A large government study intended to help decide whether cell phones cause cancer has yielded some pretty disturbing results and also has reignited debate about whether cell phones cause adverse health effects in humans, the Wall Street Journal reports. The report on the study, which was conducted on rats and mice, has not been completed yet, but partial findings were released Friday.
The findings have been reviewed in depth by the U.S. government and represent a significant advance in the long controversy over how cell phones affect the health of users. Researchers at the National Toxicology Program (NTP) exposed male rats to two type of frequencies emitted by mobile phones. After this RF radiation exposure, they found the rats were significantly more likely than unexposed rats to develop a type of brain cancer called a glioma, and also had a higher chance of developing the rare, malignant form of tumor known as a schwannoma of the heart. The effect was not seen in females, Mother Jones reports. The study was conducted with more than 2,500 rats who were exposed to radiation for two years.
According to Scientific American, the rodents were placed in specially built chambers that dosed their whole bodies with varying amounts and types of this radiation for approximately nine hours per day throughout their short life spans.
“This is by far—far and away—the most carefully done cell phone bioassay, a biological assessment. This is a classic study that is done for trying to understand cancers in humans,” says Christopher Portier, a retired associate director of the NTP who helped launch and commissioned the study. “There will have to be a lot of work after this to assess if it causes problems in humans, but the fact that you can do it in rats will be a big issue. It actually has me concerned, and I’m an expert.”
— Mayo Clinic (@MayoClinic) February 1, 2016
The study is one of the largest conducted analysis on the relationship between mobile phones and cancer, in which the U.S. government has invested $25 million. According to Time magazine, the study was reviewed by experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the authors say more research on the link will emerge in the next couple years. As Time notes, a study in rats is never directly translational to humans. It does, however, give researchers evidence that can lead to further research on the impact cell-phone radiation has on people.
Ron Melnick, a former researcher at the National Toxicology Program which reviewed the results, told the Wall Street Journal that he thinks people will now stop saying that there is no risk of getting cancer via cellphone.
“Where people were saying there’s no risk, I think this ends that kind of statement,” he was quoted as saying.
The scientific community has been divided on this issue since it was raised for the first time in the early 1990s. Many previous studies had suggested a link between cancer and mobile phone use, but were criticized for the methodology or having small sample sizes that were not allowed to be extrapolated.
The results from the recent study suggest that significant exposure of certain types of radiation from mobile phones to male rats give them a higher risk of developing brain and heart cancer. What the study does not show is whether humans are at risk for developing cancer from using cell phones, or whether using a headset or keeping the device away from the head and body could make a difference.
The Associated Press wrote that some of the analysts themselves in the study had trouble accepting the results because of the odd factors, such as rats in the group that weren’t exposed didn’t contract what would be the normal number of brain tumors for that population.
“I am unable to accept the authors’ conclusions,” said Dr. Michael Lauer, deputy director of NIH’s office of extramural research. “I suspect that this experiment is substantially underpowered and that the few positive results found reflect false positive findings.”
— U-M Cancer Center (@UMCancerCenter) May 23, 2016
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