That cell phones pose a threat to the human brain is well recognized. But what about cell phones and thyroid cancer? Is there a link? With thyroid cancer rates rising around the world, it’s a question worth exploring. Here’s what we know so far.
Escalating Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is now the fastest growing cancer in the U.S, having tripled over the last three decades. Though still not as common as other cancers, the National Cancer Institute estimates there were over 53,000 new cases in the U.S in 2018 alone.
Death rates have also been rising on average 0.7% each year over the period 2006-2015.
So why the increase?
Better imaging technology and diagnosis tools are one factor, since they can now pick up tumors that would have previously gone undetected. But researchers suggest that this alone can’t account for the growing numbers. Another possibility is environmental factors — like electromagnetic radiation.
“We postulate that the whole increase cannot be attributed to better diagnostic procedures,” concludes a Swedish study from 2016. “Increasing exposure to ionizing radiation, e.g. medical computed tomography (CT) scans, and to RF-EMF (non-ionizing radiation) should be further studied,” suggest the authors.
Research Linking Cell Phones And Thyroid Cancer
Increased exposure to EMFs from wireless devices and cell phones is certainly one explanation that would fit with the thyroid cancer rate timeline.
And research has shown that cell phone radiation does have an effect on the functioning of the thyroid. Take this 2017 study, which measured the amount of time students spent talking on a mobile phone per day, alongside their thyroid function as indicated by levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). It found a “significant correlation between total radiation exposure and an increase in TSH”, regardless of whether the participant had a family history of thyroid illness or not.
Note that high levels of TSH are typically an indicator of thyroid dysfunctions like hypothyroidism.
As for cancer specifically, research is only beginning to really explore the link to EMFs.
Most recently, a 2018 study looked at 462 thyroid cancer cases in Connecticut between 2010 and 2011. Though it didn’t prove any significant association between cell phone use and thyroid cancer in general, it did find an increased risk of a sub-type of tumor called a microcarcinoma. These are small tumors of 10mm or less in size.
The groups with increased risk were individuals who had used a cell phone for more than 15 years; had used a cell phone for more than 2 hours per day; or who had the most cumulative hours or calls.
The increase in risk fell just below the level of statistical significance, which could be due to the small sample size. Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D.speculates that controlling for cordless phone use — which may be another risk factor for thyroid cancer — could also alter the significance of the results.
Lastly, it’s also important to consider the age of the data used and how this might impact the results.
Smart Phones And The Thyroid
Information from the American Cancer Society states that the most common thyroid cancers, papillary carcinomas, “tend to grow very slowly”.
This fact is significant, as we need to bear in mind that the true effects of long-term EMF exposure may take years to present.
Recall that the 2018 study looked at cases from between 2010 and 2011 — a time when smart phones were only just reaching mainstream popularity. This could account for why the increase in microcarcinomas had only started to show up. With years more of smart phone use, there’s a strong chance the incidence of tumors will be shown to escalate further and to more significant levels.
Smart phones may also have a more detrimental effect on the thyroid due to their design.
As Dr. Moskowitz notes: “Since smart phones are more likely to have cell antennas located in the bottom of the phones than earlier cell phone models, the peak radiation exposure from a smart phone is more likely in the neck than in the brain. Hence, I would hypothesize that the association between cell phone use and thyroid cancer has increased in recent years.”
Thyroid Cancer: The Prognosis
The good news about thyroid cancer is that the survival rate of patients is high in comparison to other cancers. The National Cancer Institute lists the 5-year survival rate at 98.1 percent.
Typically, surgery will be done to remove the cancer. If the thyroid itself needs to be completely removed, patients can recover but will be put on a life-long medication regimen to replace the hormones no longer being produced by the organ.
Given that the exact cause of rising thyroid cancer rates is as yet unknown, the best you can do is take a cautious approach. Playing it safe and protecting yourself can’t hurt: if future studies confirm that environmental factors like increasingly-pervasive wireless networks and smart phone radiation are to blame, you’ll be glad you did.