Cell Phone Use and Genetic Variations Linked in Thyroid Cancer Study

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Businessman using mobile phone in office hallway

Radiation from cell phones is associated with higher rates of thyroid cancer among people with genetic variations in specific genes, according to researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and their collaborators. The group studied 176 genes in all and found 10 SNPs that appear to increase the risk of thyroid cancer among cell phone users. This is believed to be the first study to examine the combined influence of genetic susceptibility and cell phone use in relation to thyroid cancer. This work is especially significant since the rates of thyroid cancer are increasing around the world.

Led by Yawei Zhang, MD, PhD, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health, this report was just published in the journal Environmental Research.

A growing pool of evidence suggests radiofrequency radiation (RFR) from cell phones is carcinogenic. This study aimed to test whether there is genetic susceptibility associated with cell phone use and thyroid cancer.

The researchers started by examining over 900 people in Connecticut and looking for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that were associated with a much higher likely-hood of developing thyroid cancer. A population-based case-control study was conducted in that state between 2010 and 2011. It included 440 thyroid cancer cases and 465 population-based controls with genotyping information for 823 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 176 genes.

Cell phone users with SNPs in four of the genes studied were more than two times more likely to develop cancer. Overall, the researchers found 10 SNPs that appear to increase the risk of thyroid cancer among cell phone users.

Their findings suggest that genetic susceptibilities play an important role in cell phone use and the risk of developing thyroid cancer and could help to identify subgroups who are potentially at risk. Further research is needed, they add, to confirm the findings and to better understand the interaction between cell phone radiation and SNPs within specific genes.

“Our study provides evidence that genetic susceptibility influences the relationship between cell phone use and thyroid cancer,” said Zang. “More studies are needed to identify populations who are susceptible to radiofrequency radiation (RFR) and understand exposure to RFR by different using patterns of cell phones.”

Other Yale School of Public Health researchers involved in the study include Jiajun Luo, Hang Li, Nicole Deziel, Huang Huang and Shuangge Ma. Researchers from China and Florida also co-authored this work.

According to the American Cancer Society’s most recent report, there were nearly 53,000 new cases of thyroid cancer in the United States, resulting in 2,180 deaths. Thyroid cancer is three times more common in women and is diagnosed at a younger age than most other cancers.

Zhang noted that the study relied on data collected from 2010 to 2011 when smartphones were first being introduced to the market. At the time, only a small proportion of people had smart phones. Therefore, if cell phone use increased the risk of thyroid cancer, it was possibly due to the use of earlier generation cell phones that were more commonly used when the data was collected.

Additionally, the transition to smartphones has also seen a major change in how cell phones are used (e.g., texting vs. phone calls). As a result, findings from this current study warrant a further evaluation in future studies, she said.

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