People can also reduce their exposure by limiting cell-phone use when the cellular signal is weak; when traveling in a high-speed car, bus or train; to stream audio or video; or to download or upload large files. All of these circumstances cause phones to put out higher-than-normal levels of RF energy. Phones also emit RF energy when connected to WiFi or Bluetooth devices, but at lower levels.
To find out about the state of research on the link between phones and cancer, we spoke with Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health and an expert in phone radiation who led a World Health Organization working group on the subject. In 2011, the WHO group deemed phone radiation “possibly carcinogenic,” which is less certain than other classifications, but isn’t an outright “no” either. Six years later, Samet said the evidence in either direction is still mixed and that for the time being, there remains “some indication” of risk.
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Still, despite the odds, these fears could be around for a while — because it’s hard to prove that cellphone radiation doesn’t cause harm. There are just too many combinations of genes, environmental exposures, patterns of cellphone use, plus a healthy helping of random chance to consider. It’s why we’re still having the conversation about whether coffee, for example, is good or bad for us. So while the bulk of evidence points to no health effects from cellphone radiation, the scientific literature is still somewhat mixed, Foster says. “Someone who wants to worry can pick and choose and find a lot of evidence that would support their theories.”
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Most of these early studies did not find an increase in the risk for developing tumors among mobile phone users. The main problem characterizing these studies stems from the fact that the development of cancer (in particular brain tumors) takes a very long time (at least 10-20 years and up to 40 years or more), while mobile phone technology is relatively new (as aforesaid, popular use began only in the mid-90s). Hence, these studies could not demonstrate risk even if such existed.
Wi-Fi radiation, which falls into the RF category, is similarly damaging – particularly for men who stand to suffer reproductive damage when RF-emitting devices such as laptops are positioned too closely to the groin area. Like with the issues caused by cell phone radiation, it’s best to keep laptop computers off your lap and away from your body as much as possible.
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There are fears that the electromagnetic radiation emitted from mobile phone handsets may harm health. In particular, there have been claims that it could affect the body’s cells, brain or immune system and increase the risk of developing a range of diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s. Laboratory tests on mice have shown that radiation from mobile phones can have an adverse effect on their overall health. It is still not clear whether those findings can be applied directly to humans. A study by scientists in Finland, published in 2002, suggested that the electromagnetic radiation did affect human brain tissue. But they played down their findings saying more research was needed to see if the effects were the same in living people. Another study by scientists in Sweden, also published in 2002, claimed to have found a link between analogue mobile phones and brain tumours. It suggested users of “first generation” phones had a 30% higher risk of developing tumours than people who did not. However, the findings were controversial and there have been no similar studies into the effects of modern GSM phones. There have also been reports of people suffering from headaches, fatigue and loss of concentration after using their mobile phones. However, these claims have not been scientifically substantiated.
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.”
In fact, nobody can really explain how exactly cellphone radiation could cause cancer, says Christopher Labos, a cardiologist and biostatistician at McGill University. “You don’t necessarily have to understand how something works to prove that it’s dangerous, but it would certainly make the case more compelling,” says Labos, who wrote a detailed analysis for Science-Based Medicine about the recent government cellphone radiation study.
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Radiofrequency radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation can be categorized into two types: ionizing (e.g., x-rays, radon, and cosmic rays) and non-ionizing (e.g., radiofrequency and extremely low frequency, or power frequency). Electromagnetic radiation is defined according to its wavelength and frequency, which is the number of cycles of a wave that pass a reference point per second. Electromagnetic frequencies are described in units called hertz (Hz).
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