But scientists disagree on how real—or how serious—these risks really are, and studies have not established any definitive links between health problems and radiofrequency (RF) energy, the type of radiation emitted by cell phones. “This document is intended to provide guidance for people who want to reduce their own and their families’ exposure to RF energy from cell phones,” the guidelines state, “despite this uncertainty.”
This 2009 meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, looked at 23 case-control studies of the risk of both malignant and benign tumors from mobile phone use. When the authors included all 23, they found no increased risk of tumors. When they crunched certain subsets of the data — like looking only at studies that were blinded, or people who used cellphones for 10 or more years — they did find increases in tumor risks. Confusingly, when they divided up the analysis by tumor type, they found no increase in risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and a decrease in risk of meningioma.
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.
The frequency of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation ranges from 30 kilohertz (30 kHz, or 30,000 Hz) to 300 gigahertz (300 GHz, or 300 billion Hz). Electromagnetic fields in the radiofrequency range are used for telecommunications applications, including cell phones, televisions, and radio transmissions. The human body absorbs energy from devices that emit radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. The dose of the absorbed energy is estimated using a measure called the specific absorption rate (SAR), which is expressed in watts per kilogram of body weight.