Study: Cell Phone Towers Not a Cancer Risk to Children

BY Talea Miller  June 23, 2010 at 12:53 PM EDT

There are still unanswered questions about cell phone use and cancer risks, but a new study could alleviate parents of at least one fear.

Children whose mothers lived near cell phone towers while they were pregnant do not have an increased risk of developing cancer at a young age, according to new research published in the British Medical Journal this week.

The study looked at nearly 7,000 children ages 4 years and younger in the United Kingdom, 1,400 of whom had cancer, including leukemia, brain tumors, central nervous cancers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. The researchers compared the cases with the distance each child’s mother lived from a tower.

“The study found no association between the risk of cancer in early childhood and exposure to a mobile phone base station during pregnancy,” BMJ wrote.

Exactly how cell phone technology is affecting modern lives and health has attracted a lot of attention from the consumer and scientific communities in recent years.

The results from the BMJ study do not indicate the risk a transmission tower poses to a child later in life, or the risk to adults. And the exposure levels from a tower are much lower than what a person receives from actually using a cell phone.

A major 13-country study on the cancer risks of using a cell phone was released in May of this year, but the results were down-right confusing. It concluded that most cell phone users have no increased risk for some of the most common types of brain tumors, but a small proportion of study participants who reported heavy use of cell phones had some increased risk of glioma tumors. Most baffling of all for the researchers, some cell phone use levels appeared to protect for certain types of cancers.

The results were deemed inconclusive and the researchers themselves noted flaws in the methodology but the National Cancer Institute still calls it the “most significant study of long-term use” of cell phones to date.

While the cancer question lingers, one city is trying to take precautions with or without overwhelming and conclusive scientific evidence. San Francisco passed an ordinance Tuesday requiring cell phone sellers to disclose the phones’ specific absorption rate, which is the maximum amount of radiation a person would absorb using the phone without a hands-free device.

“From our perspective, this is a very reasonable and quite modest measure that will provide greater transparency and information to consumers for whom this is an area of interest or concern,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom’s spokesman Tony Winnicker, according to the Associated Press. “We’re playing a role that we’ve often played, which is to be at the forefront of a debate.”