Today’s report, the final one, was about a decade in the making and is the last of several versions that have been released since preliminary results were presented in May 2016. It represents the consensus of NTP scientists and a group of external reviewers, according to the release. In the future, the NTP plans to conduct studies in smaller exposure chambers and to use biomarkers such as DNA damage to gauge cancer risk. These changes in the experimental setup should mean that future studies will take less time.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a component of the World Health Organization, appointed an expert Working Group to review all available evidence on the use of cell phones. The Working Group classified cell phone use as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence from human studies, limited evidence from studies of radiofrequency radiation and cancer in rodents, and inconsistent evidence from mechanistic studies (4).
The research continued, and what it uncovered would be a dire warning to cell phone users and the industry’s worst nightmare. When the findings were ready for release in 1998, the scientists were suddenly confronted with another challenge: the industry wanted to take over public dissemination of the information, and it tried everything it could to do so. It was faced with disaster and had a lot to lose.
A cellular phone is basically a radio that sends signals on waves to a base station. The carrier signal generates two types of radiation fields: a near-field plume and a far-field plume. Living organisms, too, generate electromagnetic fields at the cellular, tissue, organ, and organism level; this is called the biofield. Both the near-field and far-field plumes from cell phones and in the environment can wreak havoc with the human biofield, and when the biofield is compromised in any way, says Dr. Carlo, so is metabolism and physiology.
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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Take a closer look at the product claims. Many refer to their “shielding technology” and not the product itself. In many cases, the “FCC Certified” labs they cite are actually testing how much RF the raw shielding material can block. They’re testing the materials used in the products. They’re not testing how much RF the actual products block while on a real-world phone.
A recent large study by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) exposed large groups of lab rats and mice to RF energy over their entire bodies for about 9 hours a day, starting before birth and continuing for up to 2 years (which is the equivalent of about 70 years for humans, according to NTP scientists). The study found an increased risk of tumors called malignant schwannomas of the heart in male rats exposed to RF radiation, as well as possible increased risks of certain types of tumors in the brain and adrenal glands. But some aspects of this study make it hard to know just how well these results might be applied to cell phone use in people. For example, there was no clear increased risk among female rats or among male or female mice in the study. The doses of RF radiation in the study were also generally higher than those used in cell phones (ranging from 1.5 W/kg to 6 W/kg in rats, and 2.5 W/kg to 10 W/kg in mice), the animals’ entire bodies were exposed, and the amount of time they were exposed was longer than most people typically spend on the phone each day. The male rats in the study exposed to RF waves also lived longer, on average, than the rats who were not exposed, for unclear reasons. Because of this, the NTP has noted that the study results cannot be directly applied to humans. Still, the results add to the evidence that cell phone signals might potentially impact human health.
The RF waves from cell phones come from the antenna, which is part of the body of a hand-held phone. The waves are strongest at the antenna and lose energy quickly as they travel away from the phone. The phone is typically held against the side of the head when in use. The closer the antenna is to the head, the greater a person’s expected exposure to RF energy. The body tissues closest to the phone absorb more energy than tissues farther away.
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.
Researchers need funding to move fast to study the potential health effects of 5G networks and how they might change our exposures to radiation. “So far, we’ve got research that’s done on 3G and 4G but not 5G,” said Brawley of the American Cancer Society. “We do think the answers [about cell radiation’s cancer effects] for 5G may be different from the answers for 4G or 3G. ... As these types of radio waves and energy change over time, the answers [about their health effects] may change.”
As a result, stories about a single nuclear meltdown or possible link between cellphone radiation and cancer will be amplified much more than news about the nine people who probably died today in the US from distracted driving. “This possible health effect from radiation is pretty esoteric at this point. If there is anything there, it seems to me like it’s going to be very, very small,” says Kenneth R. Foster, a bioengineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been investigating whether there are biological effects from radio waves since the 1970s. “Driving and texting, people get killed doing that — but it’s not a very exciting risk to worry about.”
First, studies have not yet been able to follow people for very long periods of time. When tumors form after a known cancer-causing exposure, it often takes decades for them to develop. Because cell phones have been in widespread use for only about 20 years in most countries, it is not possible to rule out future health effects that have not yet appeared.
In 2015, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks concluded that, overall, the epidemiologic studies on cell phone radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation exposure do not show an increased risk of brain tumors or of other cancers of the head and neck region (2). The Committee also stated that epidemiologic studies do not indicate increased risk for other malignant diseases, including childhood cancer (2).
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The CERENAT study, another case–control study conducted in multiple areas in France from 2004 to 2006 using data collected in face-to-face interviews using standardized questionnaires (18). This study found no association for either gliomas or meningiomas when comparing regular cell phone users with non-users. However, the heaviest users had significantly increased risks of both gliomas and meningiomas.