Are Cellphones Dangerous?

We asked Dr. Lara Kunschner, co-director of the neuro-oncology program at Allegheny General Hospital, to respond to one of your health questions.

Q: Recently, I’ve read a lot about possible health risks associated with cellphones. Should I be concerned?

A: There is a public perception that a link could exist between cellphone use and the development of brain tumors. In reality, the greatest health risk associated with cellphone use is an increase in risk of auto accidents by drivers who use either hand-held or hands-free devices while driving. Talking on a phone while driving (and the distraction that this presumably causes) quadruples a driver’s risk of being involved in a collision.

While there have been isolated reports of a possible increase in brain tumors related to the use of cellphones, scientific data suggests that there is no connection between the two. A large-scale epidemiological study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001 showed no increase in the risk of malignant brain tumors among cellphone users. Another report, issued by the National Cancer Institute in 2010, also showed no interval increase in temporal or parietal brain tumors from 1992 through 2006 when cellphone usage became prevalent.

More research is under way to help determine the long-term effects of mobile phone usage. Among the new efforts is a project launched in April by the Cohort Study on Mobile Communications (COSMOS). The COSMOS study will monitor how the cellphone habits of 250,000 people in Britain, Finland, The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark impact their health during the next 30 years.

However, based on data available today, the risk of developing brain tumors from intermittent and limited cellphone usage likely is minimal.

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