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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 27th July 2018 > DO CELLPHONES CAUSE CANCER?

DO CELLPHONES CAUSE CANCER?

Absent proof of harm, health officials and regulators have been in a holding pattern for 30 years. But the evidence is STARTING TO STACK UP
ILLUSTRATION BY SINELAB

Tiffany Frantz GOT HER FIRST CELLPHONE WHEN SHE WAS 16 She loved that flip phone. Every morning, on her way out the door, she’d slip it into the left cup of her bra. When she was 21, while watching television one night with her parents in their Lancaster, Pennsylvania, living room, she felt a lump the size of a pea in her left breast, just beneath her phone. Tests later showed four cancerous tumors. “How in the world did this happen?” her mother asked.

Dr. John West believes he knows. In 2013, the Southern California breast cancer surgeon and five other doctors wrote in the journal Case Reports in Medicine about Frantz’s tumors and those of three other young women. Each of them regularly carried a cellphone in her bra. “I am absolutely convinced,” West tells Newsweek, “that there is a relationship between exposure to cellphones and breast cancer in young women who are frequent users.”

West has no proof, however. His evidence is anecdotal—and though anecdotes can spur a hypothesis, they can’t prove one. For years, scientists have looked for a link between cancer and cellphone use that holds up to scientific rigor, and they’ve come up short. That’s why when West told his theory to a gathering of about 60 breast cancer specialists, they dismissed the connection as mere coincidence. “I’m hoping that someday people will say, ‘Well, we laughed at him, and now he’s vindicated,’” he says.

Just because West can’t prove he’s right doesn’t mean he’s wrong. After some studies suggested an increased risk of one type of brain cancer, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded in 2011 that cellphones are “possibly carcinogenic” and recommended keeping “a close watch for a link between cellphones and cancer risk.” But without conclusive evidence of harm, regulators have held back.

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