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Mobile Phone Link To Cancer
Mobile phone users were last night advised to cut their use of handsets - particularly in areas with poor reception - after new research found evidence they can cause cell damage.
Researchers exposed cells in glass dishes to mobile phone signals and discovered that the low-power microwaves they emit can damage DNA, potentially causing cancer and other illnesses.
The new study, to be published next month, adds to the already heated debate over mobile phone safety. It found that the risk was increased in areas with a poor signal because the mobile phone used higher-powered radiation to maintain contact with the network.
The team, based in Germany, is now seeking funds to see if their findings are repeated on living cells within the human body.
Last night, some experts and the mobile industry itself urged consumers not to panic, pointing out that previous studies had failed to prove mobile phones caused illnesses.
The four-year study was conducted by the Verum Foundation, based in Munich, and funded by the EU at a cost of £2.2m.
The experts involved included scientists from the universities of Vienna, Bologna, Milan, Hannover and Bordeaux, as well as Finnish experts in radiation and nuclear safety.
Human tissue was exposed to mobile phone radiation in the laboratory. The results showed that the radiation was able to cause mutations in DNA cells, which are the building blocks of human life.
The mobile signals caused the release of free radicals - extremely reactive groups of atoms or molecules.
Reactions between the free radicals and DNA can cause mutations that can affect cells and cause cancer in some cases. The signals were found to be able to activate genes affecting how cells divide and multiply.
The emissions, which were well within the maximum output levels laid down by law, were found to be able to break up the strands in DNA cells and stop them from producing some proteins. They also wrought changes to blood cells.
The experiments were repeated in another laboratory and produced the same results. The scientists admit the results do not prove mobile phones are harmful, because although the cells were affected in the laboratory, the body can often tackle any damage through its own immune system.
They believe the next step is to try to test their results in animals, such as genetically modified mice, and ultimately human volunteers. They also consider that the effects are linked to how powerful the emissions are from the phone.
The output from a single handset can vary enormously, ranging from a minimum of two milliwatts to a maximum of about a watt, depending on whether the phone is in use and how good the signal is.
The phone emits more power just before it rings and then the levels settle down while the call is being taken.
But if the phone is used in an area with weak reception, the handset needs more power in order to transmit a good signal, meaning more radiation is emitted, although still within official safety levels.
Professor Franz Adlkofer, the executive director of the Verum Foundation, said the scientists were surprised by the results, which contradicted their initial belief that there would be no damage to DNA.
He said that although more research was needed, users of mobile phones should make sure they only used them where there was good reception.
He said: "The precautionary principle is justified. At the moment I would say that it would be enough to advise customers only to use the mobile phone when they need it and not for too long, and only when there is good access to base stations."
The results were last night seized on by critics of the mobile phone industry.
Jean Philips of Powerwatch, which supplies information to campaigners against mobile phone masts, said: "This study is significant because it is one more piece of evidence that mobile phones are not as safe as the industry tell us they are.
"Mobile phones need to increase their power output wherever there is poor reception, and therefore there is more risk.
"Tumours normally take about 10 to 15 years to become active and most people have not had mobile phones for that long, so no one can say that they are safe."
But Dr David Land, a physics lecturer at Glasgow University, reacted with scepticism to the claims. He said: "These studies make me groan. I would not take any notice of the results until they have been replicated in at least two other laboratories and have been properly reviewed.
"There have been countless claims that mobile phones are bad for people and they have later been shown to be groundless. Frankly, mobile phones are most likely to kill if you use them while you are driving."
A spokeswoman for the Mobile Operators Association said:
"The results of this study are preliminary, not yet published or peer-reviewed and require further replication by other groups.
"It is not possible to draw conclusions from this preliminary data."