Thursday, July 21, 2011

Back to QRP

In a comment to one of my posts on my other blog, Roger G3XBM wondered whether exposure to materials used in electronic construction such as PVC, lead solder, flux etc. might have contributed to my having a malignant brain tumour. I have never worked in the electronics industry and it was mainly during my teens and in the last few years that I have melted solder to any great extent. I suspect my exposure has been quite a lot less than that of professional engineers and many other hams, so personally I doubt this is the cause, though I guess it could be one of those things like smoking and lung cancer where if you've done it at all you increase the risk.

The other thing Roger mentioned was exposure to RF. This was something I kept on thinking about during the days I was in the hospital bed staring at the ceiling. Could using antennas in the attic a few feet from my head have caused the tumour to develop? Or perhaps it was using hand-held VHF radios?

With the logic of the ignorant I was inclined to dismiss the fears. I have never been a particularly prolific operator and only in the last couple of years have I run more than 10 watts to my attic antennas. I suppose my liking for digital modes may have increased the strength of the RF fields I was subjected to. 40W of PSK31 is probably a more intense exposure than 100W PEP of SSB.

As a right-handed person my HTs are usually held on the right hand side of my face - the side the tumour was. Coincidence or not? On the other hand, most people on the planet use mobile phones far more than I do and they aren't all dying of brain tumours. Would doctors use radio waves to kill cancerous tumours if exposure to RF caused them? I don't know.

Mike G4GOC found an extract of an article "Increased mortality in amateur radio operators due to lymphatic and hematopoietic malignancies" which appears to suggest a link between RF exposure and myeloid leukemia. So I guess getting as much distance between yourself and a transmitting antenna is always going to be a good idea, hard though that is to achieve for people living on postage stamp sized plots like so many of us on this small island.

There may be no proof that anything I did in pursuit of my hobby contributed to this brain tumour, but ever since returning home and getting some of my interest in ham radio back again I have felt uneasy about being close to an RF field. Yesterday I took the K3/100 and the Kenwood 50W 2m rig off the shack desk and put them away. Perhaps I'll have a change of heart but it's going to be QRP for me right now. If I could go back in my life and do anything different that would have avoided getting this brain tumour I would do so. I just don't know for sure that carrying on as I did before won't harm my chances of beating the bugger or at least keeping it at bay for a while longer.


VE9KK said...

Good morning Julian, I too have often wondered if there was a link between RF and cancer. I know the cell companies are not going out of there way to find out. At the same time what frequency and power levels are the dangerous ones....? It's likes years ago no cigarette company was telling us smoking causes cancer. But now that is a fact and it was not due to the cigarette companies letting the cat out of the bag. There is one thing I do know and that is cancer is on the increase. All of us know someone who has had it or is dealing with it. That must be proof in itself that there are elements out there...RF, magnetic fields, food, air born agents and so on that are in some way harming us. I have always kept my power levels to 5 watts or less. Not because of cancer (but my thoughts are going down that road now) but due to letting the cat out of the bag that I was a ham in a non ham friendly development. Julian you don't have to pack up the K3. I use mine all the way down to the 500mw level.

Unknown said...

There's a whole can of worms waiting to be opened, I think. Some people are concerned about the effects of being permanently bathed with low levels of GHz radio waves from wi-fi routers, something else I've been exposed to for years as a home-worker and early adopter of technology.

You're right that I don't have to pack up my K3. But to my mind QRP is not just about using low power, it is also about using simpler equipment, and going back to using the K2 I built in 1999 seems like a way to achieve that.

Dick said...

Wise move shifting back to your old QRP habits. Very difficult to convince many USA hams of at least the possibility of the danger. Any modest proposal of such a thing results in instant mockery.

I wish you well.

Bon courage.

Unknown said...

Next time someone says "life's too short for QRP" I shall say that it could end up short still if you don't.

My good old K2 has just made its first JT65A contact at 5W. Things could be worse.

Jeff Davis, KE9V said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry W2LJ said...


We can all be second guessers. Can RF exposure cause tumors/cancer? I think it's fuzzy science at best. Of course, one can sit around in a house all day and do absolutely nothing to cause any future illnesses; but what kind of life would that be?

Personally, I spent a number of years of my life in the photo lab business. I remember being up to my armpit in color developer, freeing photo paper that jammed midway during the process.

I can sit around and worry about that; but what's past is past and I can't change my previous stupid behavior anyway. So ......

Best to you and again, my prayers and thoughts are with you.

Larry W2LJ

Rob said...

The saying "cause no harm" is still wise today.
There is a leading brain surgeon in Australia who has been crusading against mobile phones for years, claiming they contribute to brain tumours.

Besides qrp is fun, sort of like using a self bow for hunting.

May God's blessings be upon you and your good wife Julian.