Design flaws make INTERPHONE non-informative

On May 18, 2010 was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology the summary result of INTERPHONE project the effect of mobile phone radiation on development of brain cancer (http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/dyq079). Reading this article has confirmed my earlier concerns about the INTERPHONE, that I have presented, among others, in my earlier blog (How reliable is the epidemiological evidence on mobile phones and cancer?). For already some time I have suggested that INTERPHONE will not be able to give reliable answers whether there is, or is not, any link between use of mobile phones and cancer. This latest publication confirms my earlier concerns.

I could briefly summarize this latest INTERPHONE study as non-informative. This is in spite of INTERPHONE being the largest and the most expensive to date executed epidemiological study on mobile phones and cancer. At its conception, INTERPHONE was expected to provide reliable (even final) answers whether mobile phone radiation can cause brain cancer. However, it seems that flaws in the design of the study, which in fact were known from its beginning, have caused that the outcome of INTERPHONE is scientifically unreliable.

The major flaw in the study is the lack of information on how much people were exposed to mobile phone radiation. In case of INTERPHONE, when it was set up in 2000, network operators were not providing information about the use of mobile phones by the study subjects because the networks considered this information as trade secret. Therefore, researchers had to rely on peoples’ memory. But, honestly, who remembers how much has used mobile phone even year, not mentioning 10 years, ago and on which side of the head? And such information was requested from the study subjects. It means, at least in my opinion, that the half of the INTERPHONE information – the dosimetry – about study subjects’ exposure was extremely poor, to say the least (the second half is the pathological information about the cancers).

Further complication is the long latency period for brain tumors which can be somewhere between 10 – 20 years. At the time when the study was launched, in year 2000, there were very few people who used mobile phone for more that 10 years. That is why the group of the longest users (over 10 years) in the study is so small, what causes that its statistical evaluation is so unreliable.

Some of the other methodological problems with the INTERPHONE are listed in my earlier blog (How reliable is the epidemiological evidence on mobile phones and cancer?).

The INTERPHONE results concerning mobile phone use for less than 10 years are suggesting, according to the authors’ conclusions, that there is no effect of mobile phone radiation on brain cancer. However, such conclusions are premature and unreliable because the results presented in the article suggest some kind of “protective effect“. INTERPHONE scientists dismiss such result as unlikely and suggest that it was caused by the insufficient number of responding study subjects. Well, it might be so. But, this flaw should not be used as a proof that there is no effect. Furthermore, the potential possibility of existence of some kind of “protective effect” might not be so far fetched; especially that similar “protective effect” was seen in some animal studies. What this result means to me is that it is unreliable and it does not provide assurances that the use of mobile phone for less than 10 years will not cause cancer.

The results concerning possible increase of brain cancer in people who used mobile phones for longer than 10 years are also unreliable because this group of study subjects was relatively small and because of it the statistical analysis is mathematically uncertain. So, again, the reliable information is missing.

And there is still one issue that was not addressed by the INTERPHONE. Hypothetically, assuming that over 10 years of use of mobile phones increases risk of developing brain cancer, is it so that when one uses mobile phone for only 10 years and then stops, that then the cancer will not develop? Or, is it so, that already then the cancer development cascade has begun and stopping the use of mobile phone will not affect it? And, of course then comes to mind another question: for how many years one would need to use mobile phone to start such cascade of events leading to the development of cancer – for 10 years or 5 or 1 only? Such questions should be addressed and answered in the future epidemiological study too.

In summary, the cause of such inconclusive result of INTERPHONE is, in my opinion, dosimetry. In INTERPHONE was being compared a very good and reliable pathological information about the cancer with very poor and flawed dosimetrical information about the exposure. Such combination of “something reliable” with “something flawed” can only produce one outcome – the scientifically unreliable and non-informative result.

What it all means is that after 10 years of research and millions of euros used for it we are still in the starting point and do not have the answer whether, or whether not, mobile phone radiation could cause brain cancer.  

In my opinion, anyone claiming based on the just published INTERPHONE study that we have the answer concerning brain cancer and mobile phone radiation, should read it again.

However, because the result of the INTERPHONE presented in International Journal of Epidemiology is so inconclusive and non-informative, anyone can “pick-and-chose” suitable fragments and get “suiting conclusions”. In short, put a spin on the INTERPHONE story that is the most confusing to decision makers and to the general public.

Some examples are below:

Reuters has quoted IARC Director Dr Christopher Wild as saying “the results really don’t allow us to conclude that there is any risk associated with mobile phone use, but… it is also premature to say that there is no risk associated with it.”

PR Newswire has quoted the IARC director Dr Christopher Wild, as saying: “An increased risk of brain cancer is not established from the data from INTERPHONE. However, observations at the highest level of cumulative call time and the changing patterns of mobile phone use since the period studied by INTERPHONE, particularly in young people, mean that further investigation of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk is merited.”

It is confusing to think what it means. But at least to me, the Reuters report indicates that IARC Director is uncertain whether any valid conclusions can be drawn from INTERPHONE at all whereas PR Newswire indicates that the same IARC Director is assuring that INTERPHONE has not shown any brain cancer risk.

Also, when reading headlines, “head can spin” and one can agree with the Science News headline: Interphone’s data on cell phones and cancer: The spin begins.

In the examples of media reports, listed below, one can find everything from yes to no to may be so. One can wonder whether the writers of these stories have all read the same article form the International Journal of Epidemiology (just being sarcastic…):

Yes: Half an hour of mobile use a day ‘increases brain cancer risk’ Telegraph.co.uk; WHO study says mobile use ‘can raise brain cancer risk’ The Hindu; Brain cancer link to mobile phones Herald Sun; Ten-year worldwide study links mobile phone use to cancer Daily Mail; Heavy mobile users risk cancer Times Online; Landmark study set to show potential dangers of heavy mobile phone use Telegraph.co.uk‎; Study links mobile phone use to brain tumours Scotsman;

No: ‘No proof’ of mobile phone cancer link Mirror.co.uk; Study finds no link in cell phone use, brain tumors CNN International; Study finds no brain cancer link to mobile phone use AFP; Study fails to link mobile phones, cancer ABC Science Online; Experts deny mobile phones cause tumours Sydney Morning Herald; 

May be so: Cell phone, cancer link inconclusive Detroit Free Press; Cancer from mobile use ‘uncertain’ The Press Association; Massive study can’t say whether cellphone use causes brain cancer Vancouver Sun; Much mobile phone use causes brain cancer? Xinhua; Cellphone cancer study inconclusive; researcher urges more study Washington Post (blog); WHO study on mobile phone cancer risk ‘inconclusive’ BBC News; WHO study has no clear answer on phones and cancer Reuters; Mobile Phone Use and Brain Cancer Risk: Inconclusive Results from … Science Daily;  

And my favorite title comes from MSNBC:  No answer, just fuzz, from cell phone study. Unfortunately, this seems to be pretty precise description of the outcome of the INTERPHONE.


We still do not know whether mobile phone use could cause brain cancer or any other disease. Because the use of mobile phones has become essential part of our life we can not and we should not discourage people from using them. However, it is prudent to advice caution and urge to reduce exposures to mobile phone radiation whenever possible or feasible, especially in children.


  1. Pingback: 2010 in review « Between A Rock and A Hard Place Blog

  2. Pingback: • Interphone afterthoughts and question about compliance of mobile phones with safety standards « Between A Rock and A Hard Place Blog

  3. Just recently I put another piece in place. The effect I am having is caused by the microwave repeaters. While I am effected by other electricity, thru my life I have learned to deal with it. I could manage it, I didn’t even realize what I was doing just had a sense – if it didn’t feel right I moved away, when outside it was okay. Now with the new generation of microwave towers – it seems impossible to get out of it’s way.
    If the powers to be really want to know about the effects of microwaves on humans I’m pretty sure that lots of people who hear the hum – from all over the world, would participate in the study. It is a far-field effect with cochlear effects and central nervous system stimulation.
    Unplugging does help, but unfortunately people who hear the hum have to sleep with a fan running – every night – to block the sound.
    Those in the beginning gave special precautions for very good reasons. Increasing power density (2003) does matter.

  4. I’ve had some similar experiences. The facial nerve can apparently also be triggered by “dirty power”. Walk around the house with a battery powered AM radio tuned to either end of the dial; where there is a buzz you have dirty power. Unplug the offenders, especially when you sleep.

    This was described in “Electroshocker” in Prevention magazine.

    I do think there should be more research on microwave hearing. It has not been observed in the scientific literature at the low levels (compared to radar) that cell towers emit. But I think under the right conditions it would be observed.

    There have been some experiments where weak microwaves increased firing rates of nerve tissue in a dish. I think that’s an important area, but there are lots of important directions, and very little funding currently.

  5. Hi all;
    I haven’t taken the time to read the interphone study.
    But since it’s the latest news on this subject I am interested in the findings.

    Just wondering if the telecommunications companies have switched the density of the electromagnetics from the handheld cell phone to the transmitting base stations?

    I know that here in Canada, they are selling off the bandwidth in portions like it’s a resource – they call it a renewable resource. If they do it right they can make alot of money.

    I don’t use a cell phone but do suffer from the effects of the microwave auditory effect along with neurological effects of my nervous system.

    The statement that the Auditory effect is not a physical hazard is a borderline statement which they used to increase the power density.
    Is this density popping ions? I don’t have any outward disfiqurement – other than dealing with a facial nerve that is aggravated by the power train coming thru where I live, where I shop and where I used to go to relax.

    I’m wondering about the justification of the terminology RF Tinnitus, is this really a tinnitus, or is it another distortion of terminology.

    If you were writing to ask for research money related to health concerns – because I believe that we should be concerned – for the future.

    What field would you recommend they look into?


  6. My “conclusion” is no more “baseless” than your own. Your having a position of some prominence makes your baseless pronouncement all the more “unfortunate” than my own could be.

    How on earth you could use the word, ‘know’, as you do, or ‘sufficiently’ or ‘reliable’ or ‘proof’ or ‘scientific’…

    Let’s see, is there a threshold number of, for example, brain disease victims worldwide before such hapless vocabulary gets shed? I’m glad I don’t have to wait for this blogger-researcher to “know” enough — never used kill phones, never will, and we KNOW plenty well enough we are directly harmed by infrastructure. (Don’t you just love tinnitus?)

  7. It should be easy enough to confirm whether there exist at least 10 users with 12 hours per day of usage (at least the providers can find out). But it makes some sense that people with brain tumors would have memory problems. So where is the data on salivary tumors and acoustic neuromas? It appears that the meningioma patients are a bit more reliable than the glioma patients, and it’s the meningioma ones where we have this huge difference between analog and digital phones. Has anyone looked for this before… other than the TNO study that was never peer-reviewed?

  8. This your conclusion: “Just say it: cell phones kill, as does their infrastructure — be no part of it.” is unfortunately baseless. We do not know whether mobile phone radiation causes harm or not. We do not have sufficiently reliable scientific proof. We have indications that some health effects might be caused by mobile phone radiation but we need better scientific evidence in order to either accept them or to dismiss them.

  9. Indeed, if you “crunch numbers” enough you always will get “something” out of them. However, there is a basic problem with the reliability of the Interphone because the data on which it is based are unreliable. I do not blame the authors. Just the epidemiological approach has certain limitations. As an example of unreliable data could be data showing the “protective” effect of mobile phone radiation in persons using phone for less than 10 years. As the authors of the study admit there must be some problem with how eagerly the study subjects have responded to the questionnaire that leads to such finding. It means that the observed “protective” effect is incorrect and is caused by unreliable data. So, how “crunching” of these numbers in different ways could lead to any reliable result? That is why in my opinion the study is noninformative.

  10. Hi Vitas, I entirely agree with you that the epidemiological approach might be too blunt to detect small risk, if it exists, such as mobile phone radiation impact on development of brain cancer. I have presented this view in number of my publications and meeting presentations. In my opinion we should finally focus on determining whether people at all react to mobile phone radiation and whether responses of human body are of sufficient magnitude to alter normal physiology. Amazingly, we all the time are discussing whether mobile phone radiation could pose health risk for people and at the same time we do not know at all whether cells and tissues in human body react to this radiation. There is only one pilot study suggesting that human skin might react to mobile phone radiation (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/9/77). However, this was only small pilot study and it requires larger size replication. The only problem is that nobody wants to fund it. No idea why.

  11. Dec 15 2006

    Microwave Sickness / Deadly Electronic Weapons / Canada


    When I worked in the diesel generator business,
    I worked with a lot of communications companies all across Canada.
    Bell Canada was a big one I did a lot of work with.
    They have “standby diesel generators” at their central offices and all their repeater stations.
    A lot of “national security” concerns within these systems.
    I worked on a fairly large “fibre optics” project in 1996 into 1997 when I was poisoned for the first time in 1997
    People within these systems have more than enough resources to make you “sick” if you ……”step on the wrong toes.”
    Lots of surlpus “microwave generators.” and “radio equipment.”
    All with “no forensic evidence.”
    It just takes one “idiot” to put something together who does not like you.
    There may be a union / non union theme to my problems.
    I worked at a non union company, Harper Detroit Diesel.
    I had no idea about “radio waves as weapons” until 2005,
    ……8 years after I initially got sick
    I started my research project in January 2004 on the internet with the keywords “constructive dismissal”
    in relation to my own problems at Harper Detroit Diesel.
    I am not sure about ……”microwave mind control”,
    seems to be a lot of articles on the internet about this topic.
    It does look like more and more people world wide are looking at
    ……”radio waves as weapons”.
    I think maybe thats because there is now so much “radio equipment”around the world with the advancements in “communications.”
    The problems with all these types of systems is the technology falls into the wrong hands.
    Some real horror stories from people worldwide about this topic on the internet.
    What an eye opener !

    Gerry Duffett

    3358-A McCowan Rd
    Scarborough Ontario
    Canada M1V 5P5



  12. “Because the use of mobile phones has become essential part of our life we can not and we should not discourage people from using them.”

    How on earth could such a “conclusion” be derived from an inconclusive study?

    Why not rather counsel steering largely away from cancer in research? What sense for public policy in waiting out such latency periods for such eventual morbid statistics, which follow inattention to “small” matters like tinnitus & insomnia, for example, in a society obsessed with bullet hole forensic “causality” rather than listening to their own bodies.

    “it is prudent to advice caution and urge to reduce exposures to mobile phone radiation whenever possible or feasible, especially in children.”

    How does that also follow from an inconclusive & fully flawed study? Why not focus on exposure of the elderly, children having time maybe to heal?

    Just say it: cell phones kill, as does their infrastructure — be no part of it.

  13. Hey Dariusz, I don’t think you’ll get any argument from anyone about the flawed nature of the INTERPHONE study – even the study authors admit this. So many problems. Exposure misclassification due to the subject’s limited ability to recall phone use (especially long term) will substantially reduce the power of the study. Selection bias in the controls may have tipped the results towards a protective effect, and recall bias for laterality may have pushed that metric towards a harmful effect.

    There is obviously a degree of unreliability in the INTERPHONE study (as there are in all studies), but what I would really like to know is the extent of this unreliability. More to the point, given its flaws, what odds ratios (OR) for brain cancers could the study conceivably detect? If it is no less than say 4x, then is there any point to such a study? I would imagine that a 4x OR would have become quite apparent by now in the population statistics for brain cancers as mobile phone usage rates have rocketed from low numbers in the early 90’s to almost ubiquitous use for the last ten years, which I think would be time enough to detect a long latency cancer. However, as I understand it, the brain cancer trends have stayed pretty flat over the last twenty years, even with improved diagnostic tests.

    The substantial volume of theoretical, animal and in vitro studies published on this topic so far seem to be indicating either no effect, or an effect that is so weak and subtle that we can’t even tell if it might be either adverse or beneficial, or how much it may rely on individual differences between people. We’re hunting for a needle in a haystack. These mobile phone epi studies are simply too blunt to distinguish such small and variable effects. A bit like trying to pick up a needle with boxing gloves …

  14. I totally agree with your interpetation of the Interphone study and the appalling way this has been dealt with in the media. I put a post up at http://electricsense.com/447/the-interphone-study-disclosure-or-deception/ on this also. I am a sufferer, so my views on this subject are pretty black and white, as are my views on the COSMOS study…. How is it that what is so patently obvious to the likes of me and you, appears to be beyond comrehension for the bulk of the population?

  15. Well said.

    But I think more discussion of the study is called for.

    It may be flawed, it may have biases, but in epidemiology, that’s going to be true (potentially) of every study. Yes it would be much better to use actual phone usage, but given that, what did this study find?

    The headline results should be:
    OR of 1.4 (40% increase in glioma) for users over 1640 total hours.

    Meningioma, OR was 0.5 for heaviest users using only analog phone, but 1.84 (95% CI 1.17-2.88) for those using digital phones, and 4.43 (1.42-13.9) using both. This is just shocking.

    Heaviest users ipsilateral glioma OR 1.96 (95% CI 1.22-3.16).
    contralateral 1.25 (CI 0.64-2.42)
    With glioma both analog and digital were elevated:
    1.95 and 1.46 respectively.

    How many tumor patients said they used > 5 hours per day?
    patients: 38 controls :22
    I compute p<0.026.
    Same thing but at least 12 hours per day?
    patients: 10 controls: 0
    p< 0.001

    I don't know why this is not mentioned in the abstract. OK, it's clear they don't believe their own data, but what does the data say?

    I'm starting to think the protective effect for fairly short term, moderate usage with analog phones should be taken seriously. Note these are real phones, not ideal microwave emitters. They often have on-board switch-mode voltage converters, not to mention digital displays, so there are many frequencies emitted, probably including some around 100kHz – 300 kHz which disrupt cell division in vitro and are being explored for cancer treatment in Israel.

    I'm not sure this should be enough to convince anyone that analog phones are safe, but if forced to choose…


  16. MY FINAL CONCLUSION: The study of Lennart Hardell is of great honour to science

    1. Interphone is a study with several flaws, funded and designed by industry http://www.radiationresearch.org/pdfs/15reasons.asp

    The Interphone project proves once again that mobile industry should not attend the research projects at all. We should pay more attention to the sound science of Lennart Hardell & al, which is clearly showing the brain cancer risks among heavy users.

    Click to access 71B9.pdf

    The independently funded studies of Hardell are more qualified than those funded by industry


    2. Indeed, it is essential to advice caution especially with children. Brain surgeons Charlie Teo and Santosh Kesari are worried and concerned at the number of kids with brain tumours.

    http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2008/s2533725.htm and http://youtube.com/user/Vidiootix#p/a/u/O/oQOX6QGWbjg

    3. Please, read more about SAR measurements. Children are exposed to much greater amount of mobile radiation than adults.


    Erja Tamminen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.