Lennart Hardell: comments on new results from Interphone

Below I am re-blogging post from the Lennart Hardell blog… All opinions are by Lennart Hardell.

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New results from Interphone confirm glioma risk associated with use of mobile phones

The Interphone study included 13 countries during the study period 2000 – 2004. The major results were published after a delay of 6 years in 2010. In a new publication 12 years after the study period, the intracranial distribution of glioma in relation to radiofrequency (RF) radiation from mobile phones was analyzed. Tumour localization for 792 regular mobile phone users was analyzed in relation to distance from preferred ear for mobile phone use.

In Table 2 five categories for the distance were used with > 115.01 mm as the reference category (α = 1.0).  An association with distance from preferred side of mobile phone use to center of tumour was found; the closer the distance the higher the risk. The highest risk was found in the group with the closest distance (0-55 mm) yielding α = 2.37, 95 % Confidence Interval (CI) = 1.56-4.56.

The same association was seen if distance was based on point with highest Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) instead of preferred ear and if using a model assuming that the preferred side of phone use was not exclusively used (“mixing proportion”). The latter model generated higher risk estimates than the other two but with wider confidence intervals.

In Table 3 tumour size, duration of phone use, cumulative phone use, cumulative number of calls were analyzed. Although not statistically significant, higher risks with decreasing distance were found in the upper levels of these dichotomized covariates.

α and 95 % CI in shortest distance group 0-55 mm from preferred ear to tumour center

Tumour size                        α                    95 % CI

≤18 cm3                              1.96               1.51 – 3.66

18 cm3                                4.09               1.90 – 12.0

Duration of phone use

<6 years                              2.02               1.31 – 4.28

≥6 years                              3.27               1.92 – 11.3

Cumulative phone use

<200 hours                          1.57                1.29 – 3.36

≥200 hours                          4.06                2.03 – 11.6

Cumulative number of calls

<4,000                                 1.55                  1.25 – 3.42

≥4,000                                 3.56                 2.05 – 9.88

The authors concluded that ‘Taken together, our results suggest that ever using a mobile phone regularly is associated with glioma localization in the sense that more gliomas occurred closer to the ear on the side of the head where the mobile phone was reported to have been used the most. However, this trend was not related to amount of mobile phone use, making it less likely that the association observed is caused by a relationship between mobile phone use and cancer risk.’

The first part although correct is misleading. The correct statement would be that the risk was highest for glioma closer to the ear as would be expected based on the exposure to RF radiation. The last sentence should have indicated that although not statistically significant, the risk was highest in the group with longest duration of phone use, highest cumulative phone use and number of calls. This is a pattern one would expect if there is an association between mobile phone use and glioma.

A similar tendency to not correctly downplaying the association is found in the abstract: ‘The association was independent of the cumulative call time and cumulative number of calls.’ Since many persons read only the abstract, as also presented in PubMed, correct presentation of the results including αs and 95 % CIs would have been more relevant.

The correct interpretation of this study is simply that it confirms an increased risk for glioma associated with mobile phone use.

Footnote: The α values represent the change in risk of observing a tumor within the given interval in comparison with the baseline intensity.