Cellular phones are ubiquitous these days. And as their prevalence has increased, so too has concern over an associated risk between the radiofrequency signals they emit and brain cancer. Many people have run out to buy ear pieces in hopes of making their phones safer. But a new report from researchers at the American Health Foundation, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and four other U.S. medical centers in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association asserts that these fears are unjustified. In a case-control study of 891 frequent callers, the scientists found no statistical link between cellular phone usage and the chance of developing brain cancer.

The study bases its findings on interviews conducted between 1994 and 1998 with 469 men and women diagnosed with primary brain cancer and 422 people without the disease. The cancer patients and the controls--between the ages of 18 and 80--were carefully matched by age, sex, race, years of education and occupation. All of the subjects were asked about which brands of phones they used, how many minutes they used the phone per month, the first year of use and the number of years of use. As it turned out, the figures were pretty much the same: median monthly use among cancer patients was 2.5 hours; among the controls, it was 2.2 hours. Duration of use among cancer patients was 2.8 years, only a little over a month longer than for the controls.

"Because 85 percent of people in the study reported extending the antenna during calls, we might have expected to find a disproportionate cluster of tumors behind the eye and the ear on the side the cell phone was used since radiation emission is highest at the antenna," says co-author Mark Malkin, a neuro-oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "In fact we found no link between cell phone usage and temporal lobe tumors, nor was there any association between handedness and tumor location."