Pregnant women living close to mobile-phone base stations are at no greater risk of having children who develop cancer, researchers have found.
The first study to examine the effects of the 81,000 phone masts across Britain on mothers-to-be has found no link with early childhood cancers such as leukaemia, which is thought to be triggered in the womb, and brain tumours. The study, by researchers at Imperial College, London, is the most detailed yet of the claimed link between phone masts and childhood cancer.
Reports of clusters of cancer cases among families living close to the masts led to demands that the masts be moved. But the numbers involved have been too small, and the risks of a biased selection of cases too high, to draw firm conclusions. Paul Elliott, professor of epidemiology and public health medicine, said the big advantage of the new study was that it was nationwide and not focused on areas where there was concern about cancer risk.
"We looked at the exposure of the child at the birth address and nine months before," he said. "So we were effectively looking at the exposure of the foetus. Within the limitations of the study, these results are reassuring."
The increase in mobile phone use – from 9 million handsets in 1997 to 74 million in 2007 – has raised worries about the effects of exposure to low-frequency radiation. Several studies, including the Interphone study involving more than 10,000 people from 13 countries that was published last month, have found no damaging health effects from mobile phones themselves.