Was Sheryl Crow's Brain Tumor Caused by Cell Phones?

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Musician Sheryl Crow, who has survived both breast cancer and a non-cancerous brain tumor, recently stated that she believes that cell phones may have caused her tumor. An article

in People magazine stated:

Sheryl Crow suspects that the benign brain tumor she has may have been caused by her cell phone. “There are no doctors that will confirm that,” Crow, 50, said Monday while appearing on the premiere of Katie, the new syndicated talk show hosted by Katie Couric. “ I do have the theory that it’s possible that it’s related to that. I [used to spend] hours on the old archaic cell phones.” Crow, who says the tumor is in a part of her brain near where she often held her phone, says she started to suspect something was wrong when she began spacing out on stage, forgetting lyrics and generally feeling “mushy.”

Crow is not alone. Many people believe that cell phone use can cause or contribute to brain cancers.

The history of cell phone concerns among the public is closely tied to the history of media coverage, as mass communication (books, magazine articles, television programs, etc.) has been identified as a primary driver for the fears. Concerns over cell phone safety trace directly back to an earlier (and unrelated) public health concern over electromagnetic fields, or EMFs.

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For example, Larry King devoted a segment on his top-rated CNN show on Aug. 9, 2000, to the case of a man named Larry Reynard, who told a story about how his wife had developed brain cancer several months after first using a cell phone.

Both King and Reynard missed the fact that brain cancers generally take years — not months — to develop, and that Reynard’s wife probably had the cancer before she began using her cell phone. If using a cell phone for only three months is enough to cause brain cancer, nearly every American adult should be afflicted with the disease.

Physicist Robert Park, in his book Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, notes that dormant public fear about EMFs resurfaced in the late 1980s:

“In June of 1989, The New Yorker carried a new three-part series of highly sensational articles by Paul Brodeur… on the hazards of power lines. … The series reached an affluent, educated, environmentally concerned audience. … In the fall, Brodeur published the New Yorker series as a book with the lurid title Currents of Death. A new generation of environmental activists, led by mothers who feared for their children’s lives, demanded government action. … Brodeur described power-line fields as the most pervasive — and covered-up — health hazard facing Americans. The overwhelming consensus among scientists, that no hazard existed, was for Brodeur evidence of a massive cover-up involving the utilities, the government and the scientific community.”

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Scientific Evidence

While concern over the potential harm of cell phones is widespread, the vast majority of scientific research does not support the idea that cell phones are dangerous. Repeated scientific studies have failed to find good evidence supporting the position that EMFs or cell phones damage human health.

The following is a typical conclusion published in a scientific journal about the links between EMFs, cell phones and health:

“Epidemiologic research shows a low degree of association, inconsistency and missing dose-effect relations. A biologic mechanism of action is still debatable. … No harm to human health has been shown. …Conclusion: There is no scientific basis as to the harmful effects of EMFs on human health.”

Scientists doubt that cell phones and EMFs can harm the body for several reasons, including: 1) Electric fields induced in the body by cell phones are usually much weaker than the fields that occur naturally inside the body; 2) The heat produced in body tissue by EMFs is far lower than normal body temperature; and 3) The electromagnetic fields generated by cell phones are not strong enough to break the molecular and chemical bonds in human cells.

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While many people claim to be concerned about cell phones, few are actually willing to give them up. Some consumers have chosen to use earpieces instead of holding the cell phones to their heads as they speak; others have purchased special so-called “EMF shields” that can be inserted into cell phones and allegedly block harmful electromagnetic waves (though scientists and consumer groups say that the devices are worthless).

There far greater risks associated with cell phones, especially distracted driving while talking or texting.

Credit: Corbis Imagees

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