FOR WOMEN WHO MAY KEEP THEIR CELL PHONES TUCKED IN THEIR BRA — IS THERE A RISK OF BREAST CANCER FROM RADIATION?
A: As far as we can say, there is no credible evidence linking cell phones tucked in the bra to breast cancer. While there are plenty of Facebook posts claiming a link, there just is no solid evidence. In fact, cell phones do not emit the type of radiation known to cause cancer.
FOR MEN WHO KEEP THEIR CELL PHONES IN THEIR POCKETS — IS THERE A RISK OF INFERTILITY/DECREASED SPERM COUNTS?
Again, there is no credible evidence to support this claim.
IS THERE ANY LINK BETWEEN PROLONGED CELL PHONE USE AND CANCEROUS BRAIN TUMORS (OR OTHER TYPES OF CANCER)?
A number of studies have tried to get at this question. Results are inconclusive. The International Agency for Cancer Research the UN cancer agency says “maybe.” It’s important to note though that there has been no increase in cancerous brain tumors in those countries where cell phones were first widely used. If cell phones did significantly increase the risk, it’s likely we would have seen an increase by now.
So while cellphones do not seem a significant or even likely cause of brain tumors, I actually believe we should tell people what we know, what we do not know and what we believe and label it accordingly. The answer is we do not know. Everyone is allowed to have a belief as long as they label it so. The problem is, people are stoking fears and creating unfounded worries. That’s not really fair considering the evidence.
WHY DOES THERE SEEM TO BE SO MUCH CONFLICTING INFORMATION REGARDING CELL PHONE RADIATION AND CANCER?
he only ethical way to answer these questions scientifically is through epidemiologic study. It is hard to do good epidemiologic studies. They take a long time and even then can be prone to certain biases. If something causes a lot of cancer as cigarettes do, it is much easier to establish a definitive link.
Our studies tell us that if cell phone do cause cancer, it is in small numbers. Smoking, obesity and lack of exercise, and even alcohol consumption are way ahead of cell phones, as they definitely cause cancer. Cell phones are a big maybe and in my opinion, probably not a cause of cancer at this point.
The answers to the above questions may differ for children who have developing brains and skulls. It is possible that kids should not use cell phones or should use them in very limited ways. They could be more at risk of brain tumors than adults because of thin skull shielding and developing brains. Again I have to use “possible” and “could,” as the science is inconclusive. It is hard to study this in adults and even harder in kids.
DO CELLPHONES CAUSE ANY OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS?
I am frequently asked about cell phones and brain tumors and the amazing thing is the science clearly shows us that if they cause brain tumors it is in small numbers. It is very clear that cell phone induced distraction, especially while driving, kills far more people than cell phones do through cancer.
HOW CAN I LOWER MY EXPOSURE TO RF WAVES FROM CELLPHONES?
If you are worried about cell phones causing cancer and I refuse to criticize anyone who does worry, use the phone with a wired headset (not a blue tooth). The other thing is do not store it next to your body when not on a call.
WHAT ARE SOME FACTORS THAT DEFINITELY DO AFFECT CANCER RISK?
Tobacco use causes more than a third of all cancer deaths. I even worry about medical radiation from screening and diagnostic tests, which causes 1 to 2 percent of cancers. This is a much more important source of radiation than cell phones, which again emit the wrong kind of radiation in way smaller amounts. The key here is to avoid unnecessary medical tests.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OFTEN-DISCUSSED MYTHS THAT ACTUALLY DO NOT INCREASE BREAST CANCER RISK?
I hear questions about bras and deodorant causing breast cancer. There is no evidence to prove either one of these do.
IS CANCER HEREDITARY?
About 1 in 10 people who get cancer get it because it travels in their family. We see hereditary breast, colon and prostate cancer, especially. There are hereditary leukemias, lymphoma, ovarian and endometrial cancers, but these are not at common. We are getting better at figuring out the gene mutations that increase cancer risk.
ARE RESEARCHERS CLOSER TO FINDING A CURE FOR CANCER?
That is the most complicated question you have asked. Cancer is more than 200 different diseases all with uncontrolled cell growth in common. Some cancers are already very curable. More than ¾ of all testicular cancers, most lymphoma and a significant number of leukemia is regularly cured.
There are what are called recalcitrant tumors that are more difficult to cure. For those we focus on early detection with treatment through surgery and radiation. A growing number of patients early diagnosed colon, breast, prostate and lung cancers do well.
Making things even more complicated we have learned a large number of certain cancers would do well no matter what we do. There is increasing movement to watch early prostate cancer as more than half of men diagnosed will never need treatment. We are getting better with tests that tell us the people with breast and prostate cancer that need treatment versus those that need observation.
Prevention of cancer is also important. The combination of prevention (especially tobacco control) and wise screening and treatment have prevented a lot of deaths. The cancer death rate has actually declined 26% since 1992.
Dr. Brawley answers your ‘Text Tom’ Questions on the next page.