It’s the fear many of us have at the back of our minds: are our mobile phones and the other wireless technologies causing us harm?
We might have welcomed them into our offices and homes as a way of staying connected with the rapidly expanding digital world but many of us remain suspicious about the health implications of the radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) that fuels the current wireless revolution.
And fears about the technology and what it might be doing to our health are not confined to the lay person.
In a column last month, eminent neurosurgeon Charlie Teo expressed his belief there was a link between brain cancer and mobile phone use, even though he acknowledged there was no real evidence to support his view.
A year ago the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified RF EME fields as “possibly carcinogenic” to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) says even though there is no clear evidence that mobile phones pose a long-term public health hazard, parents should limit children’s exposure.
But Australian scientists who are leading research in this area say evidence supporting a link between mobile phone use and other wi-fi technologies to health problems is weak at best.
Bruce Armstrong, who led the Australian arm of the Interphone study which in 2010 reported a 40 per cent higher rate of glioma and 15 per cent higher rate of meningioma (brain tumours) among the heaviest users of mobile phones but no evidence of a cancer link in more moderate users, said the evidence so far was not strong and did not prove cause and effect.
“If there was a sizeable increase in risk associated with them, then you’d expect to see some up-trends in brain tumour rates, particularly within the age groups of people who have had substantial exposure (which we haven’t),” Professor Armstrong said.
A spokesman for ARPANSA said while some research suggested the possibility that heavy use of mobile phones with the handsets against the head may increase the risk of some brain cancers, this remained far from certain.
And, if there was an association between mobile phone use and brain cancer, scientists did not know its biological mechanism. He said the association appreciated the public was concerned about the issue and would continue to monitor the research.