LONDON — Children who live close to a mobile phone tower don't appear to be at any higher risk of cancer than those who don't live in the neighborhood, a new study says.
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British researchers analyzed all 1,397 cancer cases in children up to age 4 from 1999 to 2001 in the United Kingdom.
They compared those children to 5,588 similar children who didn't get cancer. Next, they looked at how close the children lived to a mobile phone base station when they were born, as well as the expected amount of power produced by the closest tower.
Children who got cancer were living about 1107 meters (1211 yards) away from a mobile phone tower, whereas the children who didn't get cancer were living about 1,073 meters (1174 yards) away. For children who got cancer, researchers estimated the nearest cell phone towers were emitting about 2.89 kilowatts of power, versus about 3 kilowatts from the towers close to kids who didn't get sick.
The study was paid for by an independent body set up to provide money for research into the health effects of mobile phones, funded by Britain's department of health and the mobile telecommunications industry. Paul Elliott, the study's lead author, was a member of the body's program management committee. The research was published online Wednesday in the medical journal, BMJ.
"It's reassuring," said Elliott, a professor of epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial College in London. "On the basis of our results, people living near mobile phone stations shouldn't consider moving based on health reasons."
Since the study was done, many more mobile phone towers were built in Britain with the arrival of 3G technology.
Exposure to radio frequency from mobile phone towers is much lower than exposure to cell phones. Elliott and colleagues estimated that a day's exposure from a mobile phone tower equals about 30 minutes of cell phone use. Even at these low levels of exposure, however, some experts have worried about the impact on children because of their small size and susceptibility to disease.
As cell phones have carpeted the globe and become essential to lifestyles from Africa to Asia to America, some have wondered if the devices might come with a hidden health cost. Last month, the results of a major study on cell phones and cancer were published, but offered no solid proof the phones cause cancer and the controversy continues to simmer.
Some experts said concerns about mobile phone towers have been driven mostly by people's own beliefs rather than science.
"People don't like these things towering over their gardens and every time they get a headache they think it's responsible," said John Bithell, an honorary research fellow at the Childhood Cancer Research Group at the University of Oxford. "But there's no scientific evidence, not even in animals, to back this up." Bithell was not connected to the study and wrote an accompanying editorial in the BMJ.
He said it might be more important to study cancers in adults, because any health effects are likely to appear only after years of exposure to cell phones and their base towers.
Still, Bithell said any dangers of mobile phones causing cancer were dwarfed by more immediate dangers of using the devices. "What you do while using a mobile phone during driving is more dangerous than what the phone is doing to you," he said.
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