I read that using cellphones can cause cancer. Is that true?


John Boice, President of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements in Bethesda, Maryland, and Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee Photo courtesy of John Boice

JOHN BOICE: Billions of people around the world now have cellphones. In a matter of decades, we went from no one having a cellphone to children, adults, seniors, nearly everyone seeming to have one. If the incidence of brain tumors had increased due to this explosion in cellphone use, we should have seen it by now, and we haven’t.

High-quality Danish studies conducted using phone and health records of long-term cellphone users, as well as a study in the U.K. that asked women about their cellphone use and recorded subsequent cancer cases in the group, found no evidence of a link between cellphones and brain tumors or other cancers. Studies of children who use cellphones similarly have found no relationship to cancer.

A recent animal experiment conducted by the U.S. National Toxicology Program reported an association between tumors in male rats and exposure to cellular phone frequencies, but the study is too limited and incomplete to interpret at this time. There is no clear biological mechanism for cellphones to increase cancer risk by damaging DNA in the way that ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, can.

Some of the worry traces back to inconclusive evidence from a large study in 13 countries, in which people with and without brain cancer were asked about their prior cellphone use. That study showed a possible increased risk of one type of brain cancer in people who reported the highest levels of cellphone use. Given all the other evidence discounting a link, however, those results are most likely related to factors such as “recall bias,” in which people with brain cancer tend to over-report their cellphone exposure.

Further confusion resulted when the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2011 based in part on those study results. What the designation really means, though, is that, while there is no convincing evidence of a link between cancer and the radio frequency levels cellphones emit, the possibility of a weak link can’t be ruled out completely. The same can be said of coffee and pickled vegetables, which are similarly classified.

Those who still worry about a potential link can limit their exposures to cellphone radiation by texting or by using the speakerphone or another hands-free device for calls.

CELLPHONES AND CANCER // The National Cancer Institute has a fact sheet on cellphones and cancer risk. // The American Cancer Society talks about how cellphones work and how cellphone radiation might affect humans. // The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences features interviews with government toxicologists on cellphones and health.

My friend has cancer and is having trouble paying her bills. How do I start a crowdfunding campaign?


Christy Perry, Director of Marketing and Social Media at the American Childhood Cancer Organization in Kensington, Maryland Photo courtesy of Christy Perry

CHRISTY PERRY: Families facing a cancer diagnosis and treatment are often surprised by medical costs that their health insurance does not cover. Travel and other hidden expenses can also add up. Soliciting support from family, friends and even strangers through crowdfunding can help families facing these difficult circumstances maintain stable finances.

If you would like to start a crowdfunding page for someone you know, please consider these important factors. Before you begin, make sure your friend is comfortable with the idea of crowdfunding. Some people may not want to have their stories posted on the internet or have you ask people for money on their behalf.

If your friend is on board, it’s time to decide on a crowdfunding platform. There are many, including GiveForward, GoFundMe and Fundrazr. I recommend YouCaring because it does not charge a platform-use fee. Although you do have to pay for a third-party company to process credit card transactions, YouCaring does not take a set percentage of your donations, opting instead to ask donors for optional contributions. Make sure you read all the fine print before you choose which platform to use.

Setting up a crowdfunding campaign is usually simple. The first step is to create an account using either your email address or Facebook account. Facebook is often the best way to connect because crowdfunding relies heavily on social media to help spread the word about your cause.

Include as many details as you can about your friend and your relationship to her. Be sure to include what town your friend lives in and then upload photos and video to tell your friend’s story. Offer specifics about how the money will be used. People are more likely to donate when they know where their money is going.

If you start your fundraiser on a mobile device, it’s a good idea to go to your desktop or laptop computer later to make edits and add more details and images. Good-quality photos can increase the success of your fundraiser.

It’s best to set a reasonable goal at the beginning to give donors an attainable target. People want to donate and feel that their contribution is making a difference. You can always increase your goal later if fundraising goes well.

Remember, starting a crowdfunding page is just the first step. Be sure to make frequent and regular updates to keep people interested and to show that your page is active. Crowdfunding is a new concept for many, but a lot of people out there really do want to help.

SUCCESSFUL CROWDFUNDING // YouCaring offers additional tips for running a successful crowdfunding campaign. // CrowdCrux offers tips on crowdfunding medical bills and expenses. // Consumer Reports offers tips to avoid crowdfunding scams.

I’ve heard that steroids can have emotional and behavioral side effects. What should I watch out for when I take them?


David Piccioni, Neuro-oncologist and Clinical Pharmacologist at UC San Diego Health Photo courtesy of UC San Diego Health

DAVID PICCIONI: When people hear about steroids, they might think of bodybuilders who use anabolic steroids to build muscle. But people with cancer often take a different type of steroids, known as corticosteroids, not for bodybuilding, but as part of their treatment. For example, dexamethasone is frequently taken prior to undergoing chemotherapy to make treatment easier to tolerate. Steroids are often used to reduce swelling in patients with brain cancer.

In some cases, steroids can actually help improve a person’s mood, though large doses can lead to agitation or, in more serious cases, psychosis. People who take steroids over a long period and in large doses can develop anxiety or have trouble sleeping. They may hallucinate or may laugh or cry inappropriately. These side effects of steroids might be more likely in people who have an underlying psychiatric condition. If you have a history of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression or another psychiatric condition, let your doctor know, since steroids may worsen those conditions.

Your doctor might be able to help you manage the behavioral effects by changing the dose or timing of medication. Some people may benefit from splitting the dose over the course of the day to avoid a big rush all at once. If steroids are causing trouble sleeping, it may be helpful to condense the total daily dose into a single morning dose. Many people also benefit from taking medications to treat their insomnia or anxiety.

If a person begins to hear or see things that aren’t there or is not making sense, it’s an emergency, and he or she should be taken to the emergency room for an evaluation. For those experiencing more subtle emotional or behavioral symptoms, the doctor might change the steroid dose or perhaps add another medication to treat the symptoms. Side effects of steroids slowly resolve over a few days once you stop taking them.

TAKING STEROIDS // The Mayo Clinic reviews the risks and benefits of corticosteroids. // Cancer Research UK discusses steroids in cancer treatment. // Chemocare.com offers details on dexamethasone.