VEGA News Item

A Link Between Phone Masts and Cancers in Children Rejected - 25/06/2010

Pregnant women who live close to mobile-phone masts do not need to move house

1.  Pregnant women who live close to mobile-phone masts do not need to move house, say scientists following publication in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) of results of a study that found no link to early childhood cancers. Public concern over living near the masts and the risks of cancer in small children and clusters of cases has been allayed by the results; it is the first to examine possible links between phone masts and childhood cancer across Britain. Researchers from Imperial College, London, identified 1397 children under 5 who were diagnosed with leukaemia or a tumour of the brain or central nervous system (CNS) between 1999 and 2001. They compared each child with 4 children of the same gender who were born on the same day who had not developed cancer.

2.  “We found no pattern to suggest that the children of mums living near a base station during pregnancy had a greater risk of developing cancer than those who lived elsewhere,” said Professor Paul Elliott, one of the report’s authors and director of the MRC-HPA centre for environment and health at Imperial College, London. The researchers had studied the distance of the mother’s home at the time of the birth from a phone mast, the total power output for base stations within 700 metres and the power density for base stations within 1400 metres. The authors said that they would like to investigate the exposure of the children to mobile-phone base stations, which the study did not cover.

3.  In an appraisal accompanying the report in the BMJ of the study John Bithell of the childhood cancer research group at Oxford University said that the risks of cancer from mobile phone masts were dwarfed by those from driving while using mobile phones – even in hands-free mode. “Doctors should reassure patients not to worry about proximity to mobile phone masts. Moving away from a mast, with all its stresses and costs, cannot be justified on health grounds in the light of current evidence,” says John Bithell.

4.  The report describes the rapid rise in use of mobile phones in recent years – from just over 9 million connexions in 1997 to almost 74m in 2007. There are about 4bn connexions annually worldwide. However, health fears have grown in parallel. Questions have been raised not only about a possible raised incidence of brain and other cancers, but also a suggested increased risk of neurological conditions such as migraine and vertigo.

5.  The few reports that there have been of cancer clusters near a mobile phone base station “are difficult to interpret because of small numbers and possible selection and reporting biases,” the authors wrote, adding that there is no known radiobiological explanation – although the possibility of cumulative exposure is important: the rise in use of mobiles had not been matched by an upward trend in the numbers of brain tumours.

6.  Such fascinating studies as these illustrate the importance of data collection and pathological examinations in enriching our appreciation of applications of precautionary principles, which depend on a good measure of common sense and the evolution and behaviour of other species, especially those with close similarities to us in many ways and sensitivities, and irradiation with sounds and noises to which, like us, they are exposed in the experiences of episodes in their lives and evolution. Environmental risks of, say, deafness to the babies of pregnant women and other animals and species must surely be entertained by responsible parents and appropriate monitoring agents and NGOs, as well as politicians and newspaper commentators wishing to meddle or take an ax to the work of the NHS in preventing disease and imprudent lifestyles. Deafness in the offspring of women cello players working and practising during their pregnancies merits study and exchange of anecdotes as much as the appraisals of the risks and benefits we must still measure on the adoption of technologies, artifices, and exposures novel and still new in evolutionary terms.

7.  It may be that Sir Thomas Beecham’s infamous admonition to the pregnant cello player in his orchestra and the lost joys to mankind of her efforts at music making need further consideration; but even his analysis and the risks that her frequent hugging of the big noisy instrument might impair the hearing of the baby gestating in her womb and to the curse of deafness needs revisiting with outcomes other than cancers in mind. Loud noises, explosions, and old age and disease (eg toxic or viral), unilateral or in both ears, are causes of congenital deafness in companion animals of many breeds, and affect their utility to us, eg to control them or to breed variants of dogs and sheep employed in shepherding. Freaks being bred for shows such as Crufts may carry defects of shocks during the mother’s pregnancy (post-translation or epidenetic), so sensitivity to signals from phone masts might have to be reviewed. An autosomal gene in cats causes white fur, blue eyes, and deafness; it is dominant with complete expression for white fur and incomplete expression for blue eyes and deafness. Merle and white coat colors are associated with congenital deafness in dogs and other animals. Dog breeds commonly affected include Dalmations, Australian Heeler, English Setter, Australian Shepherd, Boston Terrier, Old English Sheepdog, Great Dane, and Boxer. The list of affected breeds continues to expand and may change owing to popularity of the breed and elimination of the defect by culling; for instance, Cocker Spaniels were known to bear hereditary deafness, but the trait is no longer common in the breed. There is a much on the proximity of phone masts for doctors and vets, as well as breeders of livestock for purposes such as experimentation, to share in experience and general observations and knowledge.


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