Personal Radio Use and Cancer


Published on 26th December 2018 in the British Journal of Cancer, this is our first analysis of whether there is a correlation between the use of the Airwave radio system and the long term risk of cancer to its users. You can view and download the paper here.

Because the paper is published in a scientific journal and is aimed at an audience of scientific professionals, some of the language is necessarily technical. However, the conclusions drawn and the short discussion should still be accessible to a lay audience. In case it isn't, we've drawn out what the main questions we think Airwave users will want to ask.

Why did you study TETRA in terms of cancer risk? What's already known about radio frequency devices and cancer risk?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radio-frequency radiation (e.g. from mobile phones) as possibly carcinogenic (has the potential to cause cancer) to humans based mainly on studies of prolonged (>10 years) use of mobile phones among brain cancer cases compared with controls. TETRA radio operates at a different frequency to mobile phones and has not been studied in terms of cancer risk. The Home Office commissioned an investigation into TETRA radio use and health outcomes (including cancers) among the UK police forces in 2003.

How did you determine TETRA use?

We focused on personal radio use, which is the most commonly used TETRA device in the police service. For participants uniquely linked to a specific personal radio device, we retrieved the call duration for each device from the network so we could directly measure their average usage. For the rest of the participants, we applied some statistical methods to estimate their usage based on self-reported radio use and participant characteristics.

How did you follow people to see whether they developed cancer?

In the UK, there is a network of cancer registries which are notified of every cancer diagnosis. For the participants in our study, we were able to link their information (with their consent) to the cancer registries and were able to obtain information on every cancer diagnosed on study participants.

What are the main findings?

We analysed the risk of diagnosis of all cancers combined as well as head and neck cancers for people with different personal radio usage levels. Overall, we found no association between average personal radio usage and subsequent risk of cancer. People who used the radio devices were no more likely to develop cancer than non-users; and in those participants who did use personal radio devices, the average duration of use did not affect the risk of cancer.

What are the major limitations of this study?

The major limitation of the study is the relatively small number of cancers that have been diagnosed within the cohort since the start of the Study. This makes it difficult to precisely assess the risk of cancer, especially for specific types of cancer. As time goes on and more cancers are diagnosed among study participants, we will be able to provide better evidence as to whether or not personal radio use is associated with cancer risk.

What are the conclusions?

We found no evidence at this stage that TETRA use is associated with risk of cancer. Longer follow-up and, if data from other studies become available, data pooling projects are required to increase the number of cancer cases and better estimate possible associations with cancer risk.