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Cancer Study May Help Motorola Suit
Attorneys for a doctor who was stricken by brain cancer are hoping a new study indicating a link between older cell phones and tumors will bolster a $800 million lawsuit against Motorola Inc. and major mobile-phone carriers.
Although many studies have found no cancer risk from cell phone use, research published in the latest European Journal of Cancer Prevention said long-term users of old-fashioned analog cell phones were at least 30 percent more likely than nonusers to develop brain tumors.
A judge is expected to decide by month's end whether the Motorola lawsuit should go to trial and if so, whether the study can be used as evidence.
If the case is allowed to go forward, it could open the door to other significant lawsuits against the cell phone and wireless communication industry. So far, no similar claims have been successful.
A Motorola attorney criticized the methodology of the new report, which was written by Swedish oncologist Lennart Hardell, who testified against the company in evidence hearings in February.
Hardell studied 1,617 patients with brain tumors and compared them with a similar-sized group of people without tumors.
He found that patients who used Sweden's Nordic Mobile telephones were 30 percent more likely to have brain tumors, especially on the side of the head that touched the phone most often. Those who used the phones longer than 10 years were 80 percent more likely to develop tumors.
John Angelos, an attorney representing Dr. Christopher Newman of Jarrettsville, Md., has asked U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake to let the study be included as evidence in his lawsuit.
"From our perspective, and from a public health perspective, the court should just be aware of what's out there," said Angelos, whose firm has made millions suing asbestos and tobacco companies on behalf of cancer victims.
Newman's lawsuit names Motorola, Verizon and other wireless carriers. He claims the analog cell phones he used from 1992 to 1998 caused him to develop a cancerous brain tumor behind his right ear. The tumor was removed, but Newman was permanently disabled, his lawyers say.
Newman is blind in his left eye, suffers memory loss and slowed speech and can no longer work, they claim.
Cell phones — used by 97 million Americans — generate radio waves at a frequency between microwave ovens and television signals but are non-ionizing, making them less dangerous than other types of radiation. By contrast, ionizing electromagnetic energy, such as is found in X-rays, is known to permanently damage tissue.
Newer digital phones emit less radiation than older analog models like the ones in Hardell's study; Newman's attorneys say he used phones with a similar range of radiation.
Three major studies published since December 2000, including one by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, showed cell phones don't cause any adverse health effects.
The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates cell phones along with the Federal Communications Commission, declined to comment about the Hardell study because of Newman's lawsuit.
But the agency's Web site supports more research: "The available scientific evidence does not show that any health problems are associated with using wireless phones. There is no proof, however, that wireless phones are absolutely safe."
Motorola attorney Norman Sandler may ask the judge to consider another recent study on mice that found no link between cell phones and cancer.
He and others in the industry believe the report, published last month by an Australian team in the International Journal of Radiation Research, quashes a different Australian study in 1997 that showed cell phones could cause tumors.
Sandler wants the judge to dismiss Hardell's study, saying it doesn't find a significant correlation between phones and tumors. Sandler questioned the author's theory that tumors are more apt to develop near the ear that touches the receiver most often.
"His testimony raises significant questions about recall bias," he said. "Do people who used the phones 10 years ago really remember what side of the head they used?"
W. Ross Adey, a professor of physiology at California's Loma Linda University School of Medicine who is not involved in the Baltimore case, believes there is evidence that long-term or even intermittent exposure to cell phone radiation might damage brain tissue.
He said much more study is needed on the possible long-term effects, and hopes the Baltimore lawsuit reignites interest in new independent research on the subject.
Such studies not funded by the cell phone industry are almost entirely being conducted in Europe only, he said.
One government that has decided to err on the side of caution in its cell phone policy is Britain, where half the population uses them. It advises that children be discouraged from using the handsets.
For its part, the U.S. wireless industry requires mobile phone makers to disclose information on radiation levels produced by their handsets.