2012 Commentary: Parents Need to Put the Cancer Risks in Perspective when Deciding Whether or Not to Limit Their Children's Cellphone Use

Abstract: Some scientists argue that children who use cellphones are at increased risk of developing brain cancer. My article asks whether or not parents need to worry about this issue.

A Cellphone (1)
The debate on whether or not cellphone use increases the risk of brain tumors is a hot topic once again. Per an ABC News article (posted on Yahoo), Environmental Health Trust, a non-profit watchdog organization, has criticized a 2011 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that did not find any link between cell phone use and brain cancer in children. In a press release, Health Trust points to the Letters to the Editor (from scientists) responding to the study, which were recently posted in the Journal. Per these correspondences, the 2011 research project actually demonstrates "that children who used cell phones had a 115 percent increased risk of [developing] brain tumors over those who did not." Should parents be concerned by these statements?

Parents should keep in mind that, per the aforementioned ABC News article, only one major study, the research project published in 2011, has attempted to determine whether or not a child's cellphone use will increase his or her risks of developing brain cancer. Another large study, which is also looking at this problem, is under way but has not yet posted any results. One should be leery of any data that comes out at this early stage in the research process.

Even if Environmental Health Trust is correct and children who use cellphones increase their short term risks of getting brain cancer by up to 115 percent, parents might still not have to worry about limiting their kids' cell phone use. That is because the odds of a youth developing brain cancer are extremely small, so even a child who has a much higher risk (than average) of getting the disease will have little to fear. To put this issue in perspective, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation estimates that 4,200 U.S. children out of a total population of 75.6 million (per "are diagnosed with a pediatric brain tumor" each year. If those figures are correct, a child living in the U.S. has a 0.006 percent chance of developing brain cancer in any given year; this percentage will not rise dramatically even if his or her risk of getting the disease increases by 115 percent. A person's chances of developing brain cancer sometime in his or her adult life due to cellphone use are also quite small per NPR.

Of course, brain cancer is a devastating disease, and parents have every right to restrict or even prohibit their children from using cellphones. Nonetheless, people may find it useful to put the Environmental Health Trust's statements in perspective when weighing the risks and rewards of letting their children utilize these devices.

1. Photographer: Jamie Barrows
    Date: May 1, 2007
    Title/Description: Picture of cellphone.
    Location/Permission: Wikimedia Commons- Photographer's note (click on the title or caption to see
    the photo, credits, and permissions).

-- Anthony Hopper

#cellphones #health #technology #parents #children

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