and colleagues have published one of the very few studies that looks at the relationship between cell phones and brain cancer. The researchers, partially funded by the wireless telephone industry, followed 891 adults who used their cell phones for just over two hours a month during a four-year period. The results, published in this week's "Journal of the American Medical Association," show no correlation.
MALKIN: We actually looked all over the head. We looked at all lobes of the brain and the brain stem and the cerebellum, which is the balance center of the brain.
FIRFER: Mobile phones emit low levels of radio frequency energy, or RFs, which are activated when a call connects. The concern is over the proximity of the antenna, which transmits those RFs, to your head. The cellular telecommunications industry says those radio waves are not strong enough to cause any harm.
JO-ANNE BASILE, CTIA: Cell phones must meet very strict government safety standards before they are sold to the public. Those standards include a substantial margin of safety.
FIRFER: But since this most recent study, which concluded in 1998, cellular usage has risen dramatically. MALKIN: I think more studies need to be done, but I also think if you started doing these studies now that we've alluded to -- including teenagers, including digital phones at higher bandwidths, including longer years of exposure, assuming people are using them more minutes per month now -- I think within 5 to 10 years we will really have a definitive answer.
FIRFER: In Britain, they don't want to wait that long. Health officials are warning parents to limit their children's exposure to cell phones for fear of the unknown.
FIRFER: "The New England Journal of Medicine," another prestigious medical journal, has just released to CNN some findings that they were going to release in January, but they released early. It's a study that they did that looked at about the same amount of time: 1994 to 1998. They looked at 782 people, about 100 hours of use. And they said that they did not find a connection between brain cancer and cell phones, either, but they did add, like "The Journal of the American Medical Association" study, that long-term heavy usage does need to be looked at.
So, Joie, another study that concurs.
CHEN: But you know, now we've all gone out and bought our earpieces, so I guess -- are these all for naught now?
FIRFER: No. That's good. It's good that you bought earpieces, because if you have a concern, that's what they tell you: to get the antenna away from your head. That's where the concern is: that frequency goes into the head through the antenna. So if you get one of those earpieces that goes down to the phone, you're getting the antenna away from your head. If you have one of those cell phones in a bag, the antenna sits on the side next to you. If you have a built- in car phone, the antenna's on the roof. So all of those things would, in essence, in theory, protect you from these RF emissions.
CHEN: Where did the original questions come from, though? We started out, in talking about this, saying 18,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with brain cancer. Is that -- was that a number that had been rising with the cell phone use and that's what caused people to look at this, or was this just a separate thing?
FIRFER: That's a great question. It's a separate thing. What they don't know about is brain cancer itself. They started seeing incidents of brain cancer, but not because of cell phone use, but because they started with the MRIs in the late, you know, '80s and CAT scans, so they can start to see inside your head. So they were finding brain tumors, but actually, the incidence has gone down a bit. But like any new technology, they were concerned, is there a connection?
And I kind of equate it -- my dad will kill me -- but when we got the microwave oven and he put the potato in, and quickly, everybody run out of the room because we don't know what it's going to do, it's sort of the same thing right now.
CHEN: Are there other health risks that medical experts are looking at in relation to cell-phone use? Besides driving off the side of the road while you're using the phone.
FIRFER: I was going to say, that's exactly it. Not really right now. It's all in brain cancer. But what does concern researchers most is the fact that people are driving and getting into accidents while using cell phones. That's far more of a danger, they say, right now than the actual cell-phone use and developing brain cancer.
But there are studies ongoing in 15 countries all over the world. They've had cellular technology as long as we have. Some countries, a few years longer. So everyone is looking for it, and as they said, maybe five to 10 years we'll take a look. But as technology advances, we're using the phone more, we may have more high-powered phones. They're going to have to answer those questions down the line.
CHEN: Medical correspondent Holly Firfer. Thanks for being with us.
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