FIT WebQoof: Can Excessive Mobile Phone Usage Cause Brain Tumor?

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The Claim

A video circulating on social media shows a child with perhaps a tablet in his hand — who is unable to keep his balance or walk straight. The message that comes along with it is in Hindi and it says:

“This child is not drunk. His nervous system has been affected because of his constant mobile phone usage, causing a tumor in his brain. Doctors have tried their best, but nothing seems to be improving his condition. His parents are now regretting their decision of giving him access to a mobile phone so early and thereby ruining his life.”

True or False?

The evidence for cell-phones affecting the nervous system and causing brain tumour is limited, but the possibility remains.

Dr Ashwini Setya, a Gasttroenterologist and Programme Director in Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital, wrote for FIT, “Cell phones emit radio frequency energy (radio waves), a form of electromagnetic non-ionizing radiation, which is absorbed by the tissues closest to them.”

He adds that studies have proven that these radiations may lead to behavioral problems in children or may even affect one’s reflexes.

Dr Jaideep Bansal, Director and HOD, Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, explains that the radiating fields will harm the nervous system directly and indirectly. More directly, it can affect by altering neurotransmitters (chemicals used to transfer information between neurons), which are a very important part of the nervous system and information transfer.

"So yes, it does impact the brain. Short term effects like changes in sleep pattern, cognition, attention and behavior, hearing losses, vision problems, posture, neck and eye pains are commonly experienced by people who use these gadgets excessively. " - Dr Jaideep Bansal

For a longer duration, the effects on the brain may intensify. Particularly for children —because their relatively thinner skull bones make them more vulnerable.

Also Read: PUBG Mobile Ban: What Is Gaming Addiction Like?

FIT also spoke with Dr Sudheer Ambekar, Consultant Neuro-Surgery at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, who confirmed that there are multiple ways that excessive mobile phone use affects a child, but it is difficult to say if it can lead to brain tumor.

"The general ways in which it affects a child are weight-gain, lethargy, harm to the eyes, or behavioral problems. But there is no scientific proof for saying it causes or does not cause brain tumor. Its affect on the brain in terms of hyperactvitity or disturbances are all hypotheses and associations derived from non-scientific literature."

He adds that studies have most definitely shown a link between mobile phones and refractory errors in children.

"The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting screen-time for children — especially for the first 18 months, based on results from studies that have found proof, although very little, of the radiations causing problems. The need for more large-scale researches remains." - Dr Sudheer Ambekar

A report by AAP states, “These types of studies in people have not shown clear evidence of an increased cancer risk with cell phone use. While there was a slight increase in a type of brain tumor, called a glioma, in a small group of people who spent the most total time on cell phone calls in one study, other studies have not found this to be true.”

Also Read: All You Need to Know About Smartphone Sickness - Yes, It’s a Thing

The Verdict

There is no denying that cell phone radiations can harm a person’s health in several ways — some clearly observable and others more latent.

But can they cause a tumor in your brain?

Although the effect on the nervous system can be seen in other ways, lack of concrete evidence for tumor-causing incidences makes it difficult to answer this question with a yes or no. Dr Jaideep Bansal comments that the possibility of such a consequence is there, considering the other more definite changes that it may cause to neurotransmitters, DNA, fertility, or behavior.

Dr Sudheer Ambekar sums it up for us,

"There is no way to prove or disprove the fact that they can cause brain tumors."

But the doctors agree on one thing — that mobile phone usage should be limited and minimized because of the numerous ways it can harm your body (some proven, others potential).

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