When you talk, your voice is transmitted from the antenna as radio frequency radiation (RFR) between 800 MHz and 2,200 MHz. A range equal to the middle of microwave frequency and 20% to 80% of the radiation emitted is deposited in the user's head. The microwave radiation is absorbed and penetrates the area around the head, some reaching an inch, to an inch and a half into the brain. Exposure to this microwave RFR has shown to have serious health consequences. Laboratory studies have shown that radiation from cell phones expose the user to a wide range of health problems including:
But, dear reader, don’t think we’ve reached a “case closed” moment: Unfortunately, even the best evidence on cellphones and brain tumors is far from ideal. Remember, these cohort studies are still observational research — not experimental studies like RCTs. That means they can’t tell us about causation, and there are still many ways they could be biased.
To answer this question, Lloyd uses an analogy of “smoke and a chimney” to explain how a Pong case works. It is unfortunate — given Lloyd’s personal experience with electrohypersensitivity and his straightforward knowledge of how to measure RF exposure — that pure “smoke and mirrors” clouded his better judgement when reviewing the Pong case for cell phone radiation safety.
In March, however, a peer-review panel of 11 experts from industry and academia voted to advise the agency that it should raise the confidence level from “equivocal evidence” to “some evidence” of a link between cellphone radiation and brain tumors in male rats. (The female rats did not show evidence of a link between the radiation and such tumors.) Two panel members, Lydia Andrews-Jones of Allergan and Susan Felter of Procter & Gamble, proposed the risk upgrade.
In addition, the findings might be influenced by the fact that the study subjects owned cell phones that were in some cases manufactured two decades ago. The way we use cell phones and the networks they’re operated on have also changed since then. Last, cancer can develop slowly over decades, yet the studies have analyzed data over only about a five- to 20-year span.
So, what do these results in rodents mean for people? Not a whole lot, experts say. “Even with frequent daily use by the vast majority of adults, we have not seen an increase in events like brain tumors,” the FDA’s statement says. Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, agreed in an interview with The Associated Press. “The evidence for an association between cellphones and cancer is weak, and so far, we have not seen a higher cancer risk in people,” Brawley told the AP in a phone interview. “I am actually holding my cellphone up to my ear.”
He believes the FDA should put out guidance based on the results of the rat studies. “I would think it would be irresponsible to not put out indications to the public,” Melnick says. “Maintain a distance from this device from your children. Don’t sleep with your phone near your head. Use wired headsets. This would be something that the agencies could do right now.”
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people speculate, joke, or jokingly speculate that their cellphone might be giving them cancer. It comes from a very reasonable place of discomfort — few people understand how radiation works, we put our phones right beside our brains all the time, and technology in general often feels like it ought to be causing some sort of societal ill.
Among the hundreds of smartphone cases available for iPhone and a bevy of popular Android phones, there are some that claim to reduce the amount of radiation your body absorbs when you have the handset close to your body. Pong Research is a US brand that offers a range of products fitting this description, as is Cellsafe, a company based in Victoria, Australia.
An analysis of data from NCI's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program evaluated trends in cancer incidence in the United States. This analysis found no increase in the incidence of brain or other central nervous system cancers between 1992 and 2006, despite the dramatic increase in cell phone use in this country during that time (22).
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There are ongoing worries about whether cellphones can give you cancer — especially brain cancer, since our phones spend so much time near our faces. It’s true that cell phones do emit radiation. But it’s radiofrequency radiation, which is much lower energy than the ionizing radiation you’d get from an X-ray, or, say, nuclear fallout. Ionizing radiation can cause DNA damage that can eventually lead to cancer. But the radiofrequency radiation from a cellphone doesn’t work that way — and today’s results support that.
The researchers found other strange effects that muddied the interpretation of the studies: The rats exposed to cellphones seemed to outlive the rats in the control group, for example. There was no clear linear relationship between higher levels of cellphone exposure and more cancer at some tissue sites, and the cancer rate in the control group was lower than it should have been at other tissue sites.
A few other health concerns have been raised about cell phone use. One has been whether the RF waves from cell phones might interfere with medical devices such as heart pacemakers. According to the FDA, cell phones should not pose a major risk for the vast majority of pacemaker wearers. Still, people with pacemakers may want to take some simple precautions to help ensure that their cell phones don’t cause a problem, such as not putting the phone in a shirt pocket close to the pacemaker.
It’s true that cellphones do emit radiation. And radiation is a scary word for a lot of people, thanks in part to the horrific aftermath of nuclear accidents and photographs of victims of the nuclear bombs the US dropped on Japan in World War II. People hear radiation and they associate it with nuclear radiation and the bomb, says Geoffrey Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and author of the book Getting Risk Right. “There are all these associations and those are deeply ingrained in people. But it doesn’t apply here.”
Affirming research conducted back in the 1970s that brought to light some of the dangers associated with EMFs, scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more recently warned that ELF radiation alters calcium ion activity in cells, which regulates energy production, membrane function and integrity, and both central and peripheral nervous system health.
In subsequent analyses of Interphone data, investigators addressed issues of risk according to specific location of the tumor and estimated exposures. One analysis of data from seven of the countries in the Interphone study found no relationship between brain tumor location and regions of the brain that were exposed to the highest level of radiofrequency radiation from cell phones (9). However, another study, using data from five of the countries, reported suggestions of an increased risk of glioma and, to a lesser extent, of meningioma developing in areas of the brain experiencing the highest exposure (10).