Mobile phones: should we be worried?

Home » Biology » Mobile phones: should we be worried?

Mobile phones: should we be worried?

Posted on

A story that has appeared a lot in British press this week is the report on findings of a major study into the link between mobile phone use and brain cancer.

There has been a worry ever since mobile phones started to become widely used that using a device that sends and receives electromagnetic waves close to your brain could be a major health hazard.  The fact that many people spend a large proportion of their day on a mobile only adds more concern.  However, biology does not back this worry up.  The frequency of the radiowaves used in mobile phones does not break DNA strands, and therefore cannot cause cancer.  The studies that are carried out in order to identify any possible links are purely to address public concern.

This new study was carried out by an international group of hundreds of researchers.  Around 10,000 people in 13 countries were studied making it the largest study of mobile phone and cancer link to date.
The overall conclusion of the study showed no plausible evidence of a link between cancer and mobile phone use, which is hardly worth reporting on but what I was amazed at was the array of conflicting media reports that arose from the study.
The Daily Telegraph claimed that “Half an hour of mobile use a day ‘increases brain cancer risk’”, whereas The Times reported that “heavy mobile users risk cancer”. Other newspapers presented a different spin on the story.

This is what the PowerPoint presentation is based on.  In the first slide I have shown some examples of the headlines that were reported on the study.  The second slide is a student worksheet, which contains some made-up results, notes on the study and some questions.

They should see that all of these headlines are true if you only look at one part of the results and it seems that this is what the newspapers did.  The study could also be flawed because it could be biased as was funded by a mobile phone company.  Also, the data collected relied on people remembering how many hours a day they used their mobile phone for over the past 10 years.   No easy feat, especially if you are ill.

The students are also asked to design their own study that would give more conclusive results.  The ideal would to do a prospective study, which they may have come across when studying how the link between smoking and lung cancer was finally proven This would require researchers to follow a population over time and wait for cases to develop. However, brain tumours are rare and take a long time to develop, so the very long follow-up and large number of participants needed to do this may make this type of study less appropriate.

It is important to note that the results in my resource are fictional, but  based very loosely on the real study.  I wanted to create something that GCSE students could understand as the real results are far more complicated.  To see a more in-depth explanation of the findings look here.