The statistics are staggering. A total number of 5 billion people own a cell phone today. We’ve come a long way since the early 90s, when the first cell phone came on the market. Back then, cell phones were larger, unable to fit in one’s pocket. A cell phone was portioned for the elite class, as they were a more rare commodity back then. Minutes were scarce, as many would watch how many minutes they spent on their phone, dollar for dollar.
Today, owning a cell phone has become as necessary as a morning Starbucks coffee. The influx of the necessity of the cell phone has created the death of the landline. People prefer the convenience of a communication device they can fit inside their pocket. With a cell phone, people can be reached at anytime, and talk to their loved one anywhere. Whenever I go outside, every 5 min, I can see someone holding a sleek phone pressed against their ear, chattering away about the day’s events, seemingly engrossed in their phone conversation, tuning out their immediate surroundings. Whether you’re talking to someone about a funny incident that happened at work this morning, or are a sales agent trying to close a deal over the phone, you can get so lost in the conversation, time seems to fly by-especially if you have unlimited minutes. Before you know it, you’ve spoken to your loved one for about an hour.
A few months ago, I had switched from using pre-paid 10 min phone cards on my Fido cell phone. Instead, I switched to Mobilicity. It had an unlimited text and talk plan of only 40 dollars a month, and reception covered 4 broad areas within the province of Ontario. I found myself for a few months engaging in a few one hour conversations with my friends. It wasn’t until recently when I realized how much more time I spent on my cell phone now that I wasn’t using prepaid minutes. This sudden awareness made me realize that I probably had to cut back on my minutes, so I decided to buy a Virgin Mobile cell phone with phone cards. I went back to texting, and tried to avoid talking on the phone as much as possible. I also plan to purchase a home phone landline. Sometimes I think I need to take extra precaution when it comes to advice about cell phones and radiation absorption, since I already have a diagnosed brain tumor to begin with.
Brain tumors have been an issue I’ve been looking into, researching, and dealing with for half a decade, ever since I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor 5 years ago after I had my first grand mal seizure. An MRI showed a benign brain tumor located above my superior temporal gyrus in my right temporal lobe. My neurologist said that it appears to be a congenital brain tumor I was born with. It could be a dysneuroepithelial tumor, a rare kind of tumor that starts growing at birth.
Recently, I came across a segment on CNN where Sanjay Gupta discussed the dangers of extended cell phone use. A world renowned surgeon and correspondent for CNN, he raised a few red flags for the North American public. The segment can be viewed here:
There were a few take home key facts that were mentioned in this segment. But if you watch any news segment or read any article about brain tumors, you can find the same points being thrown around, and these include:
Heavy users, those who used a cell phone for more than 10 years, had a more than double chance of getting a glioma, a type of brain tumor. This was cited in the appendix of the Interphone Study, the largest cell phone study to date.
Children are more vulnerable to brain tumors because their skulls are not as well developed. Radiation can penetrate brain tissue much more deeply in children than in adults.
It is advisable to use an earpiece or a bluetooth set, or text more often.
Actually, if you do a quick browse of most youtube clips or read any news article, I find the same few facts spewed around, the same points. In regards to responses to these articles or newsclips, the arguments either for or against cell phones causing brain tumors is quite superficial and on the surface. There may be youtube comments in response to a clip about cell phone use and brain tumor link for instance, thrown around by users who state how these clips may be fear mongering and sensationalistic, with unfounded conclusions. Here and there, you may find a user stating that they were diagnosed with a brain tumor after years of use, and then blame the cell phone companies for their careless marketing and careless regard for the welfare and health of the public.
I came across this insightful youtube clip by YouOughtToKnow, which summarizes the way the public conceptualizes the cell phone and brain cancer debate well.
To quote a line from the clip: “Some studies are inconclusive and say nothing at all. Those are my favourite”. It’s almost like everyone just wants to pick and choose information or snippets that they want to hear to confirm their beliefs, and outright ignore other confounding factors.
Ignorance is bliss, and the information that is provided to them is usually glossed over by the ordinary layperson who uses a cell phone. It’s funny, because although the same key points are thrown around to the public about cell phone use, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t simply absorb the information given to them. People need to actively, critically, look at the same key facts thrown at them. The cell phone debate basically summarizes both negative and positive aspects of using a cell phone. If you just did not want to compute the information thrown at you, you may accept the positives mentioned in an article or news segment, and ignore the negatives outright altogether.
For instance, the negative facts mentioned in the CNN segment include:
-There is an increased risk for cancer for those heavy users who have used their phone for more than a decade, studies show a 40% increased risk. (That’s quite a high number that would make any epidemiologist’s hairs raise, don’t you think?)
-Children are more vulnerable to radiowave penetration in the brain
The positive facts mentioned in the CNN news segment:
-Cell phone radiation is non ionizing, so it won’t cause immediate damage to your cells and destroy DNA, set within the limits the FDA has set.
In order to wrap your head around this issue, one cannot make any firm conclusions from watching a CNN segment. Brain tumor development is actually complex, and although many people probably came across that CNN segment, there are more questions one needs to ask about brain tumors in general if they are either worried about getting one, or want to understand how to treat an existing brain tumor. How the media dispenses the information about brain tumors needs to be examined with a critical eye.
The first alarming fears that these devices could possibly have a link to brain cancer were broadcast on an episode of Larry King Live in 1993. The day after the broadcast, stocks of Motorola cell phone dropped, along with several others. Fear started to spread among the public. Yet, despite the initial fear, more than 10 years later, we still see an influx of cell phone users on their phone. In 1993, there were only 1.3 million cell phone subscribers in Canada, in 2005 that figure was 16.6 million for Canadians.1 In 2010, the amount of Canadian cell phone subscribers increased to 24 million.2. The upsweep and the ubiquity of cell phone use has increased more than 20 fold from 1993 to 2010.
The research has been done, it exists, but people tend to ignore the information out there if they aren’t actively looking for it. Yes, you may casually come across a headline when you open up your monthly issue of TIME magazine such as How Safe is Your Cell Phone? to discuss possible red flags. For instance, in the March 15, 2010 article How Safe is Your Cell Phone? author Bryan Walsh mentions a few studies which indicated DNA damage when rats were exposed to to a single 2 hour exposure session of RF levels considered safe by U.S standards:3
“In 1995, Lai co-wrote a study showing that a single two-hour exposure of RF radiation — at levels considered safe by U.S. standards — produced the sort of genetic damage in rats’ brain cells that can lead to cancer.”
“A 2004 European Union — funded study reported similar findings.”
The truth of the matter is, in order to get a rich understanding of this topic, there is more research out there, and with enough reasoning skills, one can piece together the information to get a sense of how to look at the issue.
So far, there are a few books written by professionals which discuss the matter in depth: In Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide it, and How to Protect Your Family, Devra Davis discusses the political climate involving companies’ push to market cell phones, and how some scientific studies which showed DNA damage when rats were exposed to radiowave frequency for long periods of time went past industry professionals in an effort to get cell phone products approved.
Dr. George Carlo, author of Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age discusses the political details involved with dealing with the TCIA and FCC over the approval of cell phone products, as well as details of his twenty five million dollar research project on cell phones and the impact on human health. Dr. George Carlo was appointed by Wheeler, head of the Telecommunications Communications Industry Association, to head a 25 million dollar project funded by the TCIA. Carlo, a pathologist and epidemiologist, hired Dr. Guy, an industry professional with advanced training in the bioelectromagnetic field to conduct studies on radiation absorption. Radiation absorption is somewhat hard to measure, since it tends to pass through cells, but Guy was able to devise a piece of equipment which was able to measure the amounts of radiation in rat’s bodies. The results of these scientific studies could be found in the book, indicating the radiation absorption amounts rats absorbed.
I wonder how many people have actually read these 2 books out there. They weren’t bestsellers, in much the same way that economist Malcom Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” or “Freakonomics” were. Therefore, there’s a lot of blanks people need to fill in when it comes to the debate as to whether cell phone use could pose a danger.
As mentioned by Sanjay Gupta in the CNN segment, there is an evidenced risk of brain cancer development in heavy users who have used their cell phone for more than a decade. That much, we know. Now, this leaves room for a lot of interpretation, nonetheless, doesn’t it?
I actually want to present some anecdotal information and tackle the brain tumor issue in some new light, especially when it comes to this piece of information presented by Sanjay Gupta as he relayed the results of the Interphone Study:
Heavy users, those who used a cell phone for more than 10 years, had a more than double chance of getting a glioma, a type of brain tumor.
I hear the word “latency” used a lot when I come across the news reports about this. Even though this word is used a lot, many lay people will gloss over this term and not examine what is implied by ‘latency’.
I am going to discuss the concept of latency, and how much latency plays a big role in denial of a budding issue, or pre-existing condition.
I was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 20 years old. Since then, I have tried to learn as much as I could about brain tumors in general, and brain tumors as it relates to my situation.
I had never used a cell phone prior to my first diagnosis. It hit me one night when I was rushed to the hospital after having suffered from a grand mal seizure. They did a CT scan, which showed a tumor located in the area behind my right ear. It was right above my superior temporal gyrus in my right temporal lobe. Evidently, this is the area where the antenna of a cell phone for a right handed user would target.
My neurologist said my brain tumor was very benign, she said I was possibly born with it. The plan now was to put me on anti-convulsants, and track down the tumor every year to see if it has grown. So far, my tumor hasn’t grown very much over the course of the past 4 years.
Now, could you imagine, it took 20 years in order to diagnose me with a brain tumor? That’s how long it took for me to find out I had one. I had no inkling, I didn’t give a thought about it growing up. I didn’t even have blank outs or petit mal seizures throughout my childhood. I remember experiencing a very intense spacey moment at the age of 16 while I was near the lockers waiting to go into grade 11 chemistry class, which I now can probably trace back to a small seizure. At that time, I didn’t even make the mental association that this would preclude a diagnosis of epilepsy 4 years later. It’s only in retrospect now, that I realized that that was a seizure I had.
I also had a habit of not being able center my eyes whenever I watched television on a sofa or seat from the side, I always watched televison with the corner of my eyes if my head wasn’t centered directly in front of the television. I could only do it if I sat on a seat in front of the television. I think this has something to do with my brain tumor, as the tumor pushes slightly on my nerve pathways in my brain responsible for peripheral vision. My neurologist told me that if I ever had surgery to remove my tumor, my peripheral vision would be affected. Growing up, I also had a really bad sense of direction, I could never orient my own body in relation to my extrapersonal space. I seemed to be missing that internal compass, the intuition of North, South, East, and West after I had oriented my body. I had a habit of turning the wrong way a lot, especially if I had just learned a new route. For instance, if I had to go to a new office, and then use the washroom there, I would use the washroom-a washroom I had never used before. When I went out of the washroom, I would turn left, when I should have turned right instead. As I said before, my brain tumor is located in my posterior right temporal lobe. This is the area of the brain responsible for spatial skills.
All these little things, all these little quirks that I never really gave much thought to, seemed to add up only in retrospect. I was still able to function as a normal human being growing up, doing well in school, graduating highschool and going on to university to complete my post secondary education. I did a double major in psychology and employment relations. Majoring in psychology ignited my interest in neuroscience, as I took cognitive neuroscience and neurophysiology courses in university. In my spare time, I also like to read any scientific material relating to neuroscience.
Anyway, pre-diagnosis days, the mere thought of a brain tumor, let alone epilepsy, never even crossed my mind until that fateful night my neurologist said those words to me: “you have a brain tumor”. It was small, 2 cm x 2 cm.
This is shocking news for anyone to hear. My latency period was 20 years. However, it was a tumor that slowly, kept growing, and growing, over time. This just goes to show how long the latency period is. The discovery of a brain tumor can take a decade to finally diagnose.
Now, as I mentioned before, the studies do indicate an increased risk for brain gliomas, a 40% increased risk, Yet, prior to those 10 years, there was a clump or cluster of cancer cells that decided to mutate and divide, unknowingly to me.
There is a latency period, however, it doesn’t mean that the public should expect a brain tumor to magically appear after 10 years of frequent use. This is not how brain tumors appear. Gliomas can be benign. There is a latency period between cancer occurrence, and diagnosis. Perhaps the tumor started growing after only a few years of frequent use. Remember, we don’t get MRIs to check for brain tumors at the same time intervals or frequency as we may have breast cancer examinations. Society doesn’t encourage lay persons to get a brain MRI every year to see if there might be signs of a brain tumor. If this was the case, then we might be seeing a different story unfold when it comes to diagnosis and shortened latency periods.
In fact, the way brain cancers are diagnosed usually happens when people start experiencing a variety of symptoms. They may go to their general physician and complain about headaches, dizziness, gait, vision problems, motor problems-the variety of symptoms can be traced to the different portions of the brain that control different facets of the human body and bodily functions. Ordering a brain MRI isn’t really easy, it’s sometimes the last resort physicians turn to. Only when one is hit with something obvious such as a grand mal seizure does a brain MRI deserve worthy attention.
The media just doesn’t hone in on prevention and treatment of brain cancers to the same vigor as breast cancer. This is understandable. The statistics point to an incidence of 23,400 in 100,000 of developing breast cancer. The statistics point to an incidence of 6 in 100,000 of developing brain cancer.
This might alleviate people’s fears altogether. After all, the statistics say the probability points to a woman being more likely to get breast cancer then brain cancer, right?
Well, statistics are just statistics, however, one can never gain true understanding of an issue by simply looking at the statistics.
The Interphone study mentioned in the CNN segment takes a sample of glioma patients and asks them how frequently they used their cell phone. It was the largest study to date, with over 13 countries involved. However, scientific studies themselves can be set up in a way where they can be flawed. Problems can involve sampling, and definition of the duration that constitutes frequent use.
As stated in: Cell Phones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern, Llyod Morgan discusses the flaws in the Interphone study:
“The design flaws include categorizing subjects who used portable phones (which emit the same microwave radiation as cellphones,) as ‘unexposed’; exclusion of many types of brain tumors; exclusion of people who had died, or were too ill to be interviewed, as a consequence of their brain tumor; and exclusion of children and young adults, who are more vulnerable.”
Neurosurgeon Keith Black summarizes that half of the studies he has read on cell phone use and cancer show a correlation when they track heavy cell phone users for a long period of years.
The difficulty in pooling enough research participants to statistically reflect the real world population, compounded by the latency periods between cancer occurrence and diagnosis for brain tumors, is enough to question the scientific design of these studies.
Now, presuming the long latency periods for brain tumor diagnoses could possibly account for the low reported incidence of brain tumors in statistic reports, if we see a major in the increase in the number of reported incidences of brain tumors 2, 3 decades from now, what would this imply? I should also note that the relative risk of getting a brain tumor is pretty low as it is due to several factors. If we see more people diagnosed with brain tumors, especially on the side of the head they used their cell phones for, it wouldn’t be hard to deduce that it was probably the cell phone that was a major causal factor leading up to this.
The relative risk is low because of 2 primary factors: neurons don’t divide rapidly, and the brain is protected by an extra immune defense system-the blood brain barrier.
Brain tumors are more rare compared to other tumors because of the fact that it has a protective immune system called the blood brain barrier which affords the brain a protective effect from outside toxins. The blood brain barrier is less developed in little children and the elderly.
Brain cells rapidly divide from the moment of conception to early childhood. As well, the blood brain barrier is also forming in early childhood, which points to the reason why children absorb more radiation than adults in the brain. Brain cells actually don’t divide after a period of time. Neurons die off through a pruning process. As an adult, with a fully formed blood brain barrier, fully formed skull, and pruning of synapses, we have much less of a chance of developing brain tumors than young children. This is why the Sanjay Gupta warns about radiation absorption through the undeveloped skulls of little children.
Blood brain barriers can be destroyed with radiation. There has been evidence that microwave radiation can disrupt the blood brain barrier. There are also agents that can bypass the blood brain barrier. Organic solvents, for instance, can bypass the blood brain barrier when you inhale agents through the nose. The nose has no blood brain barrier.
Since the blood brain barrier adds that extra protected immune effect on preventing toxins from entering the brain, and seems to help decrease the risk of brain cancer with this protective mechanism on it’s own, the same struggle is noted when it comes to treating brain cancers. It is hard, because scientists have to develop methods to use chemicals that can bypass the blood brain barrier, or perhaps destroy the blood brain barrier altogether. Evidently, radiation is a standard form of treatment for malignant brain tumors. Chemotherapy hinges upon using lipid soluble substances that can pass the blood brain barrier.
Now, let me get back to a point the media seems to hound down regarding cell phones and brain tumors. When the media says that heavy users have an increased risk of developing brain gliomas after about a decade of exposure, the public may be misguided by this information. It isn’t to imply that, “there will be no cancer cells until a decade later. After a decade of cell phone use, the cancer cells will suddenly start to mutate and divide at a quick rate, creating gliomas. Perhaps these cancer cells already originated after a year or two of extensive cell phone use. If they were benign tumors, they could take years to grow half an inch.
Now, I am a believer in early diagnosis. Waiting until a tumor is large enough to cause noticeable symptoms-be it seizures, motor problems, vision problems, is not the best approach to defeating cancer. It’s like letting things slide until it gets to a point where the problem has compounded itself even more. My philosophy is to nip things in the bud as we see them occurring in the early stages. The problem with brain cancer is that most brain cancer patients won’t know, especially those with benign gliomas, until a decade later. The links can be so concealed at the time, that we have no foresight into the matter. The brain is a complex organ, but it is a master organ that controls the rest of the body. A brain tumor can present itself with a myriad of symptoms, and it truly is possible to not even suspect you have one until a decade later.
Breast cancer may be detectable when you feel a lump in your breast. With brain tumors, the symptoms are so widespread, that it’s no one’s absolute, first inclination that their symptoms relate to a brain tumor.
For me, this latency period took 2 decades.
I have a dysneuroepithelial tumor. According to the scientific literature, there have been cases of post-mortem diagnoses of the brain tumor. This is a type of tumor that is so slow growing that it can go undiagnosed for decades on end. In contrast, there can be other kinds of tumors, including gliomas and malignant tumors, which proliferate at a quicker rate. These include astrocytomas, gliomas, meningiomas, and they can fall prey to different areas of the brain.
Regardless, let me end by saying that I have tried to cope with my current condition the best way I can. A few questions that I have raised, and tried to research, when it comes to radiation exposure from cell phones and brain tumors include:
-Can cell phone radiation penetrate the blood brain barrier easily, and are there any time dependent dose-response periods which might indicate increased risk for developing brain tumors?
-How is the blood brain barrier formed, and how can it be protected?
-What are the effects of long term radio wave, non-ionizing radiation in penetrating brain tissue? Short term ionizing radiation clearly implicates health risks in the scientific literature, but what about the research over long term, non-ionizing radiation? Can cumulative effects have any impact in both penetration of brain tissue, and developments of brain tumors?
-What are the cognitive effects of having a brain tumor near the areas of the brain where the antenna of a cell phone would emit radiation into brain tissue?
-What are the different types of brain tumors, and what are their rates of growth and prognosis?
I haven’t asked myself simple surface questions that would only bring me surface answers, and make up the conclusion about brain tumors and cell phone use using a few questions, including:
-What do the statistics say about the correlation between long-term use of cell phones and brain tumor development?
My final point is that don’t think briefly glossing through mainstream articles can give anyone a complete picture of the area of research in brain tumor development. These articles and news segments aimed at the general public make the same statements over and over again, which has to be held under scrutiny. I urge others to read more scientific articles related to this matter. I have just presented a case whereby the word latency can be glossed over and misconstrued to a large extent.
Ask as many questions as possible regarding brain tumor development and radio wave exposure. Next time you read the same 5 facts in an article which summarizes the key points in the cell phone use and cancer debate, be critical and do further research if you really want to enrich your understanding.
1. “Mobile phone subscribers (2005) by country, World Development Indicators database.” 7 Jan 2012, 23:40 UTC.
2.”Wireless phone subscribers in Canada 2010″. Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA). http://www.cwta.ca/CWTASite/english/facts_figures_downloads/SubscribersStats_en_2010_Q3.pdf. Retrieved 2011-02-14.