2014's Pediatric 'Great Eight': The News You Need to Know

L. Gregory Lawton, MD


December 19, 2014

In This Article

Children, Cancer, and Microwave Radiation (Read: Cell Phones)

In July, an extensive review of data on cell phone exposure from 2009 through 2014, as well as government documents on microwave radiation (MWR) levels and electronic device manufacturers' manuals, concluded that there are associations between MWR and the eventual development of cancer in children.[15] Moreover, the investigators advocated more widespread implementation of MWR exposure limits on electronic devices, better education about potential risks, and even the banning of MWR-emitting toys or devices targeted at children.

Dade Lunsford, MD, Lars Leksell Professor of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, told Medscape that he welcomes the contribution of this work, noting that the researchers "continue to raise appropriate concerns related to the ever-increasing role of technologies that emit nonionizing radiation, including cell phone and certain toys."

To add to the concern, another recent study found that the risk for glioma was tripled among individuals using a wireless phone device for more than 25 years.[16] Risk was also increased in those who had begun using a mobile or cordless device before the age of 20 years. Lead author of the study, Lennart Hardell, MD, PhD, of the Department of Oncology at University Hospital, Örebro, Sweden, told Medscape that not only did the risk increase steadily with increasing use, but that the most common sites for glioma were the temporal and overlapping lobes on the side of the head where the phone was placed.

Should we panic? No. But the WHO is looking into the issue, noting that the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies the electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones as possibly carcinogenic to humans. A formal risk assessment of all studied health outcomes from radiofrequency fields exposure is expected by 2016.

As scientists, these types of studies and commentaries make for interesting conversations—between colleagues, at home over dinner, and with friends at parties, but not necessarily with patients. Seatbelt use, drug and alcohol avoidance, safe sex, and sleep hygiene all clamor for a place in the anticipatory guidance offered at well-child visits. Are we really ready to add the cancer risks associated with cell phone use when the jury is still out, especially when the conversation in the examination room is likely to go "off the rails" with the mention of cancer?

In the absence of more definitive data, perhaps we should stick to our likely current advisement that too much screen time (on any MWR-emitting device) is to be avoided. Beside, with most teens texting more than talking on their cell phones (straining those thumbs), a truly well-designed prospective brain cancer study is needed to clarify some of these associations or causes.


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