Study revived this week ties cell phone use to sperm count

Cleveland Clinic's research on 361 men in 2004-2005 to be followed by further study

Reports on the Web of a three-year-old study that linked cell phone usage to men's fertility has created new interest in a follow-up study headed by the same Ohio-based researcher.

The first study was conducted in 2004 and 2005 by a team led by Dr. Ashok Agarwal of The Cleveland Clinic. It analyzed 361 men who visited an infertility clinic and found that sperm count and quality was "significantly lower" in men who used cell phones for more than fours hours a day.

Agarwal is now in the "early stages" of a follow-up study. "The second study is an in vitro study where we are testing the effect of cell phone radiation on semen specimens from normal healthy men and men with male infertility," Agarwal said in an e-mail to Computerworld.

"This study is very different from the first study as the first one was an observational study where patients were asked to fill out a simple questionnaire related to their cell phone use, and the results of that survey were correlated with the results of their semen analysis. The new pilot study is ongoing and should accrue adequate sample size in the next two weeks," Agarwal said.

Agarwal presented findings of the first study at a medical conference in October 2006, which led to a flurry of news coverage at the time. Recent publication of the findings on the Web sparked a spate of articles on the Web and on national television newscasts.

Agarwal and his associates published the results in a scientific journal, Fertility and Sterility (PDF format) and also in a shorter form in Urology News (PDF format).

The Urology News article appeared last year, but the longer version was distributed at sciencedirect.com last month, which apparently led to the recent surge in media attention, said clinic spokeswoman Lisa Bast.

"There's been a lot of attention on the story, and we've had several calls in the last couple days," said Bast.

Agarwal reportedly told Reuters in a story widely posted on the Web this week that the original study is being followed up by two studies on the topic, one with a larger group. However, Bast said there is apparently only one follow-up study under way.

The press first paid attention to the topic after Agarwal presented the results in October 2006 to a medical conference, she added. But the revived attention is probably because of the publication of the full data, she said.

Responses to the news articles on the Web blasted the research for surfacing again when it concerns a relatively small research sample.

"Wasn't that the same study from a while ago that was written about in the press in 2006?" asked Joe Farren, a spokesman for the CTIA-the Wireless Association. "You can't draw any conclusions from that."

Farren said CTIA and its wireless carrier members have been careful to track studies regarding any impact from wireless usage on the human body. "We support good science and always have," Farren said. "It's important to look at studies that are peer-reviewed and published in leading journals and to listen to the experts."

Farren said CTIA has found that many studies show that "there is no association between health risks and wireless usage." That goes for the impact of wireless usage on the brain or any part of the body, he added. Federal regulators limit the electromagnetic frequency emissions from phones, and manufacturers' EMF emissions are well below those limits, he said.

Farren pointed to a study out of Japan released this week that discounts previous links between cell phone use and cancer.

And he noted that the American Cancer Society has said that cell phone use and cancer is one of the "Top 10 Cancer Myths."

However, the National Cancer Institute has laid out a summary of research into the subject, and notes on its Web site that "overall, research has not consistently demonstrated a link between cellular telephone use and cancer or any other adverse health effect."

As for the impact of cell phone usage on sperm quality, Farren said CTIA is awaiting the results of further study.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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