Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Groan! Another cellphone phobic

An as yet unpublished study so we will see what remains of it after peer review. Anything that is popular will ALWAYS be in the sights of the attention-seekers

Mobile phones could kill far more people than smoking or asbestos, a study by an award-winning cancer expert has concluded. He says people should avoid using them wherever possible and that governments and the mobile phone industry must take "immediate steps" to reduce exposure to their radiation. The study, by Dr Vini Khurana, is the most devastating indictment yet published of the health risks. It draws on growing evidence - exclusively reported in the IoS in October - that using handsets for 10 years or more can double the risk of brain cancer. Cancers take at least a decade to develop, invalidating official safety assurances based on earlier studies which included few, if any, people who had used the phones for that long.

Earlier this year, the French government warned against the use of mobile phones, especially by children. Germany also advises its people to minimise handset use, and the European Environment Agency has called for exposures to be reduced.

Professor Khurana - a top neurosurgeon who has received 14 awards over the past 16 years, has published more than three dozen scientific papers - reviewed more than 100 studies on the effects of mobile phones. He has put the results on a brain surgery website, and a paper based on the research is currently being peer-reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.

He admits that mobiles can save lives in emergencies, but concludes that "there is a significant and increasing body of evidence for a link between mobile phone usage and certain brain tumours". He believes this will be "definitively proven" in the next decade. Noting that malignant brain tumours represent "a life-ending diagnosis", he adds: "We are currently experiencing a reactively unchecked and dangerous situation." He fears that "unless the industry and governments take immediate and decisive steps", the incidence of malignant brain tumours and associated death rate will be observed to rise globally within a decade from now, by which time it may be far too late to intervene medically.

"It is anticipated that this danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking," says Professor Khurana, who told the IoS his assessment is partly based on the fact that three billion people now use the phones worldwide, three times as many as smoke. Smoking kills some five million worldwide each year, and exposure to asbestos is responsible for as many deaths in Britain as road accidents.

Late last week, the Mobile Operators Association dismissed Khurana's study as "a selective discussion of scientific literature by one individual". It believes he "does not present a balanced analysis" of the published science, and "reaches opposite conclusions to the WHO and more than 30 other independent expert scientific reviews".


Blood pressure drugs cut stroke deaths in elderly

Sounds reasonable

Drugs used to lower blood pressure can cut the death rate from strokes in the elderly by almost 40 per cent, an international study has found. Around 4000 people in several countries, including Australia, were surveyed over two years for the survey which found for the first time that treating blood pressure in elderly patients could give them a new lease of life. "The issue of the elderly is obviously becoming more important as the population ages and blood pressure does rise with age in our society," said Melbourne-based Professor Stephen Harrap, president of the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia.

"There has been a tendency to think perhaps it's part of growing old and we shouldn't be as aggressive in treating it in an 80-year-old as in someone who is aged 40. "But what this study shows is you should - and the benefits are in terms of lives saved in this particular study."

Prof Harrap said that every year, more than 53,000 Australians suffered strokes, more than half of them over 75. And more than 75 per cent of those elderly Australians suffered from high blood pressure, which was a major contributor to fatal heart attacks and stokes. But until now, the medical profession had been reluctant to treat high blood pressure in the elderly for fear of causing complications. But thiazide-like diuretics, which work on the kidneys, used in conjunction with ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors, had produced a dramatic 39 per cent increase in the survival rate following strokes, he said. The blood pressure lowering treatment also cut the overall death rate by more than 20 per cent.

"The thiazide-like diuretics are particularly good in the elderly," Prof Harrap said. "As we get older, our kidneys aren't as good at getting rid of salt from the body and when we eat our routine diets we tend to build up a bit of salt and that can put your blood pressure up."

Stroke and heart attacks accounted for around one third of all deaths in Australia and elderly people with high blood pressure should not just accept the condition as part of the ageing process, Prof Harrap said. "Doctors would be more inclined to treat with this information, so that's a win-win," he said.

The results of the global study were revealed today at the American College of Cardiology conference in Chicago. The results have also been accepted for publication in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. The study had been scheduled to run for five years with half the participants receiving the blood pressure lowering medication and half a placebo. But the huge improvement in life expectancy in those receiving the treatment prompted the researchers to terminate the trial early and extend treatment to all participants. "Those people who were not receiving the treatment were dying more frequently and it was unethical to continue," Prof Harrap said.


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