Monday, May 31, 2010

'Brain damage among young professionals is imminent'

And it's all thanks to long conversations about love and labour on your cell phone. Yasir Ali gets Dr Shakir Husain, India's top neurointerventionist and neurophysician to tell you how real the threat from cell phone usage is to the human brain

Dr Shakir Husain, Director, Interventional Neurology, Max Institute of Neurosciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi. Pic/Rajeev Tyagi
It doesn't matter if Hrithik Roshan listens to a movie script over his cell phone or Aamir Khan chats with his girlfriend through the night, much to the embarrassment of his roommate. Celeb aping, cheap call rates and batteries that last a full love affair are far from enticing.

The electromagnetic radiation that your fancy gadget emits can cause what simply put is a short circuit in the neuro-circuitry of your brain. The World Health Organisation (WHO)'s Interphone report tabled last week indicates how heavy mobile phone usage can leave you at risk of developing glioma tumours.

How real is the threat from cell phone use?
It's very real. What runs a cell phone, is a form of energy. We use radio waves for varies purposes. They have medical applications too. We use devices that run on this energy to destroy cancerous tissues while performing surgeries. However, the degree and magnitude of the impact depends on the frequency of the radio waves.

Since cell phones employ lower frequencies, the damage is slow, but sure. What's crucial in such cases is how long you use the cell phone; prolonged usage is certain to injure frail human tissues in the brain.

What sort of damage exactly?
The brain tissue is the softest, hence most vulnerable. Exposure to radio waves can cause tumorous growth. Two kinds of growths: meningioma can occur in the membrane covering the brain and is mostly benign, glioma is usually malignant. Prolonged cell phone use can trigger the growth of a benign tumour which can pose a serious threat to life.

What are the most common symptoms?
Headaches are the first and most common of all symptoms. Epilepsy, paralysis and progressive weakness of limbs are also indicative of a brain tumour. Symptoms may also vary depending on the location of the tumour. For instance, if it lies in the rear end, it may cause problems with swallowing, eye function and body balance. Headaches coupled with vomiting must never be ignored.

Can it be treated?
We have the best facilities in the world. We usually use a gamma knife to destroy the cancerous tissues but non-invasive techniques available too, to cut off blood supply to the tumour and arrest its growth.

What's the cost involved?
Depending on the hospital chosen and the modalities involved, it could  cost you between Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 lakh.

Who is at maximum risk?

The youth, obviously. This is the group that engages in lengthy cell phone conversations. Young professionals, specifically; they end up discussing work and personal matters mostly over the phone.

So, Dr Husain, what's your prescription?
We must exercise restraint. A cell phone, in today's world, is a necessity. We are wired right now, but we must ensure that we maintain minimum possible limits of usage. At the risk of sounding clich ©d, I want to say prevention is better than cure.

Scope of the interphone study
Interphone was initiated in 2000 as an international set of case-control studies in 13 countries around the world, focusing on four types of tumours in tissues that absorb RF energy emitted by mobile phones: tumours of the brain (glioma and meningioma), of the acoustic nerve (schwannoma), and of the parotid gland. The objective was to determine whether mobile phone use increases the risk of such tumours. Interphone is the largest case-control study of mobile phone use and brain tumours yet, and includes the largest number of users with at least 10 years of exposure.

The Team
The Interphone International Study Group, comprising 21 scientists, was responsible for the progress of the study, choice of analyses to be conducted, and interpretation and publication of results.

Scope of study

This interview-based case-control study, which included 2,708 glioma and 2,409 meningioma cases was conducted in 13 countries using a common protocol.

India calling
At present, India has 391 million cell phone users. By the end of 2010, this figure is estimated to rise to 500 million. The health ministry says talking for long on a cell phone could seriously affect your health. Quoting a small-scale PGI Chandigarh study, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said, sensorineural deafness could occur in 30 per cent of people using mobile phones for more than two hours a day over a two-year period.

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