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.
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