An Italian court ruled on April 11th that prolonged cellphone use caused a man to develop a brain tumor. In a potentially landmark decision, the court awarded the plaintiff, Roberto Romeo – a longtime Telecom Italia employee – damages for a brain tumor he developed due to excessive use of a mobile device he used for work. The National Institute of Insurance against Accidents at Work will pay Romeo €500 / $535 per month after a doctor testified the plaintiff’s bodily functions were affected by 23%.
In his own testimony, 57-year-old Romeo said he was obliged to use a mobile phone issued by his employer for three to four hours a day for fifteen years which eventually resulted in the appearance of the tumor. Luckily, the mass turned out to be benign, but Romeo still lost hearing in one ear, as doctors were forced to remove his acoustic nerve. The plaintiff made a point in stressing out he does not view cellphones as evil, but he believes the public should be made aware of the safety issues involved. According to the man’s lawyer, Stefano Berton, the verdict is the first in the world – as far as he is aware – to recognize a causal link between cellphone use and the development of a brain tumor. The possible link between cellphones and tumors is a very controversial topic in medicine. Many years’ worth of studies on cellphones’ effects on the human anatomy have yielded conflicting results. And despite this isolated verdict which was apparently based on the testimony of one medical doctor, there’s no real consensus about the degree of tumor risk – be it benign or malign – posed by prolonged cellphone use.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a sub-branch of the World Health Organization, appointed an expert Working Group to review all available evidence on the use of cell phones. The group’s findings classified cell phone use as possibly carcinogenic to humans. The American Cancer Society states that there could (emphasis on could) be some cancer risk associated with radio-frequency energy, but the evidence is not strong enough to draw a firm conclusion. Still, for those concerned about cellphone overuse, there are steps that can be taken to reduce exposure to radio-frequency energy. The US National Cancer Institute recommends shorter conversations or using a device with hands-free technology such as wired headsets in order to place more distance between the phone and the user’s head.