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Cell phones don't fry brains, boffins say

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In another blow to the cancer Cassandras crying out that cell phones rot your brain, a new Scandinavian study was released on Thursday indicating that cell-phone usage doesn't lead to an increased risk of brain cancer.

Being scientists rather than fear-mongers, however, the researchers from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden were careful to say that their study didn't conclusively prove that holding a cell phone against your skull is as safe as laying said noggin upon a Mediflow Waterbase pillow, but rather that it simply proved that no cell-phone causation could be discovered in their study of 59,984 brain tumor sufferers.

The study was based on a statistical analysis of glioma and meningioma incidence in the four countries between 1974 and 2003. Seeing as how, as the study notes, "Mobile phone use in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden increased sharply in the mid-1990s," the researchers studied the data to determine whether cancer incidence increased after "an induction period of 5–10 years."

The answer they obtained was, simply put, "Nope."

Well, that's how we interpret it, but not how the careful Scandivian boffins explain their findings. As their analysis concludes, the reason for the lack of a cancer surge can be explained because either "the increased risk in this population is too small to be observed, the increased risk is restricted to subgroups of brain tumors or mobile phone users, or there is no increased risk.

"Our finding that brain tumor incidence rates were either stable, decreased, or continued a gradual increase that started before the introduction of mobile phones," the study's authors write, "is consistent with mobile phone use having no observable effect on brain tumor incidence."

Such reasonable caution is a welcome counterpoint to, for example, a doc from the University of Albany who told a US congressional committee last September: "The evidence available now poses the frightening strong possibility [sic] that we are facing an epidemic of brain cancer and other cancers in the future as a result of the uncontrolled use of cell phones."

We don't expect the debate over cell-phone danger to disappear anytime soon, though. Dr Michael Thun, late of the American Cancer Society, told WebMD that although the study was a good one that "clearly shows the incidence" of brain tumors not increasing after a period of five to 10 years: "The study doesn’t answer the question of what happens after 50 years."

Which is good news to the US researchers who this September urged another US congressional committee to levy a one-dollar-per-phone tax on all mobile phones to pay for further research. ®

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