McCain's Brain Tumor From Cellphone?

Story at-a-glance

  • Sen. John McCain announced he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive and fast-growing type of brain tumor
  • A 2017 meta-analysis found that long-term cellphone use (minimum of 10 years) may be associated with an increased risk of glioma
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency (RF) radiation — the type used by cellphones to send signals — as a “possible human carcinogen”


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

Robert Romeo, a former telecommunications worker in Italy, told an Italian court that he used his cellphone three to four hours a day for 15 years as part of his job duties. He subsequently developed a brain tumor, which the court ruled was due to his constant cellphone use. As a result, he was awarded a state-funded pension of about $535 a month.1 In 2012, Italy's supreme court similarly upheld a ruling that heavy cellphone usage — five to six hours daily for 12 years — led to a brain tumor in Innocenzo Marcolini.

He, according to Tech Times, "normally held the device in his left hand while taking notes using his right hand." The tumor was on the left side of his head.2 In the U.S., where the safety, or lack thereof, of cellphones remains hotly debated, the issue has regained renewed attention after a statement from the office of Sen. John McCain announced he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive and fast-growing type of brain tumor.

The question being posed is whether McCain's tumor could be due to cellphone usage, as politicians certainly spend a good deal of time on the phone. It's a rhetorical question at the moment, not one being seriously investigated — but perhaps it should be. Sen. Ted Kennedy was also diagnosed with, and died from, a brain tumor nearly a decade ago. Could his brain tumor also have been cellphone-related?

Is Cellphone Usage Linked With Brain Tumors?

While the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency (RF) radiation — the type used by cellphones to send signals — as a "possible human carcinogen," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stops short of making such a claim. "There is no scientific evidence that provides a definite answer" to the question of whether using a cellphone can cause cancer, they say.3

Some experts disagree, however, and there is a growing body of evidence that suggests urgent caution is warranted. In 2016, for instance, a National Toxicology Program study exposed male rats to radiofrequency radiation (RFR) at frequencies and modulations used in the U.S. telecommunications industry. Rats exposed to cellphone radiation for about nine hours a day over a two-year period were at increased risk of developing malignant gliomas in the brain and another type of tumor, schwannomas of the heart.4

The study authors noted that, given the widespread usage of cellphones, including among children, "even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure to RFR could have broad implications for public health." They continued:5

"Lastly, the tumors in the brain and heart observed at low incidence in male rats exposed to … cellphone RFR in this study are of a type similar to tumors observed in some epidemiology studies of cellphone use. These findings appear to support the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conclusions regarding the possible carcinogenic potential of RFR."

Meanwhile, a 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis looking at cellphone use and glioma risk — while noting that current evidence is of poor and limited quality — also found that long-term cellphone use (minimum of 10 years) may be associated with an increased risk of glioma.6

Hundreds of Scientists Call on WHO to Increase Protections Against Cellphones

There was an open letter written in 2015, in which more than 200 scientists called on the World Health Organization and the United Nations to increase protection against the pervasive exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs), including the RFR from cellphones. It explained, in part:7

"Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines.

Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life.

These findings justify our appeal to the United Nations (U.N.) and, all member States in the world, to encourage the World Health Organization (WHO) to exert strong leadership in fostering the development of more protective EMF guidelines, encouraging precautionary measures, and educating the public about health risks, particularly risk to children and fetal development. By not taking action, the WHO is failing to fulfill its role as the pre-eminent international public health agency."

Another concerning study, published in 2015, looked at data from two previous case-controlled studies on Swedish patients diagnosed with malignant brain tumors during the periods of 1997 to 2003 and 2007 to 2009.8 The patients were between the ages of 18 and 80 years old at the time of their diagnosis. Using regression analysis, the odds of developing glioma rose concurrently with increased cellphone use.

The more hours spent with a cellphone pressed to their ear, and the more years they'd spent using a cellphone, the higher the odds were.

  • Those who logged the most hours on their cell phones were twice as likely to develop glioma compared to those who logged the least
  • Those who used either a cellphone or cordless house phone for more than 25 years had triple the risk of glioma compared to those who had used wireless telephones for less than one year

To put this risk ratio into some perspective, just over five people out of 100,000 were diagnosed with malignant brain cancer between 1995 and 2002. If that rate triples, the odds of developing a malignant brain tumor rises to about 16 out of 100,000, which is alarming considering the prevalence of cellphones and other wireless technologies. According to Pew Research Center, 91 percent of U.S. adults have a cellphone.9

Further, the average age a child receives their first smartphone is just over 10 years,10 and half of children under 10 already have a cellphone.11 Children are more vulnerable to the effects of EMFs, and many use their phones more frequently and for longer periods of time each day than adults, starting from the time they're very young. Because brain tumors may take 10 or 15 years to develop, the full extent of damage from cellphone radiation may not be fully realized for some time, which is why taking precautions now is so important.

The Primary Dangers of Cellphones Are Related to Mitochondrial Damage

The primary pathology behind cellphone damage is not related specifically to brain tumors, or even to cancer. Instead, the real danger lies in damage from the reactive nitrogen species peroxynitrites. Increased peroxynitrites from cellphone exposure will damage your mitochondria, and your brain is the most mitochondrial-dense organ in your body.

Peroxynitrite is an unstable structural ion produced in your body after nitric oxide is exposed to superoxide. This complex chemical process begins with exposure to low-frequency microwave radiation from your cellphone, Wi-Fi and cellphone towers. The process begins when low-frequency microwave radiation activates voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCC), producing calcium inside your cells and mitochondria.12 Nitric oxide is dependent on the presence of calcium to activate.

With additional calcium present, nitric oxide is then activated in the cells.13 Nitric oxide is a substance present in all vertebrates and helps to control blood flow, neural activity and clotting.14 While it has many health benefits, it can become destructive when superoxide molecules, an ionized oxygen molecule, is released during pathological change, such as a stroke or muscle injury.15 This reaction between nitric oxide and superoxide produces peroxynitrites, believed to be one root cause for many of today's chronic diseases.16

Nitric oxide is the only molecule in your body produced at high enough concentrations to outcompete other molecules for superoxide and is a precursor for peroxynitrite.17 These changes from nitration are visible in human biopsies of atherosclerosis, myocardial ischemia, inflammatory bowel disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and septic lung disease.18 Significant oxidative stress from peroxynitrites may also result in single-strand breaks of DNA.19

This pathway of oxidative destruction triggered by low-frequency radiation emitted from mobile devices may partially explain the unprecedented growth rate of chronic disease since 1990.20 This, truly, is a far greater concern than brain tumors when it comes to the hazards of cellphones.

California's 'Unofficial' Cellphone Guidelines Finally Made Public

To protect public health from the risks of cellphone radiation, California's Environmental Health Investigations branch developed a set of recommendations and warnings. Despite being written in 2014, the guidelines were only publicly released in March 2017, after a legal battle. Joel Moskowitz, Ph.D., director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California Berkeley, requested access to the information but was denied, so he sued the state under the California Public Records Act — and won.21

What do the guidelines say? For starters, they warn that some studies suggest "long-term cellphone use may increase the risk of brain cancer and other health problems." They also point out the risks of cellphone EMFs to children, noting that "EMFs can pass deeper into a child's brain than an adult's." In addition, they recommend the following tips to reduce your exposures to EMFs from cellphones:22

  • Increase the distance between you and your cellphone by using the speaker phone, sending text messages and carrying your phone away from your body
  • Limit your cellphone use when reception is weak (as your phone will emit stronger EMFs if you have only one or two bars showing)
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend talking on a cellphone and keep calls short

Protect Yourself and Your Family From Long-Term Health Damage

In terms of reducing your risk of developing a brain tumor, reducing your exposure to RF radiation from cellphones and other devices is important, but keep in mind that there are many other factors at play, like your diet and light exposures, that should also be addressed. For instance, exposure to too much blue light and not enough infrared red, and not burning fat for fuel, can also play a role in cancer development.

As for as cellphone usage is concerned, however, there are strategies you can use to protect yourself from RF radiation emitted from these devices. Remember, your cellphone, portable phone, Wi-Fi router and modem are the primary devices in your home emitting microwave radiation consistently. To protect yourself and your family, get in the habit of using these strategies regularly. Cell damage builds over time.

It may feel safe to use your devices as you always have since you don't experience the health effects immediately, but it definitely is not.

Keep the phone away from your head

Consider moving your cellphone away from your head when it's turned on or the Wi-Fi, data or Bluetooth are enabled. You may do this by using a selfie stick, speaking on the speaker phone or using a headset. Short conversations and texting more than talking also reduce your exposure.

Increase your distance from RF-emitting devices

The closer the device, the more radiation you absorb. Find a way to transport your phone other than in your pants pocket or bra, and avoid keeping your phone and tablets in your bedroom while you're sleeping.

Turn off your Wi-Fi routers

When they aren't in use, such as at night, turn your Wi-Fi, modem and cellphone off. Many routers can be linked with an inexpensive remote, making the process simple and easy.

Spices may reduce damage

Researchers have discovered certain spices may help prevent or repair damage from peroxynitrites.23,24 Spices rich in phenolics, specifically cloves, rosemary, turmeric, cinnamon and ginger root exhibited some protective capacity against peroxynitrite-induced damage.

However, while this is good news, it is not a reason to ignore strategies that reduce your exposure to electromagnetic radiation, since your home is not the only place you are at risk. Any public venue that hosts Wi-Fi or has a cellular tower nearby increases your exposure to microwave radiation.

As for the widely available devices that you can attach to your phone to block radiation, they do nothing to reduce this radiation exposure. They fail miserably in blocking this energy. They may have some biological benefit in mediating the way this energy interacts with your body, but this is in no way a replacement for the proactive protective measures described above.


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