EXPERT REACTION: Mobile phone exposure linked to cancer in rats

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The National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US has released the results of a study which found a 'low incidence' of two types of tumours in the brains and hearts of male rats exposed to mobile phone radiation. The study found around 2-3% of males rats had brain tumors called gliomas while the control group had none. However the authors note that historically the incidence of this type of tumour in control animals is around 2%. No effect was seen in the brain or heart of female rats. Survival rates were also higher in the male rats exposed to the mobile phone radiation than in the un-exposed rats. The authors say the tumour types they found are similar to those observed in some epidemiology studies of mobile phone use and that these findings appear to support the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification of mobile phones as possibly carcinogenic. The publication represents the partial findings from the NIH National Toxicology Program of research into the impact of mobile phone exposure on rats and mice. The full report is not expected until 2017.

Organisation/s: Australian Science Media Centre

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Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Rodney Croft is Director of the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research, an NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Wollongong

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) study addressed a range of important health-related endpoints in rats and mice and is an important contribution to the radiofrequency (RF) emission health debate.

Unfortunately there is not sufficient detail in the present report to evaluate it fully, particularly given a number of criticisms by the reviewers (and described in Appendix G of the report). Of particular note is that the rats treated with RF lived longer than the controls (which is counter intuitive given that the increased tumour rates normally lead to reduced lifespan), the controls did not have ‘any’ tumours (which is also not what is normally found), and the lack of clear dose-response relationships raises the possibility that the results may merely be ‘false positives’ (particularly given the large number of statistical comparisons, the one significant result would appear consistent with chance).

It is also noteworthy that the results do not appear consistent with the cancer rates within the human population, nor with the majority of other experimental research, even at the very high exposure levels, which are many times higher than humans are exposed to.
 
The NTP study will thus need to be fully evaluated once further details become available, and considered within the context of RF emissions science as a whole. At present though, and particularly given a range of uncertainties regarding its results, the NTP report does not provide reason to move from the current scientific consensus that mobile phone-like exposure does not impact health.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 3:55pm
Professor Bruce Armstrong is an Adjunct Professor at The University of Western Australia and an Emeritus Professor in the School of Public Health at The University of Sydney

This report supports the IARC monograph's conclusion that RFE is possibly carcinogenic to humans. 

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 3:50pm

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