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Did my cellphone cause my brain tumor?

September 04, 2015 | UCI Health
Holding a cellphone

When patients are diagnosed with a brain tumor, the first thing they want to know is why. They often try to pinpoint a source.

“What caused this? Was it my cellphone?”

Unfortunately, when it comes to telling patients what caused their brain cancer, I often don’t have an answer.

But when they ask if it was because of their cellphone, I can tell them it almost certainly was not the cause.

Cellphones and cancer

Overall, the current research does not support a definitive link between cellphones and brain tumors. Some studies have shown weak associations between brain cancer and cellphones, but nothing causative. In other words, while someone with a brain tumor may have had a cellphone, no one has proven that the cellphone caused the tumor.

Health organizations tend to agree. While the World Health Organization has classified the radiation that cellphones emit as “possibly carcinogenic,” it put the cancer risk in the same category as coffee and pickled vegetables.

The American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration agree that scientific research as a whole has failed to show a relationship between cellphone use and cancer. They also agree that more research is needed.

Another reason to suggest our cellphones aren’t giving us brain cancer is that while cellphone use has increased over the years, brain cancer rates have not. Also, today’s cellphone models emit less radiation than those huge monstrosities we used to carry around.

Also because people now are texting more than actually talking on the phone, over time I think we will see a decreasing association between cellphones and brain cancer.

Brain cancer risks and symptoms

If cellphones don’t cause brain tumors, what does?

In only a very small number of brain cancer patients can we point to a specific exposure to radiation as the cause. For the overwhelming majority of patients, we’ll never know for sure. Risk factors for brain cancer are not as defined as they are for cancers in other parts of the body.

We think brain cancer develops through a combination of factors that include:

  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Mutations caused by the environment
  • Cancer spreading from another part of the body

Early brain tumor symptoms

No matter the cause, it’s important to detect it early. Headaches are the most common early symptom of a brain tumor. Patients should visit their physician if they experience a sudden onset or change in pattern of headaches accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Numbness in the arms or legs
  • Vision problems
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty speaking or finding the right words

Every day I witness the struggles of those affected by brain tumors. I’m passionate about finding a cure and improving the lives of people who battle this disease.

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