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Scientists Link Eye Cancer To Mobile Phones
Journalist: Jonathan Leake, Science Editor
January 14, 2001
Mobile phones have been linked to human cancer in a scientific study for the first time. The research suggests there is a threefold increase in eye cancers among people who regularly use the devices.
The results will cause concern within the mobile telecoms industry. The radiation emitted from mobile phones has long been known temporarily to alter the workings of brain cells but there was previously no evidence of permanent damage to health.
If confirmed by subsequent research, the finding could lead to thousands of costly lawsuits by people with eye and possibly brain cancers.
More than 20m people in Britain have mobile phones. The research, published in the journal Epidemiology, was carried out by a team from the University of Essen, in Germany. It investigated a form of eye cancer called uveal melanoma, in which tumours form in the layer that makes up the iris and base of the retina.
Dr Andreas Stang, who led the research, said he had examined 118 people with uveal melanoma and obtained details about their use of digital mobile phones. This was compared with a control group of 475 people without the disease.
To prevent bias, the researchers were not told if the person they were examining suffered from cancer or was healthy. When the results were analysed they found the cancer victims had a much higher rate of mobile phone use, though Stang cautions that his study needs confirmation.
The mechanism by which the radiation might cause cancer is uncertain but it is known that the watery contents of the eye assists the absorption of radiation.
Other research showed that cells called melanocytes found in the uveal layer started growing and dividing more rapidly when exposed to microwave radiation.
Since uveal melanoma starts within such cells, there is a ready-made mechanism by which mobile phone radiation might help to initiate cancer, especially in people with a genetic predisposition to the condition.
Last year the Stewart inquiry into mobile phone safety, appointed by the government, found no evidence to link the devices with brain tumours or any other disorder.
However, last month saw the launch of multi-billion-pound lawsuits against Verizon Horizon, an American mobile phone company 45% owned by Vodaphone, the biggest British provider.
Customers claim they got brain tumours and other conditions from using the devices.
Vodaphone said it welcomed new research but there was still no positive evidence that mobile phones harmed health.