Cell Phone Use May Increase Cancer Risk
Recently, World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
This announcement was based on an extensive review of studies on cell phone safety by a working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries, who have been meeting regularly to evaluate the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. They reviewed exposure data, studies of cancer in humans and experimental animal models, and other relevant data.
Results from the largest international study on cell phones and cancer was released in 2010. It showed participants in the study who used a cell phone for 10 years or more had doubled the rate of brain glioma, a type of tumor. To date, there have been no long-term studies on the effects of cell phone usage among children.
“Children’s skulls and scalps are thinner. So, the radiation can penetrate deeper into the brain of children and young adults. Their cells are at a dividing faster rate, so the impact of radiation can be much larger,” said Black of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
A 2011 study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, revealed radiation emitted after just 50 minutes on a mobile phone increases the activity in brain cells. The effects of brain activity being artificially stimulated are still unknown.
The European Environmental Agency has pushed for more studies, saying cell phones could be as big a public health risk as smoking, asbestos and leaded gasoline. The head of a prominent cancer-research institute at the University of Pittsburgh sent a memo to all employees urging them to limit cell phone use because of a possible risk of cancer.
“When you look at cancer development, particularly brain cancer, it takes a long time to develop. I think it is a good idea to give the public some sort of warning that long-term exposure to radiation from your cell phone could possibly cause cancer,” said Dr. Henry Lai, research professor in bioengineering at University of Washington who has studied radiation for more than 30 years.
The type of radiation coming out of a cell phone is called non-ionizing. It is not like an X-ray, but more like a very low-powered microwave oven.
“What microwave radiation does in most simplistic terms is similar to what happens to food in microwaves, essentially cooking the brain,” Black said. “So, in addition to leading to a development of cancer and tumors, there could be a whole host of other effects like cognitive memory function, since the memory temporal lobes are where we hold our cell phones.”
Manufacturers of many popular cell phones already warn consumers to keep their device away from their body.
The Apple iPhone 4 safety manual says users’ radiation exposure should not exceed FCC guidelines: “When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 millimeters (5/8 inch) away from the body.”
BlackBerry Bold advises users to “keep the BlackBerry device at least 0.98 inch (25 millimeters) from your body when the BlackBerry device is transmitting.”
The logic behind such recommendations is that the further the phone is from the body, the less radiation is absorbed. Users can also use the speakerphone function or a wired earpiece to gain some distance. Learn more about strategies to reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation.
Jonathan Samet, MD, chairman of the working group, notes that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification.
“The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk,” he said in a news release.
A full report summarizing the main conclusions and evaluations of the IARC Working Group will be published online soon in The Lancet Oncology and in print version on July 1 issue.