News for Singapore

More young people at risk of getting brain cancer
Singapore Created: 20 Aug 2008
OUT of 13 brain-cancer patients seen by Dr Keith Goh in the last four months, seven were below 45.

The trend, according to the consultant neurosurgeon, is increasing at an alarming rate. He is also seeing younger Singaporeans with brain tumours, including a six-month-old child.

Better known for his part in the separation of Nepalese conjoined twins Ganga and Jamuna Shrestha, Dr Goh told my paper: "The trend is unmistakable. It was not like this 10 years ago."

In the past, the median age for patients diagnosed with brain cancer was between 50 and 60 years old. However, signs are showing that it has shifted to the early 40s.

Dr Goh, who is also a paediatric neurosurgeon, added: "It seems that there is something in the environment that may be causing cell transformation, which leads to the development of cancer. The cells of younger people are more vulnerable to toxins and they can transform to become cancerous."

One of the likely reasons mentioned by Dr Goh, 47, is the increased cellphone usage here.

According to a study by the Swedish National Institute for Working Life, heavy cellphone users face an increased risk, especially on the side of the head where the phone is held, Dr Goh added.

Noting that Singapore has at least six million mobile phone subscribers, one of the highest in the world, Dr Goh said: "It has to be the electromagnetic radiation or the thermal heat that's causing the tumour."

Speaking to reporters last week, he also introduced a new drug, Nimotuzumab. It is undergoing clinical trials for head and neck cancer. Compared to conventional treatment - surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy - which provides patients with a 40 per cent survival rate, the new treatment offers a 75 per cent chance. Dr Goh is the first doctor here to administer the new drug.
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Source: AsiaOne, CALVIN YANG, 19 Aug 2008

Singapore Neurosurgeon observes massive increase in brain tumors
Singapore Created: 14 Aug 2008
WELL-KNOWN neurosurgeon Keith Goh has seen an increase in the number of cases of malignant brain tumours and this is worrying him — especially as more and more are young adults, even children.

And his view on why this is happening goes to the heart of a long-raging controversy to which there are still no conclusive answers, and which divides fellow experts in Singapore: The effects of mobile phone radiation.

“It takes a few years for the tumours to develop, but there seems to be a good amount of evidence that the radiation that comes from the mobile phone contributes toward the development of brain tumours.

“I think we are at this stage in time just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Goh, best known to the public for his role in operations to separate conjoined twins: Nepalese pair Ganga and Jamuna Shrestha in 2001, and in 2003, Iranians Ladan and Laleh Bijani as well as a pair of Korean twins.

Since he began practising neurosurgery in the 1990s, brain tumour cases were mainly in those 50 years and above. Today, he is seeing more adults in their 20s to their mid-40s, among both his local and foreign patients. In the last four months alone, Dr Goh has seen 12 new cases — the youngest aged two and four.

And this is not because detection has improved, he says. If it was, “we would be seeing more patients with small tumours but these are large tumours”. He estimates that a decade ago, 30 per cent of brain tumours would be malignant; now, it’s 50 per cent.

Dr Goh is not the only expert who is concerned. Last month, the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Dr Ronald Herberman, urged staff to keep phones always from their heads and to let children use them only in emergencies.

In a memo, he said: “We shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry.”

‘No concrete link’

Dr Goh is holding a forum here onAug 23 on worldwide brain cancer incidence, its relation to mobile phone use and treatments. But his opinion — that there is a strong correlation with increased mobile phone usage — hardly represents a consensus, and various research studies worldwide have come to conflicting conclusions.

Neurosurgeon in private practice Ng Puay Yong, for one, thinks we should not worry as there is “no concrete data to show this (link)” between health and electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones.

Dr Ng said he has not seen any significant increase in the number of patients who come to him with brain tumours. The National Neuroscience Institute also has not seen a growth in the 150 or so brain tumour cases it gets each year.

From the physics point of view, Assistant Professor Vitali Zagorodnov, from the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Computer Engineering, feels “there’s no good reason why mobile phones should cause brain tumours”.

After all, the radio waves received and emitted by, say, television sets and microwave ovens are similar to that given out by mobile phones, he said. “There is no interaction between the radio-magnetic field and human tissue.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) should soon unveil the results of its own four-year study. But meanwhile, it states on its website that “current scientific evidence” signals that exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields, emitted by mobile phones and their base stations, “is unlikely to induce or promote cancers”.

Solid proof too late?

Even so, 54 engineering and medical scientists worldwide have signed the Venice Resolutionexpressing worry about the effectsof electromagnetic fields on health.

While Dr Goh acknowledges that current research is only “suggestive”, he argues: “This is reminiscent of the early days of discussions over whether tobacco was harmful and could it cause cancer, as well as the concerns over asbestos and lead in products ... Solid proof is too late when you have malignant tumour.”

The theory is that heat — generated by electromagnetic radiation when a mobile phone is in use — causes cell damage that results in brain tumours. Increasing exposure to RF waves from base stations could also have an effect.

But other factors have also been cited in relation to brain tumours, such as consuming fried bacon and smoking. Cancer in other parts of the body can also spread to the brain.

Health risk or not, Singaporeans could find it difficult to live without a mobile phone, given that the nation has one of the highest rates of mobile penetration. All mobile phones used here are tagged with Specific Absorption Rate values — a measurement of the amount of RF energy absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone — and comply with the WHO’s recommended exposure standard.

If you are still concerned, Dr Goh advises using an earpiece and to avoid keeping a handset near your body.
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Source: Today Online, Tan Hui Leng, 14 Aug 2008

Is technology frying our brains?
Singapore Created: 26 Jul 2008
Couple of years back, my mother would experience headaches and giddiness whenever she was at her work desk. Her colleague who sat next to her would also suffer similar symptoms when she was in the office.

After a series of checks and tests, her office identified a wireless cellular signal booster--which was mounted on the wall directly above my mother's desk--as the key culprit. The device was immediately deactivated and my mother's headaches promptly disappeared.

Whether there was indeed a direct correlation between the wireless device and my mother's passing ailments is still as yet to be proven scientifically. But, the question remains whether sufficient time has passed for the effects of technology on the human body to manifest and be accurately documented.

Researchers believe that every human body goes through minor DNA mutations and hence, in some ways, carries dormant cancer cells. The fortunate ones among us go through life without any of these cells becoming "active" but for most of us, as statistics show, we're likely to end up with some form of cancer-related ailment at a later stage in our life.

It usually takes years, typically a decade or more, for cancerous cells to manifest. What that means is, to accurately observe the effects of technology such as mobile phones, on the human body, we'll have to run health studies that span at least 10 years.

What that also means is, past reports disputing any links between mobile phones and cancer, could now be wrong. And those Northern Ireland residents in 2002 might have valid reasons to bring down a mobile phone mast, which they said had caused several cancer cases in their area.

This week, the director of a prominent U.S. cancer research institute sent out an unusually strong warning to 3,000 staff and faculty members to limit their cell phone use due to potential cancer risks. The memo from Dr. Ronald B. Herberman was deemed unprecedented as it contradicted past studies, including statements from the U.S. government, which dismissed any association between mobile phones and cancer.

The hubbub raises one key question in my mind: has the mobile phone become like smoking?

By the time the health risks related to tobacco smoking were established, it was too late for those already addicted to the nicotine to turn back. Could the same ring true for mobile phone addicts?

If indeed researchers are able to come up with concrete evidence that mobile phones will lead to brain tumors and cancer, will you be able to give it up?

And will governments have to legislate that mobile users must leave public areas, and make calls in specially assigned "calling zones" so that others in the area won't absorb any second-hand electromagnetic radiation emitting from their phones?

Try pondering over that when you make your next mobile phone call, handsfree, of course.
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Source: ZDnet Asia, Eileen Yu, 25 Jul 2008

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