Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in adults

Hepworth SJ, et al, Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in adults: case-control study

BMJ Online First, 20th January 2006

Click here for early view of full paper tonight:

This paper and its accompanying Press Release make the following claim without appropriate justification: “Use of a mobile phone, either in the short or medium term, is not associated with an increased risk of glioma.”

It is Powerwatch’s view that this is a highly misleading claim, either through a deliberate and politically motivated attempt to spin the information towards a set goal, or due to incompetent assessment of the results in the report.

The study does, indeed, find that result for the gliomas studied – but the sample used excluded a large majority of the high grade (fast growing) glioma cases because: “We interviewed 51% of those patients with glioma who were eligible, mainly because rapid death prevented us from approaching all of them.”

They continue: “As early death is most likely in patients with high grade tumours, it is not surprising that participation rates were higher in those with low grade tumours. A bias in these results would occur only if mobile phone use was related to severity of tumour, which was not supported by our analysis, where odds ratios for mobile phone use showed no increased risk for high or low grade tumours.” It is equally misleading here to state “which was not supported by our analysis” when they do not in fact present any analysis for mobile phone usage differences between the cases with low-grade and high-grade gliomas. Also, although they admit to not having a representative number of high-grade gliomas, they do not provide any case numbers for the two groups. Once again, this can only be due to either an ulterior motive or incompetence, as the only reasonable conclusion in this respect would be to say “due to the small number of high grade cases in our study, we cannot assess the effect of mobile phone usage on high grade gliomas”.

Simplistically, in middle-age adults, about 50% of gliomas are low grade and 50% are high grade. Most high grade gliomas are fast growing and fatal within a few years. As they only included 51% of possible cases, and admit that there was a strong bias (chi2 p=0.001) towards low grade tumours, then we are left to assume that they had, in fact, very few high grade glioma cases. In which case, this is further evidence that they have no scientific justification for commenting on either high grade gliomas or gliomas as a whole. Without research to suggest otherwise, it is perfectly plausible to suggest that mobile phone usage may have a large impact on high grade glioma cases that were in the 49% of cases omitted

It is very disappointing that these well-respected scientists can draw such badly justified conclusions from their research. Had this study limited its conclusions to the results found from the available cases, and commented that no conclusions can be drawn about the cause of approximately half of all gliomas, the study would have been fine. As it is, it presents a highly misleading overall picture, and may make it harder to get funding to look into causes of high grade gliomas, about which there is still little known. One can only hope that the conclusions are down to an incompetent misrepresentation as opposed to a more sinister motivation.

As high grade gliomas seem to be fatal within a short time of diagnosis, it is clear that a prospective study is now needed that will record details of cases as they are diagnosed.

Alasdair Philips
Director of Powerwatch


BBC have just announced the result of a study into mobile phone use - there's no problem (although they go on to say it does not show long term effects).

I have e-mailed, asking them to say who conducted and paid for the study.



See first news item with links on



Cellphone use and the risk of glioma (comments from Lloyd Morgan)

A new risk of glioma from cellphone use paper has just been published. A typical headline from the media read, No link between cell phones and common tumor. Do not believe it. For the full paper see http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/onlinefirst_date.shtml

My own commentary on this paper is below.

Best regards to all, Lloyd Morgan


Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in adults: case-control study

(Hepworth et al., BMJ 19 January 2006)

In years past, this paper would never have been published because such a low participation rate of cases and controls would have, by itself, been a cause for rejection. With only 51% of glioma victims (30% had died by the time they were contacted) and 45% of the controls (29% refused to participate) participating, combined with more affluent controls than cases, there is little reason to believe any of the reported results.[1]

The study would seem to suggest that using a cellphone would protect the cellphone use from the risk of glioma. If there is no risk of glioma from cellphone use, then there would be about the same number of odds ratios greater than one (increased risk) as there would be odds ratios less than one (reduced risk). Overall this study reports 34 odds ratios greater than one to 8 odds ratios less than one. This is equivalent to saying if I flip a coin 42 times, what is the chance that I will get 34 heads and 8 tails. Such a probability can be calculated. The probability that cellphone use protects the user from glioma is 99.997%.

There are only two possible conclusions. Either a cellphone use protects the user from glioma or the study is flawed. You, the reader, must choose between these two possibilities. There is no other choice possible.

In spite of these incredible flaws, the study did report a 60% increased risk of glioma for regular cellphone use of 10 years or more on the same side of the head as the location of the tumor. Another study has found similar results, though with much higher risk of glioma.[2]

Finally, it is important to understand that this study, as is true with every Interphone study, has received substantial funding from the cellphone industry. Though the study reports that this funding “ensures complete independence for the scientific investigators,” this is inherently not possible. Researchers careers are dependent on receiving research grants. Even with isolation of funding for a specific study from the researchers themselves, the conflict-of-interest in such funding is not resolved. Because the researchers know where the funding has come from, the old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” becomes the effective psychological reality (whether conscious or unconscious).

This same conflict-of-interest issue can be seen within the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) where pharmaceutical companies pay fees for drug approval isolated from specific research projects. It is quite apparent that the FDA has come to see the pharmaceutical industry as their customer, not the American public.

Also to note: just like the pharmaceutical industry-funded studies, industry-funded cellphone studies will not release their protocols3?4so that there is limited assurance both as to the validity of their study procedures and the steps take to shield research from economic interests.

For example, the Interphone study protocol, a common protocol used by 13 participating countries, is kept “strictly confidential.” While there is a process to maintain the independence of researchers from direct cellphone industry involvement, it is unclear as to what and how the cellphone industry was involved in the Interphone study protocol design. Certainly, the Interphone definition of “regular” cellphone use is set to such a minimal standard that few could imagine a finding of risk. Regular cellphone use is defined as cellphone use for at least once a week for six months or more, a year prior to the study cutoff date.

The important question to ask is, if this were a study of the risk of lung cancer from smoking would there be a likelihood of finding a risk of lung cancer from smokers who had smoked at least once a week for 6 months or more, a year prior to the study cutoff date? And, would there be a finding of risk, if as is the case in this study for cellphone use, the lifetime years of smoking for 10 years or more included only 3.9% of the smokers in the study?

[1] Affluent participating controls are more likely to use cellphone than the non-participating controls. Such a “selection bias” would result in an underestimation of the risk of glioma from cellphone use. The sheer proportion of non-participating controls makes such selection bias highly probable.

[2] Hardell et al., Environmental Research 12 July 2005 reported for wireless phone use on the same side of the head, the risk of high-grade astrocytoma was 4.2, 3.2 and 4.0 for analog and digital cellphone and cordless phone use, respectively. The Hepworth et al. paper did not reference this study, even though it was published some 4 months prior to acceptance of the Hepworth paper.




The Art of Spin: Abstract of the glioma study and comments

Following is the abstract of the glioma study ( see previous message by Lloyd Morgan) on the British Medical Journal web site, the link to comments about this study and comments from Alasdair Philips from Powerwatch UK.

Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in adults: case-control study Sarah J Hepworth 1, Minouk J Schoemaker 2, Kenneth R Muir 3, Anthony J Swerdlow 2, Martie J A van Tongeren 4, Patricia A McKinney 1*

Objective To investigate the risk of glioma in adults in relation to mobile phone use. Design Population based case-control study with collection of personal interview data. Setting Five areas of the United Kingdom.

Participants 966 people aged 18 to 69 years diagnosed with a glioma from 1 December 2000 to 29 February 2004 and 1716 controls randomly selected from general practitioner lists.

Main outcome measures Odds ratios for risk of glioma in relation to mobile phone use.

Results The overall odds ratio for regular phone use was 0.94 (95% confidence interval 0.78 to 1.13). There was no relation for risk of glioma and time since first use, lifetime years of use, and cumulative number of calls and hours of use. A significant excess risk for reported phone use ipsilateral to the tumour (1.24, 1.02 to 1.52) was paralleled by a significant reduction in risk (0.75, 0.61 to 0.93) for contralateral use.

Conclusions Use of a mobile phone, either in the short or medium term, is not associated with an increased risk of glioma. This is consistent with most but not all published studies. The complementary positive and negative risks associated with ipsilateral and contralateral use of the phone in relation to the side of the tumour might be due to recall bias.


For comments on this study as listed on the BMJ web site see:



Further on the spinning of the Interphone cellphone studies

The following on the latest German Interphone ‘glioma’ study (not to be confused with the British study, mentioned previously) again illustrates what can happen when the cell phone industry has a ‘guiding’ hand in research funding. It doesn’t necessarily mean outright fraudulent research but it does mean the Telcos have a strong influence on the researcher’s wording of the press releases that are then used by the industry PR flaks , such as Angus TeleManagement Group Inc., who spun up: “STUDY SEES NO CELLPHONE CANCER RISK: A study published in the British Medical Journal finds no link between cellphone use and increased frequency of brain tumours.”

As long as the Telcos hold the purse strings for cell phone research, researchers (and universities) know that if they want further feeding at the industry’s research $$$$ trough, they must ‘play the game’ and discount any positive findings that they may find. It’s okay to have the truth buried in the body of the published report, as the media never bothers to read all that stuff anyway, but any positive findings must be countered by dismissive wording in abstracts / press releases. By the time the limitations of the studies and actual findings are apparent, the world media has already run with the story - using the dismissive versions previously circulated to the media by the doctors of spin - effectively ‘keeping the lid’ on the issue. Note for example the dismissive statement below by the Bielefeld University which states: “mobile phone use does not increase the risk of brain tumours.” Manna from heaven for the Mobile Manufacturer’s Forum and their partners in crime!

Don Maisch



The effects of recall errors and of selection bias in epidemiologic studies of mobile phone use and cancer risk

Phone Cancer Link Downplayed


Re: Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in adults: case-control study

Informant: Alfred Tittmann


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