Myth vs Fact on the The National Toxicology Program Cell Phone Cancer Study
23 Myths About the National Toxicology Program Cell Phone Radiation Cancer Study
Correcting the Misinformation
Note: This webpage was created in response to the June 2016 NTP release. It has not yet been updated for the 2018 NTP draft technical report release.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) study found an association between cell phone radiation and cancer prompting an astonishing chorus of criticism from almost every prominent media outlet in the country.
Environmental Health Trust analyzed the media response and found a pattern of consistent inaccurate and misleading statements repeated over and over again in literally hundreds of news articles. Most of the criticisms levied at the NTP findings are inaccurate and simply do not hold up to scientific scrutiny.
We have counted a total of 23 myths. Sometimes they are quotes and sometimes they are the journalists statements. Either way, the more such false facts are put forth without scientific response, the more DOUBT is perpetuated. These myths inaccurately portray the NTP study and allow the important results to be downplayed.
Please take the time to inform yourself of the FACTS about the study.
Overarching Myth #1:
The NTP study is just one rat study that is irrelevant to humans because the radiation exposures were far higher than humans get from cell phones.
This is the world’s largest, most carefully done study on wireless radiation specifically designed to mimic human exposures in rodents. Every agent that is known to cause cancer in humans has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals when adequately tested.
Myth: The NTP rats radiation exposure was way too high to be relevant to human health.
Fact: The NTP study was designed to mimic long term human exposure to cell phone radiation and to test the adequacy of safety limits.
- The NTP study had three radio frequency radiation exposure levels which were 1.5 W/kg, 3 W/kg, and 6.0 W/kg. These radiation exposures are the same and only slightly higher than a person gets while using a cell phone to the head. For comparison the US FCC exposure limit for cell phones is 1.6 W/kg (about the same as the first exposure group) and the FCC limit for extremities such as the arms, legs and ears- the limit is 4.0 W/kg (more than the second exposure group). The 6.0 W/kg was a level that is not even twice what we allow to our arms and legs.
- This study was designed to test if government safety limits (which only protect us from thermal radiation levels) are protective of human health and the NTP findings indicate these limits are not protective.
- The exposures of the brain in the NTP study were not very different from human exposures associated with use of cell phones.
- It is standard practice for rodent studies to have experimental groups with higher exposure levels than average human exposure in carcinogenicity studies.
- Many teens sleep with their cell phones and people most commonly hold phones against their ears and body, while cell phone manufacturers and carriers have resisted efforts to warn people not to do so.
Myth: Rat research does not inform human health risk.
Fact: Rat research does inform human health risk.
- Rats are the preferred animal model for carcinogenicity studies.
- Regulatory agencies currently rely on rodent carcinogenicity bioassay data to predict whether or not a given chemical poses a carcinogenic threat to humans.
What happened in the NTP rats is, in fact, happening in humans as documented by scientific research.
Myth: The NTP study is just a small “single rat study.”
Fact: The $25 Million NTP study is the world’s largest most carefully done study ever done on long term wireless health risks.
- They used double the usual number of animals required for this type of study.
- The NTP convened not one but three panels to look at the abnormal tissues and determine if they were cancerous.
- The NTP solicited unprecedented review from multiple scientists from outside the NTP to critically review all aspects of the data analysis and study findings.
Myth: The NTP study was underpowered and statistically unable to detect a true effect.
Fact: A underpowered study is more likely to result in a false negative and the NTP researchers thoroughly address this issue in their analysis.
Overarching Myth 2: The weak and unusual study results prove the risk to humans is small and likely nonexistent.
Fact: When scientifically reviewed and statistically analyzed, the findings of statistically significant increased cancers and precancers in the exposed rats remain valid despite the gender and survival differences. Furthermore, the analysis is strengthened by the findings of other adverse effects from exposure such as lower birth rate and cardiac abnormalities.
Myth: Cancer rates were only increased in the male rats but were not equally increased in females so the findings are questionable.
Fact: It is extremely common for males to show different cancer rates from females in both (NTP) laboratory studies and in epidemiological studies. Specifically, in previous NTP toxicology studies, male rats as compared to females had more than ten times the incidence of malignant gliomas (brain tumors) and more than twice the rate of malignant schwannoma of the heart.
- These rare tumors were observed only in RFR-exposed animals of both sexes while no tumors were observed in the control animals.
- Female RFR-exposed animals did have higher rates than controls even if the possibility that this was not a chance occurrence could not be excluded with the desired probability.
- The fact that we saw any of these tumors in the exposed females but none in the concurrent controls adds support to the conclusion that cell phone radiation leads to cancer among rats.
Myth: If the control group had developed cancer at the usual rate (historical controls), there would be no statistically significant difference.
Fact: The concurrent controls in any given given experiment are always the best controls and the most important to consider as every detail of feed, housing and environment are truly identical.
- NTP scientists carefully considered the issue of historical controls and factored it into their analysis.
- An analysis comparing all controls—historic and present—with all exposed animals in the present study still shows a consistently increased probability of developing cancer.
Myth: Since only the rats exposed to super high radiation levels had increased cancer, it must be perfectly safe to use our cell phones which emit a “safe” level of radiation.
Fact: No safe level has been scientifically documented as this study was not designed to determine a safe level.
- Testing for the absence of an effect requires a completely different study design and uses different methods of statistical analysis than were employed in the NTP study.
- Adequate research to determine a safe level of radiofrequency has not been performed by the US Government as of yet.
- This study confirms that safety is not assured at levels the US government previously assumed were safe.
- This study lends support to research findings that adverse biological effects from wireless radiation are found at radiation levels thousands of times lower than government safety limits.
Myth: The lower survival rate of the control group skewed the results because the control group did not live long enough to develop tumors.
Fact: NTP scientists carefully considered this question and there was no statistical difference in survival between control male rats and the exposed group of male rats with the highest incidence of gliomas and heart schwannomas. Therefore, survival was sufficient to detect tumors or precancerous lesions in control male rats.
Myth: The other effects found in the exposed rats such as decreased birthweight are trivial and irrelevant.
Fact: The findings of a lower birth weight are an important indication of the adverse developmental impacts from prenatal exposure.
Myth: The results are weak and confounding.
Fact: A doubling or tripling of risk would never be considered “weak” considering the widespread use of cell phones by humans worldwide. Even a small risk could eventually result in a considerable number of these lethal tumours in the population.
- The results are strong, especially for the heart schwannomas.
- Yes, it is true that a “low incidence” of tumors were found, but since these are rare tumors, the findings are quite significant.
- DNA damage was induced with both modulations of radiofrequency radiation (RFR) in brains of both rats and mice.
- Overall, one in 18 male rats exposed to cell phone radiation developed cancer and one in 12 male rats exposed to cell phone radiation developed cancer or precancerous cells.
Myth: The fact that CDMA rats had more of a response then the GSM exposed rats makes no sense and shows the study is flawed.
Fact: These findings are should not detract from the study findings.
- It is scientifically understood that different modulations could have different biological impacts.
- Such findings are consistent with recent analysis of epidemiologic studies in humans which indicate that the more recent technologies could have a more dramatic biological effect, despite the lower power of the newer technology.
- The health effects of various modulations is an important research area as indicated by prior research.
Overarching Myth #3: Because we don’t fully understand the biology behind these results we can ignore them.
Fact: The NTP study confirms the existence of a non-thermal effect. For almost every well established carcinogen ever identified, from cigarettes to asbestos, the evidence of risk preceded our understanding of the mechanism by many years, if not decades.
Myth: There is no well understood mechanism by which cell phone radiation induces cancer so – regardless of the findings – there must be a lack of risk. The fact that CDMA rats had more of a response then the GSM exposed rats makes no sense and shows the study is flawed.
Fact: The study indicates that a non-thermal mechanism clearly exists. The NTP provides strong evidence of a risk. Not fully understanding the mechanism is not a basis to reject or to be suspicious of careful data observation and recording.
- It could take decades – as it did with asbestos and smoking- before the mechanism is considered “proven”.
- Several prominent scientists have published research highlighting sufficient evidence that radiofrequency radiation could result in biochemical changes that alter how our cells functions and increase the oxidative stress (increasing free radicals) in our bodies leading to chronic inflammation and cancer.
Overarching Myth 4: Existing research invalidates the NTP findings of increased cancer and genotoxicity.
Scientific Fact: The NTP study substantiates previous research findings from human and animal research indicating increased cancer risk and DNA impacts.
Myth: Previous animal research has not shown a link between cell phone radiation and cancer.
Fact: Previous animal research has shown a link between cell phone radiation and cancer.
- In fact, previous animal research has been replicated that indicates a carcinogenic effect, specifically cancer promotion.
- A U.S. Air Force study conducted in the early 1980’s found increased cancers in rats and previous studies have also shown DNA breaks.
- The two small-scale studies cited in the CNN article are incomparable to the NTP study.
Myth: There is no human evidence linking brain and heart tumors to cell phones.
Fact: There is human evidence linking brain and heart tumors to cell phones.
- Research on humans shows the same type of tumor increases -as seen in the rats- from long term RF-EMF radiation exposures.
- The Swedish studies and the Interphone study not only found elevated glioblastomas, but also higher acoustic neuromas- schwann cell tumors- at the highest level of cumulative call time.
- These human studies provided the basis for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifying radiofrequency radiation as a Class 2B “possible” carcinogen in 2011.
- NIEHS/NTP states, “Tumor types observed in this study are similar type to those observed in some epidemiology studies of cell phone users” and the study “Supports IARC conclusions of potential carcinogenic potential of RFR.”
Myth: Large studies such as the Million Women study and Danish study and petri dish studies reassure us there is no problem because they show no evidence.
Fact: The Danish Cohort and Million Women study are two epidemiological cohort studies that are of poor quality in regards to understanding the effects of cell phone radiation and it is not possible to draw any scientifically reliable conclusions from either of them.
- The Danish Cohort Study, originally funded by Danish Telecom, excluded corporate subscribers (the heavy cell phone users), has been heavily criticized by scientists including the International Agency for the Research on Cancer scientists.
- The Million Women Study was not primarily designed to test the effect of cell phone radiation has been criticised for a short observation period, bias and crude exposure assessment.
- The four year REFLEX studies, involving 12 groups from 7 European countries, studied the effects of radiation on animal and human cells in Petri dishes and found GMS-modulated mobile phone radiation caused DNA strand breaks.
Myth: The lack of an epidemic of brain cancer demonstrates that cell phones pose no risk of brain cancer.
- It will take decades to see an epidemic of brain cancer in the general population because brain tumors have a very long latency period.
- The most aggressive types of brain cancers and those tumor types specifically associated with cell phone use (the types which NTP rats developed) are rising. These increases are only evident when you break down the statistics into specific tumor type rather than look at brain cancer rates overall.
Case control research is a more valid study design than population trends at this time and these types of studies do show an association between cancer and cell phone use.
Myth: A recent Australian study showed there is no rise in brain cancer so this NTP study must be bogus.
Fact: This study is not proof of safety for multiple reasons.
- This widely publicized article claiming that cell phones are safe by the Australian sociologist Simon Chapman has been critiqued by a series of published articles (Bandara 2016, Morgan 2016, Wojcik 2016) criticizing the analysis and study design.
Overarching Myth 5: Experts overwhelmingly have discredited the study results and conclude it to be irrelevant.
Fact: The majority of NIH scientific reviewers to the NTP dataset believe the findings are valid and that the radiation exposure is related to the cancer.
Myth: NIH’s own reviewers could not accept the study conclusions.
- The majority of NIH scientific reviewers to the NTP dataset believe the findings are valid and that the radiation exposure is related to the cancer.
- Dr. Lauer’s comments are incorrectly presented in news reports as representing the general tone of scientific reception to the study.
- Dr. Michael Lauer’s criticisms were responded to with scientific Fact by NTP researchers and this is documented in the report as part of the review process.
- Despite these facts, Dr. Michael Lauer’s comments have repeatedly and incorrectly been presented as evidence of a flawed study.
Myth: The New York Times review of the NTP study proves the study is bad.
Fact: Dr. Carroll’s NYT column contained 8 serious false and misleading statements that have not been corrected. Yet now the non peer reviewed NYT article is referred to as evidence of NTP’s limitations.
Myth: The NTP study has been fully discredited by scientists and experts due to major flaws.
Fact: The majority of expert scientific responses to the NTP study respect the findings and the majority of NIH data reviewers agree with the conclusions of the report.
- The National Toxicology Program (NTP) of The National Institutes of Health animal toxicology research is considered the “gold standard”.
- A generalization that the NTP study is “discredited by scientists” is false and misleading.
Overarching Myth 5: This study still needs to be replicated before it will have an impact on federal regulations or health recommendations to the public.
Fact: This $25 Million dollar study one of the most elaborate studies of any potentially hazardous exposure ever conducted. The concordance between the NTP study and human epidemiological studies is stunning and should guide federal agencies to issue protective policy and strong recommendations to reduce exposure.
Myth: This study needs to be replicated first- until then, it will not have an impact.
Fact: This $25 Million dollar study one of the most elaborate and expensive studies of any potentially hazardous exposure ever conducted.
- It will likely not be repeated as the exposure equipment has been dismantled.
- The concordance between the NTP study and human epidemiological studies is stunning.
- In addition, NTP also reported statistically significant evidence of DNA damage in mice as well as in rats.
Myth: The NTP study is not groundbreaking and will have little impact on federal health agency recommendations.
Fact: The NTP report marks a paradigm shift in our understanding of radiation and cancer risk.
- The NTP report will have an impact on federal health and safety agency recommendations because it shows that federal radiation exposure limits are based on a flawed assumption.
The NTP findings indicate our federal exposure limits are not protective of human health. If cell phone radiation were safe then we should have seen no effect from these exposures. The NTP tested the hypothesis that low level cell phone radiation -at non thermal levels- could not cause health effects. Yet a health effect was shown.This is groundbreaking because US government exposure limits are based on the now disproved hypothesis that non-thermal effects are benign. The study results clearly show that cell phone radiation can cause adverse health effects at nonthermal levels. In order to adequately protect the public, federal agencies should now reassess federal exposure limits to protect the public from non thermal effects.
“The NTP report linking radiofrequency radiation (RFR) to two types of cancer marks a paradigm shift in our understanding of radiation and cancer risk” and “This new evidence will undoubtedly factor into ongoing assessments by regulators to determine the potential cancer risk posed by cell phones. The American Cancer Society eagerly awaits guidance from government agencies, like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), about the safety of cell phone use.”
Myth: The NTP study was not peer reviewed and was rejected by medical journals.
Fact: The NTP Report was extensively peer reviewed by experts before the findings were released.
- The peer reviews resulted in revisions to the NTP report which incorporated and addressed reviewer comments.
- The NTP study will generate numerous published papers and these prepared manuscripts are listed in the NTP Technical Report.