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This 2017 review, published in Neurological Sciences, looked at case-control studies on cellphone use, focusing on glioma, meningioma, and acoustic neuromas. This review was interesting because the researchers divided the studies by quality, and higher-quality studies — which tended to be funded by the government and not the cellphone industry — showed a trend toward an increased risk of brain tumors, while lower-quality studies did not. Overall, though, their meta-analysis found an increased risk of brain cancers (mostly gliomas) among people who were using cellphones for 10 or more years, and no increase in the risk of acoustic neuroma.
Peer review is a vital part of any scientific study; it brings several more lifetimes of expertise into the room to rigorously check a study for any weak points. Melnick calls the peer reviewers’ choice to change some conclusions an unusual move; “It’s quite uncommon that the peer review panel changes the final determination,” he says, noting if anything, he’s seen peer reviewers downgrade findings, not upgrade them. “Typically when NTP presents their findings, the peer review almost in all cases goes along with that.” In this case, the peer reviewers felt the data—when combined with their knowledge of the cancers and with the study design itself—was significant enough to upgrade several of the findings.
But he cautioned that the exposure levels and durations were far greater than what people typically encounter, and thus cannot “be compared directly to the exposure that humans experience.” Moreover, the rat study examined the effects of a radio frequency associated with an early generation of cellphone technology, one that fell out of routine use years ago. Any concerns arising from the study thus would seem to apply mainly to early adopters who used those bygone devices, not to users of current models.
Researchers have carried out several types of epidemiologic studies in humans to investigate the possibility of a relationship between cell phone use and the risk of malignant (cancerous) brain tumors, such as gliomas, as well as benign (noncancerous) tumors, such as acoustic neuroma (tumors in the cells of the nerve responsible for hearing that are also known as vestibular schwannomas), meningiomas (usually benign tumors in the membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord), and parotid gland tumors (tumors in the salivary glands) (3).