Cell phones and cancer - unraveling the data

So, we've been busy with mythbusting medical studies, haven't we?  You've probably seen the news about another study linking cell phones and cancer.  Well, this one has major issues that the press is also missing.  Here is a great (somewhat long, but very well done) article really crunching the data and raising serious questions about the accuracy of the study.  It's worth a read, but a few bullet points are:

  • it was done in rats (which is fine, but some of the news articles didn't even mention it)
  • they didn't use enough rats in each group (or in stat lingo, the study was "underpowered")
  • they were exposed in utero through two years of life (fetuses don't use cell phones), virtually all day every day (also not replicating real world cell phone use)
  • there was no dose response (more radiation should have caused more cancer if they are truly linked)
  • the control (not radiated) group lived SHORTER than the radiation group (so do cell phones extend life?)
  • the control group got NO cancers (you'd expect a few even in unexposed rats)
  • the effect was only in females

This also was published in an online repository, meant for quicker release to other researchers, but that means it didn't go through the usual outside review process that medical journals put studies through.  It also means the media is free to jump on it and make their own conclusions without actual scientific input.  Food for thought....

Swaddling and SIDS - unraveling the data

Recently there have been some news articles regarding a study published in the journal Pediatrics about swaddling babies and the risk for SIDS.  Unfortunately, many of them have been titled with sensational, simplified headlines declaring "Swaddling Causes SIDS!"  Well, it's not that simple.  There's a few things that make the study, and definitely the sensational conclusions in the press, not-so-airtight:

  • It's a "meta-analysis", which means it wasn't a study, rather it was a "study of studies", a look-back at four other studies, attempting to put all the data together and come to a conclusion.  This can be very inconsistent despite their best efforts.
  • The four studies are not recent - they are all from 10-20 years ago, and that makes it difficult to go back and clarify irregularities or holes in the data.
  • The vast majority of the risk arose from babies who were swaddled and placed on their stomachs or sides and were over 6 months old.  This is much different than swaddling a 2 week old (who has no strength to kick out of the blankets and roll) and placing them on their backs.

Most physicians will tell you after reading this study that the main take home point is not that swaddling is dangerous, but that a child shouldn't be swaddled at all past 2-3 months of age, when they are developing the strength to roll.  And of course, that babies should always be placed on their backs to sleep.

For further reading, there is a great article at the Seattle Children's Hospital website that discusses the study and gives some solid guidelines on safe swaddling.  Hope this helps dispel the hype!