Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Cellphones help fight brain cancer

The latest in bikini statistics:

The final results of a major international study of the potential link between cellphone use and cancer were published last week. The finding: Using a cellphone seems to protect against two types of brain tumors.

Even the researchers didn't quite believe it.

The apparent shield of cellphone radiation, most likely fictitious, illustrates how hard it is to analyze, let alone quantify, the potential for a small elevated risk in a rare disease from a widespread, mundane activity.
The study tracked cellphone use across 13 countries. It looked at a group of adults 30 to 59 years old who had been diagnosed with glioma or meningioma, types of brain tumors that can be either benign or malignant, between 2000 and 2004. They were compared with control subjects, people selected to match the individuals with tumors in terms of age, gender and place of residence.

Then both groups were interviewed extensively about their cellphone use. If the two groups matched in other ways, and the group with brain tumors used cellphones more frequently, that would suggest that cellphone use might have caused the tumors.

But they didn't really match. For one thing, just 53% of people selected to participate as controls agreed, and a survey of those who declined showed that they were less likely to use cellphones than those who participated. That may have artificially raised cellphone use in the tumor-free control group and made mobile phones seem less dangerous than they are.

The result is a strange set of numbers. Many levels of cellphone use appeared to reduce the chance of developing a tumor. Only the people who talked on cellphones the most had a significantly greater chance of developing glioma—40% greater—than those who didn't use cellphones.

Yet, as some of the study's authors themselves pointed out, if those who never used cellphones—who were more prevalent among those with tumors—were excluded, and the lightest users were contrasted with the more avid ones, then the bizarre protective effect of cellphone use mostly disappeared, and the risk among the heaviest users was 82% greater.

Photo source here. Previous BS posts here.

Statistics are like a bikini. What they present is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital--Aaron Levenstein

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