RF radiation should be regarded as a human carcinogen causing glioma (brain tumors) — review of scientific literature


Biomed Res Int. 2017;2017:9218486. doi: 10.1155/2017/9218486. Epub 2017 Mar 16.

Evaluation of Mobile Phone and Cordless Phone Use and Glioma Risk Using the Bradford Hill Viewpoints from 1965 on Association or Causation.

Carlberg M1, Hardell L1.

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Objective. Bradford Hill’s viewpoints from 1965 on association or causation were used on glioma risk and use of mobile or cordless phones. Methods. All nine viewpoints were evaluated based on epidemiology and laboratory studies. Results. Strength: meta-analysis of case-control studies gave odds ratio (OR) = 1.90, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.31-2.76 with highest cumulative exposure. Consistency: the risk increased with latency, meta-analysis gave in the 10+ years’ latency group OR = 1.62, 95% CI = 1.20-2.19. Specificity: increased risk for glioma was in the temporal lobe. Using meningioma cases as comparison group still increased the risk. Temporality: highest risk was in the 20+ years’ latency group, OR = 2.01, 95% CI =1.41-2.88, for wireless phones. Biological gradient: cumulative use of wireless phones increased the risk. Plausibility: animal studies showed an increased incidence of glioma and malignant schwannoma in rats exposed to radiofrequency (RF) radiation. There is increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) from RF radiation. Coherence: there is a change in the natural history of glioma and increasing incidence. Experiment: antioxidants reduced ROS production from RF radiation. Analogy: there is an increased risk in subjects exposed to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields. Conclusion. RF radiation should be regarded as a human carcinogen causing glioma.

From the Introduction:

In the Interphone study on mobile phone use and brain tumours an increased risk for glioma was found among the heaviest mobile phone users [2]. In an editorial accompanying the Interphone results published in the International Journal of Epidemiology [3], the main conclusion of the results was described as “both elegant and oracular… (which) tolerates diametrically opposite readings.” They also pointed out several methodological reasons why the Interphone results were likely to have underestimated the risks, such as the short latency period since first exposures became widespread; less than 10% of the Interphone cases had more than 10 years of exposure.

None of the today’s established carcinogens, including tobacco, could have been firmly identified as increasing risk in the first 10 years or so since first exposure.”

The concluding sentences from the Interphone study were “oracular”: “Overall, no increase in risk of either glioma or meningioma was observed in association with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma, and much less so meningioma, at the highest exposure levels, for ipsilateral exposures and, for glioma, for tumours in the temporal lobe. However, biases and errors limit the strength of the conclusions we can draw from these analyses and prevent a causal interpretation.” This allowed the media to report opposite conclusions.

Due to the widespread use of wireless phones (mobile and cordless phones) an evaluation of the scientific evidence on the brain tumour risk was necessary. Thus, in May 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at WHO evaluated at that time published studies. The scientific panel reached the conclusion that radiofrequency (RF) radiation from mobile phones, and from other devices, including cordless phones, that emit similar nonionizing electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation in the frequency range 30 kHz–300 GHz, is a Group 2B, that is, a “possible,” human carcinogen [45]. The IARC decision on mobile phones was based mainly on case-control human studies by the Hardell group from Sweden [613] and the IARC Interphone study [21415]. These studies provided supportive evidence of increased risk for brain tumours, that is, glioma and acoustic neuroma.

No doubt the IARC decision started a worldwide spinning machine to question the evaluation, perhaps similar to the one launched by the tobacco industry when IARC was studying and evaluating passive smoking as a carcinogen in the 1990s [16]. Sowing confusion and manufacturing doubt is a well-known strategy used by the tobacco and other industries [1719]; see also Walker [20].

A fact sheet from WHO issued in June 2011 shortly after the IARC decision in May 2011 stated that “to date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use” [21]. This statement contradicted the IARC evaluation and was not based on evidence at that time on a carcinogenic effect from RF radiation and was certainly remarkable since IARC is part of WHO. Furthermore WHO wrote that “currently, two international bodies have developed exposure guidelines for workers and for the general public, except patients undergoing medical diagnosis or treatment. These guidelines are based on a detailed assessment of the available scientific evidence.” These organizations were the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

ICNIRP is a private organization (NGO) based in Germany that selects its own members. Their source of funding is not declared. IEEE is the world’s most powerful federation of engineers. The members are or have been employed in companies or organizations that are producers or users of technologies that depend on radiation frequencies, such as power companies, the telecom industry, and military organizations. IEEE has prioritized international lobbying efforts for decades especially aimed at the WHO.

We published in 2013 an article on using the Bradford Hill viewpoints for brain tumour risk and use of wireless phones [37]. We concluded that based on these aspects “glioma and acoustic neuroma should be considered to be caused by RF-EMF emissions from wireless phones and regarded as carcinogenic to humans.” Since then the scientific literature in this area has expanded considerably. Furthermore, as exemplified above, after the IARC evaluation in May 2011, several committees have evaluated the evidence on health risks associated with use of mobile phones. It should also be noted that these reports are not published in the peer reviewed scientific literature and few physicians if at all are members of these groups. There seems also to be conflict of interests among these members. It is thus pertinent to make a new scientific evaluation using the Bradford Hill viewpoints including the most recent publications.


PMID: 28401165

PMCID: PMC5376454

DOI: 10.1155/2017/9218486

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