Mobile Phone Use and Risk of Brain Neoplasms and Other Cancers

Prospective Study

Victoria S Benson; Kirstin Pirie; Joachim Schüz; Gillian K Reeves; Valerie Beral; Jane Green


Int J Epidemiol. 2013;42(3):792-802. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background Results from some retrospective studies suggest a possible increased risk of glioma and acoustic neuroma in users of mobile phones.

Methods The relation between mobile phone use and incidence of intracranial central nervous system (CNS) tumours and other cancers was examined in 791 710 middle-aged women in a UK prospective cohort, the Million Women Study. Cox regression models were used to estimate adjusted relative risks (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Women reported mobile phone use in 1999 to 2005 and again in 2009.

Results During 7 years' follow-up, 51 680 incident invasive cancers and 1 261 incident intracranial CNS tumours occurred. Risk among ever vs never users of mobile phones was not increased for all intracranial CNS tumours (RR = 1.01, 95% CI = 0.90–1.14, P = 0.82), for specified CNS tumour types nor for cancer at 18 other specified sites. For long-term users compared with never users, there was no appreciable association for glioma (10+ years: RR = 0.78, 95% CI = 0.55–1.10, P = 0.16) or meningioma (10+ years: RR = 1.10, 95% CI = 0.66–1.84, P = 0.71). For acoustic neuroma, there was an increase in risk with long term use vs never use (10+ years: RR = 2.46, 95% CI = 1.07–5.64, P = 0.03), the risk increasing with duration of use (trend among users, P = 0.03).

Conclusions In this large prospective study, mobile phone use was not associated with increased incidence of glioma, meningioma or non-CNS cancers.


A Working Group within the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) monograph programme on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans has recently classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by mobile telephones, as 'possibly carcinogenic to humans' (Group 2B), based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies for an association between use of mobile phones and the risk of glioma and acoustic neuroma (but not of meningioma).[1] The only certain biological effect of the non-ionizing radio-frequency radiation emitted by mobile phones is a small rise in tissue temperature of the brain and adjacent organs,[2] and there is only weak evidence for related potential mechanisms of carcinogenesis.[1]

The majority of epidemiological studies reviewed by IARC compared retrospectively reported use of mobile phones by patients with a diagnosed brain tumour with use reported by people who did not have a brain tumour. In some instances, proxy respondents, often relatives of the patient, were interviewed when those with brain tumours had died, or were too ill to respond. Recall of past mobile phone use could potentially differ between those with and without brain tumours, particularly if the reporting of past use was not by the patients themselves.[3] The only published study where information on mobile phone use was recorded prospectively, i.e. before the diagnosis of a brain tumour, reported no increase in the risk of any tumour of the brain or of other cancers.[4,5] Where information on mobile phone use is collected prospectively, recall of use should not differ between those who subsequently develop brain tumours and those who do not (except, perhaps, if a brain tumour was diagnosed soon after data collection, and early symptoms of the disease affected the person's recall of past events).

We report here on the relation between prospectively recorded information on use of mobile phones and the incidence of intracranial central nervous system (CNS) tumours and of other cancers (both overall and at 18 separate sites) in a large UK cohort of middle-aged women. For comparison, we also report results for incidence of hospitalization for stroke and ischaemic heart disease.