Sheryl Crow Believes Cell Phone Caused Her Brain Tumor

As we reported in March, singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow has been diagnosed with a meningioma last November. A menigioma is a benign brain tumor that grows not inside the brain itself, but from the covering that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It was found on an MRI when the 50-year-old began to experience memory problems-even forgetting the lyrics to her own songs!

This week, she spoke about her tumor, on the first episode of Katie Couric‘s new talk show, Katie.

Although the cause of her symptoms were attributed to other things (lack of sleep, perimenopause) for two years, Crow still felt something was “not right.” She was performing at the Cleveland Clinic at a benefit for Scott Hamilton (who himself has had recurrent craniopharyngeomas) when Crow asked Hamilton if his physician could set up an MRI for her.

Her tumor, which is “about the size of the end of [her] pinkie” is located in the right temporal area.

Although her physicians won’t say so, Crow believes that her meningioma may have been caused by excessive use of a cell phone many years ago.

“When I was promoting my first record, I did hours of “phoners” on one of those old archaic cell phones”

Meningioma and Breast Cancer

It should be noted that Crow is also a breast cancer survivor, having been diagnosed in 2006. Several research studies have noted “a unique association” between meningioma and breast cancer.

Both tumors are most prevalent in the same age group (women in their 40’s through 60’s), pregnancy increases the risk of meningioma, and both tumors have been found to have higher numbers of estrogen and progesterone (female hormone) receptors.

Women with meningiomas are 40 percent more likely to have breast cancer than those without, and are 50 percent more likely to have endometriosis. Endometriosis is a disease where the tissue that makes up the lining of the uterus (womb) grows in other areas of the pelvis.

Meningiomas and Cell Phones

According to the Brain Science Foundation, this year, approximately 21,270 people in the United States will be diagnosed with a meningioma, and current estimates suggest more than 206,900 Americans are living with a meningioma or have been treated for a
meningioma.

Do cell phones generate enough RF (radio frequency) electromagnetic radiation to induce gene mutations and thus increase the risk of brain tumors? With  279 million wireless subscribers in the United States alone, the answer to this question could have enormous public health consequences.

According to the National Cancer Institute, radiofrequency energy emitted by cell phones can be absorbed by tissues. However the only known biological effect of this energy is heating (that’s why they’re used in microwave ovens). Unlike the ionizing radiation in X-rays or cosmic rays, radio frequency energy is not known to cause damage to DNA.

A number of studies have been done to examine the association of meningioma (and other brain tumors) with cell phone usage. So far, little evidence exists for an association. But problems with these studies have been noted. The sample size, especially in regard to meningiomas are relatively small. Also, the way studies define the measurements of cell phone usage is inconsistent and crude, and the follow-up times are still relatively short.

One of the largest (and most recent) studies, by the Interphone Study Group reported:

“Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation.”

In the meantime, the FDA and FCC have suggested some steps that concerned cell phone users can take to reduce their exposure to radiofrequency energy:

  • Reserve the use of cell phones for shorter conversations or for times when a land-line phone is not available.
  • Use a hands-free device, which places more distance between the phone and the head of the user.

Hands-free kits reduce the amount of radio frequency energy exposure to the head because the antenna, which is the source of energy, is not placed against the head.

Do children have a higher risk of developing cancer due to cell phone use than adults?

In theory, children have the potential to be at greater risk than adults for developing brain cancer from cell phones. Their nervous systems are still developing and therefore more vulnerable to factors that may cause cancer. Their heads are smaller than those of adults and therefore have a greater proportional exposure to the field of radio frequency radiation that is emitted by cell phones. And children have the potential of accumulating more years of cell phone exposure than adults do.

So far, the data from clinical studies in children do not support this theory, however several studies are ongoing.

BTW, I see a trend in younger people that decreases their RF exposure. By text messaging they are letting their fingers do a lot of the talking.


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

1 Comment

  1. A Researcher

    September 14, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    An additional problem with the cell phone studies are the drastic differences between studies funded by industry and those not. Check out:

    Source of Funding and Results of Studies of Health Effects of Mobile Phone Use: Systematic Review of Experimental Studies in…

    Environ Health Perspect 115:1Ð4 (2007). doi:10.1289/ehp.9149 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 15 September 2006]

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