Cell phone health study to follow 250,000-plus users

A new, decades-long study launches to investigate possible links between cell phone use and a series of health problems, including cancer.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

A new, decades-long study launches Thursday to investigate possible links between cell phone use and a series of health problems, including cancer and Alzheimer's.

Part of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) Program, the cohort study on mobile communications (COSMOS), is set to follow at least 250,000 people aged 18 to 69 from five European countries for 20 to 30 years.

The study will specifically investigate the long-term impact of cell phone use on health, according to Mireille Toledano, co-principal investigator of the study from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. "For the benefit of current users and for future generations, it is important for us to carry out long-term health monitoring of a large group of mobile phone users so that we can identify if there are any possible health effects from this new and widespread technology that has become so central to our everyday lives."

With some 6 billion mobile phones in use worldwide, and in many places more cell phones than actual people, understanding the long-term effects has its obvious importance. Studying only adults, however, skips over the warnings issued in 2009 that radiation from cell phones may be worse for young children than adults.

The study may not be including children, but as the biggest such study to date it does have volume on its side. The COSMOS project team from Imperial College London is already inviting 2.5 million cell phone users in the U.K. to participate in the study, completing online questionnaires about their mobile phone use, health, and lifestyle and agreeing to have their phone use and health monitored for at least 20 years.

"We still cannot rule out the possibility that mobile phone use causes cancer," says Lawrie Challis from the MTHR Program Management Committee. "The balance of present evidence does not suggest it does, but we need to be sure. The best way of doing this is through a large cohort study such as COSMOS."