Media reports exaggerate cell phone cancer risk

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Monday, March 31, 2008

File:Cellphone head sar 1.png
Model representation of radiation absorbed by a human head.
Image: Authur W. Guy, University of Washington.

Newspapers internationally reported that cellular telephone use increases the risk of brain tumors, citing the opinion of Vini Khurana, an Australian neurosurgeon. According to the Mobile Operators Association, Dr. Khurana's conclusion "does not present a balanced analysis" and "reaches opposite conclusions to the World Health Organization and more than 30 other independent expert scientific reviews."

More than 100 news sources ran the story about Dr. Khurana although his findings are under peer review and not yet published in any scientific journal. Some reports and headlines called cell phone use more hazardous than smoking, claiming that "New research has revealed that mobile phones are more injurious to people’s health than smoking."

Even if Dr. Khurana is correct about the increase in brain tumor rates, these claims overstate the danger. Primary brain tumors are a rare condition that account for 1.4 percent of all cancers and 2.4 percent of cancer deaths. The death rate from brain tumors is approximately 13,000 persons per year in the United States. Tobacco causes an estimated 438,000 deaths per year in the United States. So if cell phone use actually doubled the brain tumor casualty rate, a United States resident would still be 20 times more likely to die from tobacco than from a primary brain tumor.

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