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"These results are reassuring with respect to cancer risk in young children and living near mobile phone base stations," said lead researcher Dr. Paul Elliott, a professor of epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial College London.
"There is public concern about possible effects of mobile phone mast emissions on the health of children," Elliott said. "This large national study found no association between mobile phone base station exposures and risk of early childhood cancers."
As the use of mobile phones has increased, so have fears that exposure to the radio waves they emit can cause cancer. The results of a recent major, international study were inconclusive, and earlier reports of cancer clusters near cell phone towers are hard to interpret, because of the small numbers and possible biases, the researchers noted in the report, published June 23 in bmj.com. They also noted that no radiobiological explanations have been shown for these cancers.
For the study, Elliott's team collected data on 1,397 children with leukemia or brain, or central nervous system tumors, who ranged in age from less than a year to 4 years.
For comparison, the researchers identified a control group of children who did not have cancer and matched them to the others by sex and date of birth. The researchers also noted the distance the children lived from a cell tower at birth and the power output of each tower.
The researchers found no association between risk of early childhood cancers and the mother's estimated exposure to cell phone towers during pregnancy.
"It would seem to be very unlikely that there is any serious risk to young children from cancers resulting from proximity to a mobile phone mast," said John Bithell, an honorary research fellow in the Childhood Cancer Research Group at the University of Oxford and author of an accompanying editorial.
The study, like virtually all previous studies, finds no association between childhood leukemia or cancers of the brain or central nervous system and supposed exposure to radio frequency fields from a cell phone tower, Bithell said.
Exposure levels from cell phone towers are much lower than those from a hand-held mobile phone, and no biological effects from exposure to radio frequency fields have been demonstrated experimentally, he added.
However, health effects can take time to appear, and studies of cancers in adults might be more revealing, he said.
But for now, "the medical profession should encourage their patients not to worry about this possibility," Bithell said.
"Although proximity to a mast may be aesthetically distressing, anxiety and moving house are a bigger health hazard than any associated physical effect," he said. "Above all, the risks of using a mobile phone inappropriately, -- for too long, at work or while driving -- should be considered far more seriously."
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