Reliability of Swedish Brain Tumor Data Questioned
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.”