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News Center: Short Takes Archive
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GBM Going Up, Other Malignant Glioma Going Down
The incidence of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most virulent and deadly type of brain cancer, is going up in the U.K., while the incidence there of other types of malignant brain tumors are declining, according to some newly published raw data.
Take a look at the two plots below and the trends are immediately apparent.
The incidence rates are not corrected for age, or any other factors. Better screening and diagnostics, the oft-cited explanations for an observed increase in a type of cancer, seems unlikely. Any such changes would probably affect all types of brain tumors. It is possible that the trends reflect the aging of the population, but that too seems doubtful since the likelihood of developing glioma increases with age once past the mid-teenage years.
Source: Frank de Vocht, "Corrigendum," Environment International, posted January 25, 2017
(GBM is a type of glioma, so the right-hand plot would be better titled “Malignant Glioma other than GBM”)
The new data come from a correction to a paper published last year by Frank de Vocht, a lecturer at Bristol University. That paper, an analysis of the possible impact of the use of mobile phones on brain tumor rates in the U.K., was based, in part, on “incorrect data,” prompting de Vocht to issue the “Corrigendum” with these two plots of brain tumor incidences.¹
De Vocht states that the correction had “no significant impact” on his conclusions. Yet, the two plots in the correction look very different from those with the same titles in the original paper.
We asked de Vocht to comment on the significance of the side-by-side plots. He demurred. “I don’t know enough about how mixes of different types of brain cancer subtypes/gliomas behave over time,” he told us. de Vocht encouraged us to talk to Alasdair Philips, the founder of Powerwatch who has been studying brain tumor rates in the U.K. and is preparing his own analysis for publication. Indeed, it was Philips who first spotted the error in de Vocht’s paper, which led to the correction.
Here’s what Philips told us: “The simple take-home message of the two plots is that the number of the most aggressive type of brain tumors [GBM] is going up and the other types of lower-grade malignant glioma are going down. If better diagnosis were responsible for the changes in GBM, then you would expect the two trends to be going in the same direction.”
“As GBM is almost always quickly fatal it is unlikely that they were misdiagnosed in the past,” Philips added. “It looks like something is causing or at least stimulating agressive glioma growth. Clearly, it is no longer enough to look only at overall brain tumor rates.”
While the new plots in themselves say nothing about any possible links between cell phones and brain tumors, they go a long way toward puncturing the argument offered by numerous public health officials and media outlets that such an association is highly unlikely because the overall incidence of brain tumors has remained relatively stable over the last number of years.
The same argument has also been used to discount the results of the NTP study, which shows that cell phone radiation increased cancer among rats. (See, for instance, this video from the New York Times.)
GBM has been rising in the U.S. as well as in other countries.
1. Here is the de Vocht’s conclusion from his original paper:
“A causal factor, of which mobile phone use (and possibly other wireless equipment) is in agreement with the hypothesized temporal association, is related to an increased risk of developing malignant neoplasms in the temporal lobe.”
Historical Controls Show the Difference
One common criticism of the new NTP cell phone cancer study is that, unlike the male rats, there was no significant increase in tumors among female rats.
For instance in its latest assault on the NTP results, the New York Times is running a comment by a pediatrics professor in Indiana, in which he states:
“It’s also odd that increased cancer was seen only in male rats and not in female rats. Do we believe that females are protected from cell phone radiation?”
The answer is in the NTP report. The tables on pp.9-11 show a clear difference between male and female rats with respect to the incidence of spontaneous tumors among the NTP historical controls. Male rats were more than ten times more likely to develop malignant gliomas (brain tumors) than females: 11 of 550 males developed glioma, compared to only 1 of 540 females.
For malignant schwannoma of the heart, the difference is less pronounced, but still evident. Males were more than twice as likely to develop this type of cancer than the females: 9/699 vs 4/699.
Note also that, while none of the control rats in the NTP cell phone study had glial or Schwann cell tumors (or pre-cancerous lesions, hyperplasias, in these two cell types), some exposed females did develop them but the increases did not reach statistical significance.
This is what Ron Melnick, who ran the NTP study before he retired in 2009, had to say about the male vs females tumor counts:
“It is not surprising that the exposed males had more tumors than the females given what we have seen in the historical controls. But we can go one step further, the fact that we saw any of these tumors in the exposed females but none in the concurrent controls adds support to the conclusion that cell phone radiation leads to cancer among rats.”
And: “Gender Differences in Chemical Carcinognesis in National Toxicology Program 2-Year Bioassays,” published in Toxicologic Pathology in 2012. The paper is open access.
This evening, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) released a draft of the report on its two-year cell phone cancer study. Linda Birnbaum, the director of the NIEHS, and John Bucher, the leader of the study, will present the report at a teleconference tomorrow, Friday. They are the director and associate director of the NTP, respectively. [Birnbaum did not speak at the press conference. Bucher was accompanied by Michael Wyde, who ran the study, though he only made one comment during the hour-long telephone briefing.]
The report that was posted only covers rats. The accompanying study of mice found no effects on cancer.
For a copy of the report, go to bioRxiv.org. It includes the comments of some of those who were asked to review it.
The Microwave News story on what the NTP rat experiment shows is here.
The abstract of the report states:
"The US National Toxicology Program (NTP) has carried out extensive rodent toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of radiofrequency radiation (RFR) at frequencies and modulations used in the US telecommunications industry. This report presents partial findings from these studies. The occurrences of two tumor types in male Harlan Sprague Dawley rats exposed to RFR, malignant gliomas in the brain and schwannomas of the heart, were considered of particular interest, and are the subject of this report. The findings in this report were reviewed by expert peer reviewers selected by the NTP and National Institutes of Health (NIH). These reviews and responses to comments are included as appendices to this report, and revisions to the current document have incorporated and addressed these comments. Supplemental information in the form of 4 additional manuscripts has or will soon be submitted for publication. These manuscripts describe in detail the designs and performance of the RFR exposure system, the dosimetry of RFR exposures in rats and mice, the results to a series of pilot studies establishing the ability of the animals to thermoregulate during RFR exposures, and studies of DNA damage. Capstick et al., "A radiofrequency radiation reverberation chamber exposure system for rodents"; Yijian et al., "Life time dosimetric assessment for mice and rats exposed to cell phone radiation"; Wyde et al., Pilot studies of the National Toxicology Program's cell phone radiofrequency radiation reverberation chamber exposure system"; Smith-Roe et al, "Evaluation of the genotoxicity of cell phone radiofrequency radiation in male and female rats and mice following subchronic exposure."
June 13, 2016
Weak Magnetic Fields Can Promote Cancer
Weak RF fields may indeed be able to promote cancer, according to two leading members of the EMF/RF research community. Frank Barnes and Ben Greenebaum are offering theoretical arguments to explain how low-level RF radiation can alter the growth rates of cancer cells. They present their ideas in an article which has just appeared in the IEEE Power Electronics Magazine.
“Stuff is going on,” Barnes told Microwave News. “We can see changes with very small fields.” He granted that some may interpret what he is saying as “heresy.”
“What we are postulating does not violate any laws of physics and chemistry,” said Barnes, a distinguished professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a long-time member of the National Academy of Engineering. Greenebaum, a professor emeritus of physics at University of Wisconsin-Parkside, was the editor-in-chief of BIoelectromagnetics from 1993 to 2006. Barnes and Greenebaum are coeditors of the most recent edition of the CRC Handbook of Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields.
“Bob Adair’s calculations are not wrong,” Barnes added. “They just don’t deal with the situations we are dealing with.” He was referring to Robert Adair, a professor emeritus of physics at Yale University, who has long maintained that weak field effects are incompatible with the laws of physics (more on Adair). Barnes was careful to point out that not all experiments would show effects because “biological systems have many feedback and repair mechanisms.”
“We have a reasonable hypothesis with a framework which allows others to do experiments which can show whether we are right or wrong,” Barnes said.
For some papers by Barnes and Greenebaum on weak field effects, click here.
Based on More Than 500 Pages of Internal Documents
[Update: CDC E-Mails Made Public]
In August 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued and then rescinded precautionary advice on the use of cell phones. See our story, “CDC Calls for Caution on Cell Phones, Then Gets Cold Feet.”
Today,* Danny Hakim, an investigative reporter at the New York Times, has published a behind-the-scenes look at what was going on at the time, based on more than 500 pages of CDC internal documents, including e-mails, together with follow-up interviews. His story, “At CDC, a Debate Behind Recommendations on Cell Phone Risk,” states that Chris Portier —the official who originally endorsed precaution after he returned from the IARC meeting in 2011 where RF was classified as a possible cancer agent— was an isolated voice. “Mr. Portier’s view is not shared by many other experts,” according to Hakim.
“CDC officials began debating how to back away from their recommendation of caution, internal emails show. One official proposed saying instead that other countries — ‘specifically the United Kingdom and Canadian governments’ — recommended caution. Others suggested pointing to determinations by agencies in Finland, Israel and Austria. Ultimately, though, no other country was mentioned.”
“‘Some organizations recommend caution in cellphone use,’ the agency’s guidelines now say. But the CDC is not one of them.”
Unfortunately, Hakim does not resolve the difference in outlook between CDC officials in the U.S. and their counterparts in many other countries. If, as Hakim argues, “Mainstream scientific consensus holds that there is little to no evidence that cell phone signals raise the risk of brain cancer or any other health problems,” why do the others —including those in France and Russia, which go unmentioned— recommend caution? Is the science interpreted differently in the U.S. than elsewhere, or is it really about politics and economics?
Other items are left hanging. For instance, he writes that internal e-mails reveal that a CDC draft was criticized by an outside expert for including “statements that are scientifically incorrect.” That expert appears to have been James Smith, a former chief of the CDC’s radiation branch, according to the Times. What is not clear is what the errors were.
Another loose end is a quote from an e-mail written by a CDC official in which she expresses “an incredible guilt complex” for her role in the precautionary guidelines published in June 2014. Her name is not given, nor is the reason for her guilt (because it was a false warning?).
Hakim quotes John Boice, the president of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), stating that his own research has found “no evidence for associations with brain tumors or any other cancers.” What is left out is that Boice is a coauthor of the Danish cohort study, which many observers discount due to its many methodological shortcomings. (See our “The Danish Cohort Study: The Politics and Economics of Bias.”)
An internal CDC e-mail obtained by the Times shows that there was concern in Vermont over the state’s legal liability for allowing wireless technology in public schools and libraries.
The Environmental Health Trust has posted 518 pages of CDC e-mails —presumably the same documents released to the New York Times. See the EHT story here. The CDC e-mails are here. (The pdf is not searchable.)
Be sure to see our detailed story on what happened at CDC, based on those internal e-mails.
* Hakim’s story appeared in the January 2 print edition under the headline, “At CDC, Evolution of Advice on Phones” on the front page of the business section.
Kuster’s Work for Industry Detailed
Lancet Oncology, the journal which published the official announcement of IARC’s decision to designate RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen, has issued a correction to the conflict of interest (COI) statement it had included for Niels Kuster, the Swiss researcher and entrepreneur based in Zurich. Kuster attended IARC’s evaluation of RF radiation in May 2011 as an “invited specialist.”
Kuster is the founder and director of IT’IS, a non-profit group that was created with the financial support of the mobile phone industry, notably Motorola, as well as of Speag and its parent company, Near Field Technology, that markets measurement instrumentation and simulation software.
In a “correction” posted today, Lancet Oncology added the following to Kuster’s COI:
“IT’IS has received funding for specific projects from most mobile phone manufacturers and many service providers, including the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, GSM Association, ARIB Japan, Swisscom, Deutsche Telekom, and TDC Sunrise.”
This statement appeared in the COI statement that Kuster filed with IARC on May 24, 2011, the first day of the RF meeting.
An individual, who uses the pseudonym “Don Smith,” brought this omission, as well as a number of others, to the attention of both IARC and Lancet Oncology. Kuster’s COI is the only one that has been corrected.
News of the correction comes from Retraction Watch. Soon afterwards, Alex Lerchl added a comment to its site, which stated, in part: “To find a researcher with such a long list of collaborators from industry, on one hand, and a profound interest in exposure research, on the other, as member of the group of experts is irritating, to say the least.” Lerchl, a professor at Jacobs University in Germany, had wanted to be a member of the IARC RF review panel, but his request was rebuffed.
Are Rates Actually Increasing?
Some leading epidemiologists have been saying that cell phones don’t pose a brain tumor risk because cancer rates are not going up. Now comes word that Swedish cancer registry data are in disarray and official statistics may be masking a disquieting trend.
Since 2008, there has been a close to 30% increase in patients with a brain tumor of an “unknown nature” and that increase is not reflected in the national cancer registry, according to a new analysis by Mona Nilsson, a Swedish journalist and the chairman of the Swedish Radiation Protection Foundation.
Nilsson reports that the number of Swedes who died of a brain tumor of an unknown nature rose by 157% between 2008 and 2013. And among those younger than 70, the increase was even “more pronounced” — there were 82 such deaths in 2013, compared to only 7 in 2008. Yet, Nilsson adds, “the number of patients reported dead of brain tumors with a confirmed diagnosis declined” during that same period.
To further support her suspicion that the official brain cancer rates are not to be trusted, Nilsson points to “huge disparities” in brain tumor rates between different regions in Sweden. For instance, the rate among men in Stockholm was 8.99 per 100,000 while in Gothenburg the rate was 15.19 per 100,000. Nilsson points out that there has been a parallel “steep increase” in the number of people treated for brain tumors of an unknown nature in the Stockholm region.
“The Gothenburg region discovered underreporting problems some six or seven years ago and took measures to improve the reporting. That’s why the incidence in Gothenburg is much higher, nearly double, that in the Swedish capital region and probably better reflects the real situation,” Nilsson said in an interview.
The news from Sweden comes as rumors are swirling that the cell phone industry is pressuring IARC to revisit its 2011 decision to classify RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen. In response to a query, Nicolas Gaudin, IARC’s head of communications, told Microwave News that he is “not aware of any such plans.”
Joachim Schüz, a senior manager at IARC, is one of those who points to stable cancer rates as an indicator that cell phones are safe (see “IARC Tries To Play Down Cell Phone Tumor Risks”). Schüz was previously with the Danish Cancer Society and is a coauthor of the Danish cohort study that shows no increased cell phone–tumor risks.
Nilsson’s analysis follows last year’s still unexplained report of what has been called a “frightening” spike in aggressive brain tumors among Danish men. (See our report: “Something Is Rotten in Denmark.”)
Last spring, a French study found a higher rate of brain tumors among heavy users of cell phones, supporting similar indications from IARC’s Interphone study and the work of the Hardell group in Sweden.
April 16, 2015
Lennart Hardell and Michael Carlberg have written up many of Nilsson’s concerns in a paper published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (open access). They conclude that, “a large part of brain tumors of unknown type are never reported to the Cancer Register,” and that the Registry is therefore “is not reliable to be used to dismiss results in epidemiological studies on the use of wireless phones and brain tumors.”
The New York Times Looks Back… And Then Gets Slammed
Both now and then the Times quoted David Carpenter. Here’s what he said in 1989: “The whole thing is very worrisome. We see the tips of the iceberg, but we have no idea how big the iceberg is. It ought to concern us all.”
This is what Carpenter told Chang for the update: “Almost nothing has changed in 25 years in terms of the controversy, although the evidence for biological effects of electromagnetic fields continues to grow stronger.”
The only other person interviewed for the new story was Emilie van Deventer of the WHO EMF Project in Geneva, who said, in part: “I am calling you, talking to you using my cell phone. I have a microwave. I have everything. It doesn’t change anything for me. But from a professional point of view, it’s important that we stay on top of it.”
July 18, 2014
There is a disheartening postscript to this story.
Soon after the Times story appeared Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist, who claims to be able to detect pathological science when he sees it, posted a comment on the Forbes magazine Web site slamming the Times for “reviving baseless fears.” Here’s part of what he wrote:
“The New York Times does its readers a disservice when, in the guise of updating a highly-charged issue, it features someone whose alarmist mantra has not changed in 25 years, but who ignores a mountain of accumulated evidence amassed over that time period.”
“The new story revisits Carpenter, who hasn’t changed his mind. He’s still concerned about the threat of electromagnetic fields. People with fringe ideas rarely recant, whether their belief involves cold fusion, alien abductions or ESP.”
Parallels Between INTEROCC and INTERPHONE
INTEROCC and INTERPHONE have a lot in common —more than their first five letters. So much in common that it’s a bit freaky. Or, maybe it just shows, once again, how small, insulated and polarized the EMF community is.
The most obvious parallels are that Elisabeth Cardis is the principal investigator of both the INTERPHONE and the INTEROCC projects, and that much of the data used in INTEROCC was collected by INTERPHONE in its original questionnaires. Some, but not all, of those who are working on INTEROCC were also part of INTERPHONE. Among them are Martine Hours and Siegal Sadetzki, who have stated publicly that the INTERPHONE results justify precautionary policies, as has Cardis.
The conflicts that brought INTERPHONE to a standstill for years, might have caused similar delays for INTEROCC. Sweden’s Maria Feychting, an INTERPHONE skeptic who doubts the observed links between cell phones and tumors, was slated to work on INTEROCC when the project was first announced in 2007. But she later dropped out. Similarly, Italy’s Suzanna Lagoria, who sides with Feychting on INTERPHONE, was also part of the original INTEROCC project and she quit too. One notable exception is IARC’s Joachim Schüz, another INTERPHONE skeptic, who is a coauthor of the new INTEROCC paper.
Strikingly, a number of those who doubt the link between cell phones and brain tumors seen in INTERPHONE, have also lined up against a link between power-frequency EMFs and brain tumors.
The most widely cited work used to rebut a cell phone-brain tumor association is the Danish Cohort Study, led by Christoffer Johansen at the Danish Cancer Society (see our appraisal). There’s also a Danish cohort study of electric utility workers, and Johansen is in charge of that too. As with cell phones, Johansen’s utility cohort shows no excess of brain tumors (see our INTEROCC story).
Another leading doubter of cell phone tumor risks is Peter Inskip of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). (Inskip famously stormed out of the IARC RF cancer review in 2011, just before the panel designated RF as a possible human carcinogen, see our report.) Here again, the parallels are eye-opening. Inskip is a senior author of NCI’s 2009 paper exonerating ELF EMFs of any association with brain tumors.
And then there’s David Savitz, who wanted to share the “good news” that workers in the electric utility industry face no brain tumor risk, even though his own study shows otherwise. In a commentary on INTERPHONE, Savitz joined Feychting and U.K’s Tony Swerdlow, another leading Interphone naysayer, to downplay —if not dismiss— the idea that INTERPHONE points to a brain tumor risk: “The trend in the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phones can cause brain tumors in adults,” they wrote after the INTERPHONE paper appeared (this was an official ICNIRP opinion). The following year (2012), Savitz left no doubt that he fully agreed with his ICNIRP colleagues, stating under oath, “My interpretation is that … [INTERPHONE] really provided to me fairly clear evidence against the likelihood of [any major health effects].”
Freaky or not, it’s time for some fresh blood in EMF/RF research.
Maybe It Was Never RF, But ELF
The new INTEROCC paper raises an intriguing question: Might the ELF component of GSM phone radiation present a brain tumor risk?
To date, all the attention on the cancer risk from mobile phones has been on RF radiation. Now that INTEROCC points to a credible association between exposure to ELF EMFs and brain tumors (see main story), is it possible, we have been focusing on the wrong type of phone radiation all along?
GSM phones expose the user to ELF EMFs because the RF transmitter in the phone turns on-and-off 217 times a second.1 The radiation from old analog and the newer 3G or 4G phones have much less ELF, if any at all.
Since the INTEROCC data was collected in the INTERPHONE study (see “Freaky or What?”), phone use data would have been available. Yet, phones are not discussed in the INTEROCC paper. “At the very least, they should have mentioned the ELF from phones,” Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch told us from his home in Scotland. Philips points out that, at the time the INTERPHONE data was collected, most people were using GSM phones.
Joe Bowman of NIOSH told us that phone use was not included in the INTEROCC exposure assessment. We then turned to Elisabeth Cardis who was in charge of the project. Here’s what she said: “There appears to be little association between mobile phone use and occupation history in the study thus the potential for confounding is small.” She added that, “The study included patients from a substantially increased age range for whom the detailed phone indices have not been derived.”
1. See, for instance, Figure 4 in this 1997 Danish paper.
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