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Case study 3: mobile phone use and brain cancer study

In January 2019, the British Medical Journal Open published a study by ARPANSA which investigated mobile phone use and the incidence of brain cancer.

The study, conducted in conjunction with The University of Wollongong, Monash University and the University of Auckland, looked at the incidence rates of different types of brain tumours in adults including glioma, glioblastoma and meningioma diagnosed between 1982 and 2013. The brain cancer diagnoses of 16 825 cases was compared with the uptake of mobile phone subscriptions in Australia.

The study found:

  • The overall brain tumour rates remained stable throughout this period and showed no increase when compared with the increase of mobile phone use in Australia
  • There was an increase of glioblastoma during the period between 1993 and 2002 which was attributed to better diagnostic techniques with advances made in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology
  • Although mobile phone use has risen rapidly since 2003 there has been no increase in brain tumours of any type during the ten year period 2003–2013
  • In particular since 2003 there has been no increase in brain tumours of the temporal lobe, which is the location most exposed when using a mobile phone
  • If the association between mobile phone use and brain cancer that has been reported in some studies was correct, then we would expect that the brain tumour rates would be higher than those that are observed.

Mobile phone handsets use low-powered radio transmitters that emit radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) in order to communicate. Concerns have been raised about the potential health consequences, particularly brain cancer, from the level of RF emissions the brain is being exposed to when using a mobile phone. Some previous studies that have compared mobile phone use between brain cancer cases and healthy controls have shown a weak association between heavy mobile phone use and brain cancer. Based largely on this limited evidence the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified RF fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

The results of this recent study are in line with ARPANSA’s current advice that there is no established evidence that the use of mobile phones causes brain cancer.