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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7537


Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (19:51): I rise today to speak on the motion before the House relating to the cancer research report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer released by the World Health Organisation. I would like to acknowledge the member for Robertson and thank her for sharing with us her personal insight into this issue. I know that I, along with I am sure many other people, would be wishing her brother all the very best for the future. The report has noted that the radio frequency electromagnetic fields generated by mobile phones are possibly carcinogenic to humans. The findings of this report have been assessed by many specialists, including the Cancer Council. Professor Bernard Stewart, the Cancer Council's scientific advisor and international carcinogens expert, reinforced that the findings released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the IARC, found a possible link between mobile phones and cancer but that that link has not been proven at this stage. I stress the possible link not to devalue or attempt to undermine any of the research but to try and ensure a sensible and meaningful debate on this most important social and health issue for us.

There has been an eight-day meeting of 31 scientists from 14 countries who have reviewed the results of hundreds of studies covering exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. According to Professor Stewart, these findings show limited evidence linking mobile phones to glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate evidence to draw conclusions for any other types of cancer. However, he believes—and I agree with this—that more research needs to be undertaken in this area. The chair of the Cancer Council Australia's Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee, Terry Slevin, said that mobile phone users should take care, particularly heavy users—and I note that heavy usage is defined as being at least 30 minutes per day, which I agree would certainly include many of the people that I know, including young people, which is of great concern. The general view is that measures should be taken to try and reduce the use of mobile phones, particularly by heavy users.

The expanding use of mobile phones in the 1990s and the increasing rate at which they were used prompted several expert groups to critically review the evidence on health effects of low-level exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. This resulted in the recommendation of research into the possible adverse health effects of mobile phone use. The Interphone study was the largest case-control study of mobile phone use and brain tumours. The study group consisted of 21 scientists and the objective was to see if mobile phone use increased the risk of tumours. The findings of the Interphone study were released in May 2010, and on review of the findings, Dr Christopher Wild, the Director of IARC, said:

An increased risk of brain cancer is not established from the data … However, observations at the highest level of cumulative call time and the changing patterns of mobile phone use since the period … particularly in young people, mean that further investigation of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk is merited.

The Cancer Council observed the Interphone study and found that there was no evidence to suggest normal usage of mobile phones—which is less than 30 minutes a day for a period of 12 months—could cause brain cancer, but the Cancer Council found the Interphone study results were consistent with other research in that area. However, there was a small subset of patients, classified as the heavy users, with glioma and tumours on the same side of the head where they held their mobile phones. At this stage, the debate between whether there will be an increase in the amount of cases in the next 25 years is unknown, and experts like the Cancer Council are suggesting more study needs to be undertaken, particularly in the case of heavy mobile phone users. There are also calls to investigate the impact mobile phone use will have on our children.

As a mother, I have witnessed my own children's use of mobile phones and the use that their friends make of mobile phones. Many children and teenagers carry their own mobile phones, complete with interactive features like games, music, movies and social networking, enticing the younger generation to use them more frequently than those before them. As parents and responsible adults, we need to ensure that excessive use of these mobile devices are kept at reasonable levels while further studies are undertaken to determine possible risks to our children. In the meantime, the Cancer Council also suggests that anyone who is worried about the possible link between radio frequency electromagnetic fields and mobile phones looks at using hands-free devices or texting to reduce the amount of time the phone is held to the ear.

Locally, members of the United Brain Tumour Support Group on the Gold Coast have been putting this practice into place. Founder Peter McLaughlin has said mobile phone use is a concern amongst his members. Mr McLaughlin was diagnosed in 2001 with a brain tumour. He was 27 years old at the time and had been married for only two weeks. Mr McLaughlin has spent years as a support volunteer with the Cancer Connect program run by the Cancer Council. He has been offering peer emotional support and information for people who have been affected by cancer and offers the type of advice that comes from living through the same traumatic experiences. Mr McLaughlin has been there to listen and help patients through a time when family and friends find it difficult to talk about the diagnosis, unaware of what they should say. In 2007, Mr McLaughlin decided to start the United Brain Tumour Support Group on the Gold Coast. It is the only support group of its kind on the Gold Coast offering support to those affected by brain cancer. The members meet every third Wednesday of each month at the Tugun Surf Life Saving Club within the electorate of McPherson. There are around eight to 12 members at any time, ranging from 20 years to 70 years of age, coming along to those meetings. The meetings allow for the discussion of the latest information on brain cancer with advice and support. It has been within these meetings that the issue of the use of mobile phones has been discussed and members talk about ways of reducing the use of their mobile phones.

I would like to recognise the efforts that Mr McLaughlin has gone to in order to provide the only support group on the Gold Coast for those experiencing brain cancer. He is presently organising the third annual fundraiser walk, which will be held on 17 July, to raise month for the United Brain Tumour Support Group and cancer research. The walk will take place on the Gold Coast along the beach between Burleigh Heads and Miami, and Mr McLaughlin hopes that more than 200 people will get involved with the walk this year. All proceeds from the day will go towards funding research into brain cancer and building the support group. Support groups provide an exceptional service to the community, and I hope the United Brain Tumour Support Group continues to operate and provide the much-needed support to those affected by brain cancer.

While research is continuing, we need to remember that there are other, more established cancer risks that we can act on every day. The McPherson electorate is famous for its beautiful beaches and I would hope that, while the public remain concerned over mobile phone use, they also take care with known risks, like UV exposure, to avoid cases of melanoma.

According to the World Health Organisation, many cancers are not detectable for many years after the interactions that led to a tumour. And since mobile phones were not widely used until the early 1990s, studies at present can only assess those cancers that are evident within shorter time frames. In conclusion, given the large number of mobile phone users—currently estimated to be 4.6 billion, which is an extraordinary number—it is important to investigate, understand and monitor any potential public health impact. While the findings of the discussed reports remain inconclusive, there should be further ongoing studies to fully assess potential long-term effects of mobile phone use. In the meantime, as I have already discussed today, there are many ways the public can look at decreasing their use of mobile phones and electromagnetic fields. (Time expired.)