Every day, we’re swimming in a sea of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) produced by electrical appliances, power lines, wiring in buildings, and a slew of other technologies that are part of modern life. From the dishwasher and microwave oven in the kitchen and the clock radio next to your bed, to the cellular phone you hold to your ear—sometimes for hours each day—exposure to EMR is growing and becoming a serious health threat.
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Another part of the INTERPHONE study compared more than 1,000 people with acoustic neuromas to more than 2,000 people without tumors, who served as matched controls. As with gliomas and meningiomas, there was no overall link between cell phone use and acoustic neuromas. There was again a suggestion of a possible increased risk in the 10% of people who used their cell phones the most, but this was hard to interpret because some people reported implausibly high cell phone use, as well as other issues.
This is why it’s important to always use either your phone’s speakerphone or an appropriate wired earpiece whenever possible, avoiding direct contact between your phone and your ear or hand. The best earpieces are those equipped with hollow tubing between the antenna in the wire and the earpiece, as these help maximize the distance between the radiation-emitting antenna and your head.
“I think the overall evidence that wireless radiation might cause adverse health effects is now strong enough that it’s almost unjustifiable for government agencies and scientists not to be alerting the public to the potential hazards,” says David O. Carpenter, M.D., director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in New York and one of the authors of the recent letter to the U.N. and WHO.
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An analysis of data from all 13 countries participating in the Interphone study reported a statistically significant association between intracranial distribution of tumors within the brain and self-reported location of the phone (7). However, the authors of this study noted that it is not possible to draw firm conclusions about cause and effect based on their findings.
W. Kim Johnson, a retired physicist and past president of the New Mexico Academy of Science, reviewed the Aires web site for Discovery News and described the material as gibberish, saying that the authors "of the technical description of the ‘Aires' device reads like a random selection of technical terminology. The working description for this device is made up of jargon that, in the end, really says nothing."
Though some findings were reassuring, others do raise concerns. Specifically, three of the studies—one from Sweden, another from France, and a third that combined data from 13 countries—suggest a connection between heavy cell-phone use and gliomas, tumors that are usually cancerous and often deadly. One of those studies also hinted at a link between cell phones and acoustic neuromas (noncancerous tumors), and two studies hinted at meningiomas, a relatively common but usually not deadly brain tumor.
In 2011, two small studies were published that examined brain glucose metabolism in people after they had used cell phones. The results were inconsistent; whereas one study showed increased glucose metabolism in the region of the brain close to the antenna compared with tissues on the opposite side of the brain (26), the other study (27) found reduced glucose metabolism on the side of the brain where the phone was used.
Since speaking with Samet, further details came out from a large study that beamed high levels of phone radiation at rats and mice. While there remain quirks in the findings, the latest evidence still doesn’t find a link between phone radiation and cancer. In response, the FDA said, “Taken together, all of this research ... [has] given us the confidence that the current safety limits for cell phone radiation remain acceptable for protecting the public health.”
That’s why randomized controlled trials (RCTs) often yield fairly clear answers about the effectiveness of treatments compared to other study designs. (Fun fact: Scottish doctor James Lind, a clinical trial pioneer, figured out that citrus fruits seemed to have an effect on scurvy using one of the earliest RCTs.) RCTs can also be used to study whether something, like cellphone radiation, can cause disease.
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Although recall bias is minimized in studies such as COSMOS that link participants to their cell phone records, such studies face other problems. For example, it is impossible to know who is using the listed cell phone or whether that individual also places calls using other cell phones. To a lesser extent, it is not clear whether multiple users of a single phone, for example family members who may share a device, will be represented on a single phone company account. Additionally, for many long-term cohort studies, participation tends to decline over time.