The link between pregnant women who live near cell phone towers and the risk that their children may develop leukemia or other cancers in infancy was dismissed Wednesday by a major medical study.

The largest investigation of its kind, published by the British Medical Journal, said expectant parents who live near a phone tower should be reassured.

It looked at 1,397 children across Britain who developed cancer by the age of five between 1999 and 2001. These kids were matched against four healthy kids by sex and date of birth, selected from Britain's national birth register.

The researchers then compared the proximity of the healthy and unwell children to cell phone masts, calculating the level of electromagnetic radiation they were exposed to in their homes.

They concluded that children with cancer were no likelier to have a birth address near a radio antenna than those who were healthy.

"People are worried that living near a mobile (cell) phone mast might affect their children's health," said Paul Elliott, a professor at Imperial College London, who led the study.

"We looked at this question with respect to risk of cancers in young children. We found no pattern to suggest that the children of moms living near a base station during pregnancy had a greater risk of developing cancer than those who lived elsewhere."

The researchers said their work cast the widest data net so far in exploring the feared link between early childhood cancer and cell phone towers.

The scare spread in Britain due to apparent clusters of cancers near phone relay stations.

These clusters were hard to evaluate but may be skewed by faulty or selective data — in other words, when and where the cases occurred may have been random rather than a pattern, the paper said.

The authors cautioned that they were unable to get information about individual exposure among mothers-to-be to a mobile phone handset. Electromagnetic radiation from a handset during conversation is many times higher than that from a phone tower.

And they added the predictable caveat that their focus was only on early childhood cancers, not on cancers that develop in later phases of life.

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