Researchers in London today launched the largest study to date into the potential effects of mobile phone use on long-term health, aiming to track at least a quarter of a million of people in five European nations for between 20 and 30 years.
The study, known as the Cohort Study on Mobile Communications, or Cosmos, seeks to examine health developments and look for links between mobile phone use and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as cancer.
“We will be looking at a range of different health outcomes, including other forms of cancers such as skin cancers and other brain disease such as neurodegenerative diseases,” said Dr. Mireille Toledano, lead researcher on the study. “We will also be monitoring things like if there’s a change in the frequency of symptoms such as headaches, tinnitus, depression or sleep disorders.”
Scientists say one of the biggest problems with past experiments has been the dependence on patients already suffering from cancer recalling how much they have used their phones, which can lead to inaccuracies. The Cosmos project will, instead, record actual data from volunteers’ phone bills, health records as well as questionnaires to allow researchers to track user behavior in “real time.”
The Cosmos study will also look at how users carry their phone — for example in a pant or shirt pocket or in a purse — and whether they use hand-free headsets.
Reports to date has shown no ill effect, but some researchers say those studies may have been too short to detect longer-term health problems, such as cancer.
“Research to date has necessarily mainly focused on use in the short term, less than 10 years,” said Paul Elliott, a professor and principal investigator at the Imperial College London’s School of Public Health. “The Cosmos study will be looking at long-term use, 10, 20 or 30 years. And with long-term monitoring there will be time for diseases to develop.”
So far, studies have failed to establish any clear link between handset use and several kinds of cancers.
Four years ago, Danish scientists concluded that mobile phone use of brain tumors were unlikely connected. Scandinavian researchers reported similar results late last year.
But some U.S. and British scientists have suggested that many of the previous studies were funded by mobile phone manufacturers themselves, and that a “systemic-skew” may have greatly underestimated the chance of tumors.
In response, the U.S. Senate Health Committee launched an investigation last year, looking for any potential links between phone use and brain cancer, fearing that the case may be similar to the cigarette-lung cancer connection of the 1970s where tobacco companies funded studies to deny the cause for decades.
An estimated 275 million people in the U.S. and 4 billion worldwide use mobile phones.
Read about how much radiation popular handsets models emit here.