Oh No, Sheryl Crow, Not Cell Phones Again

By Suzanne Leigh

Sheryl Crow has always been one of the cooler women of rock. Not only did she quietly dust herself off after being dumped by Lance Armstrong and go on to adopt two children as a solo parent, she minimized her diagnosis of meningioma, a benign brain tumor,  as “nothing I have to worry about.” A benign brain tumor is nothing to worry about, very relatively speaking, compared to the malignant monsters that are the number one cancer killer in children.

But her recent assertion that she suspects her diagnosis was caused by extensive use of her cell phone is disappointing to those who fear that statements like this may downsize the already flimsy slice of the cancer research pie dedicated to developing better treatments for brain tumors.

Many studies have looked at the impact of cell phone use on the incidence of brain tumor. This is especially pertinent for children, whose developing nervous systems would make them more vulnerable to any negative effects. But study after study in both child and adult populations has demonstrated that there is no correlation between cell phone use and brain tumor occurence. One international study that compared healthy children with those who developed brain tumors, found no difference in cell phone habits. Other research in the U.S. and Scandinavia that has tracked populations over decades reaffirmed this conclusion.

Although a handful of smaller studies have reached opposing or ambiguous conclusions, their methodology has been questionable.

Hazard for drivers, for sure

While use of cell phones is undeniably a hazard to drivers’ safety (especially anyone within range of the multitasking motorist texting “roflmao” while making a lane change at 80 mph on the highway), there is no sound scientific reason to link them with brain tumors, according to the National Cancer Institute.

That’s because cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a form of electromagnetic radiation.  Unlike the ionizing radiation used in radiation treatment, electromagnetic radiation does not cause cellular damage that is associated with the development of cancer.

But that hasn’t stalled more studies, which have been prompted in part by the “2B” classification of radiofrequency energy by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as  “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” as well as perhaps those fears voiced by people like Crow.  (By the way, agents sharing this 2B classification include cocamide DEA, a liquid used in toiletries like bath gel, shampoo and hand soaps; ethyl acrylate, which is used in paints and textiles, and styrene found in carpet backing, pipes, food containers and automobile parts.)

Less cash for cures

Some of these studies are being funded by the National Cancer Institute and their international counterparts, leaving less cash in the kitty for research that might have gone toward drug development.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow for children with brain tumors. When surgery and radiation are no longer options, oncologists turn to pharmaceuticals that have been FDA-approved for adult brain tumors or other adult cancers –- both very different beasts.

When Natasha started to fail, she was prescribed a drug approved to treat metastatic breast cancer. It was a long shot, her oncologist told us, but we had exhausted the options that are known to be potentially effective. There are no FDA-approved drugs to treat her type of brain tumor.

The NCI dedicates just 4 percent of its funding to all pediatric cancers. If 4 percent is all we get, let’s make sure it is directed where it is needed the most.


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