Review of four publications on the Danish cohort study on mobile phone subscribers and risk of brain tumors

Fredrik Söderqvist 1 , Michael Carlberg 1  and Lennart Hardell 1
  • 1 Department of Oncology, University Hospital, SE-701 82 Örebro, Sweden

Abstract

Background: Since the International Agency for Research on Cancer recently classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emanating from mobile and cordless phones, as possibly carcinogenic to humans (group 2B), two additional reports relevant to the topic have been published. Both articles were new updates of a Danish cohort on mobile phone subscribers and concern the possible association between assumed use of mobile phones and risk of brain tumors. The aim of the present review is to reexamine all four publications on this cohort.

Methods: In brief, publications were scrutinized, and in particular, if the authors made explicit claims to have either proved or disproved their hypothesis, such claims were reviewed in light of applied methods and study design, and in principle, the stronger the claims, the more careful our review.

Results: The nationwide Danish cohort study on mobile phone subscribers and risk of brain tumors, including at best 420,095 persons (58% of the initial cohort), is the only one of its kind. In comparison with previous investigations, i.e., case-control studies, its strength lies in the possibility to eliminate non-response, selection, and recall bias. Although at least non-response and recall bias can be excluded, the study has serious limitations related to exposure assessment. In fact, these limitations cloud the findings of the four reports to such an extent that render them uninformative at best. At worst, they may be used in a seemingly solid argument against an increased risk – as reassuring results from a large nationwide cohort study, which rules out not only non-response and recall bias but also an increased risk as indicated by tight confidence intervals.

Conclusion: Although two of the most comprehensive case-control studies on the matter both have methodological limitations that need to be carefully considered, type I errors are not the only threats to the validity of studies on this topic – the Danish cohort study is a textbook example of that.

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