By Calder Phillips-Grafflin
There’s good news for all of you permanently attached to your iPhones, Blackberries and Droids: the largest cell phone study yet has shown that your cell phone most likely won’t give you cancer. It’s the closest we’ve come to a definitive study on cell phone usage and cancer, but it still doesn’t provide the concrete proof researchers have been looking for to prove cell phones are safe.
What’s unique about this study is the number of people studied: all four million or so Danish adults over the last 15 years. Since the Danish government keeps statistics on cancer incidence using citizen’s national ID numbers, and Danish cell service providers record account holders’ ID numbers and length of service, all the necessary data was already available. Using this data, researchers could check to see if citizens with cell phones suffered from higher rates of cancer than the general population, and they could see if length of ownership had an effect.
Accounting for differences in income, the time individuals had owned their cell phones, and other factors, the researchers concluded that there simply wasn’t any correlation between cell phone use and cancer. Like previous studies, small but statistically irrelevant oddities were found, but the overall results were clear. Regardless of how long users had owned their phones, their risk for developing cancer was no different from the general population. This study is hardly the first, and likely far from the last, to look at the relationship between cell phones and cancer. Why so many studies, when almost all of them suggest that cell phones are safe? The answer is simple: with almost five billion cell phone users across the globe, we need to know if their devices are safe.
The problem with studies so far is that they simply haven’t had enough data to work with in order to convince everyone. Studies so far have either had vast numbers of participants, like the recent one in Denmark, or they have had data about individual usage patterns, but none of them have had both. Without information on usage patterns, it’s impossible to see if heavier users are more vulnerable. Most studies have assumed that the length of cell phone ownership corresponds to use and exposure, but younger users (who have probably only had their phones for a couple years) tend to use their phones far more than older users, and that could affect the results.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever have the ‘perfect’ survey that takes everything into account and conclusively shows whether cell phones are linked to cancer or not. Conducting such a survey probably requires too much personal information that would be impossible to get. Without such a ‘perfect’ survey, it’s always possible that researchers will miss something. Since existing studies haven’t convinced those who believe cell phones are dangerous, it’s likely they’ll never be convinced.