Tumour, phone link could take 20 years

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 09:38 15/05/2014

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A leading Australian oncologist says unlocking controversial links connecting brain tumours to mobile phones usage could take 20 years.

Dr Elizabeth Hovey said she remained "on the fence" if there was a cancer connection.

Hovey was in Blenheim yesterday to address clinicians at Wairau Hospital as part of cancer update week organised by the Cancer Society.

This year's topic is glioblastoma, the most common form of primary brain tumour that affects 120 adults in New Zealand each year. It is the tenth most common cause of cancer death.

Hovey is senior staff specialist in Medical Oncology at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney and is conducting a whistlestop speaking tour of New Zealand.

She said a significant cohort study following hundreds of thousands of people over a long period would need to be conducted to analyse potential links between mobile phone usage and brain cancer. Definitive scientific conclusions would take decades, she said.

Hovey advised those who were uncertain to take precautions.

"You should keep young children away from mobile phones for extended periods of time and investigate hands-free sets." she said.

The oncologist said there was no cure for glioblastoma and no obvious causation.

"The reason brain tumours are so devastating is because people identify themselves with the brain. It is the seat of how we express ourselves and personalise ourselves."

Hovey said the field was one of the most challenging areas of oncology but had the lowest level of research funding. More advocacy for brain tumour patients and more support for their carers was urgently needed.

"Patients themselves aren't as vocal. There is a much stronger lobbying from breast cancer advocacy. There is evidence in the care of a brain tumour patient, the stress and anxiety has led to a lower quality of life than [for] the patient."

She advocated for cancer care co-ordinators in hospital. Brain tumour patients tended to have longer hospital appointments and visited more healthcare professionals than other cancer sufferers.

Hovey said many were on polypharmacy medications to combat the affects of chemotherapy, fight infections, blood clots resulting from surgery and ward against nausea.

"It is a challenging area but there is room for optimism that science and genetic developments are moving forward."

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- The Marlborough Express

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