The papers found that, in male rats, there was “clear evidence” that exposure to cell phone radiation increased risk for a rare type of malignant tumor called schwannoma in the connective tissues that surround nerves in the heart (they found “equivocal” evidence for the same thing in female rats). They also found “some evidence” that the radiation caused malignant glioma—a type of brain cancer affecting glial cells—in the male rats.
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.
Forced to take action, the cell phone industry set up a non-profit organization, Wireless Technology Research (WTR), to perform the study. Dr. Carlo developed the program outline and was asked to head the research. Oversight of the issue was charged to the FDA, though it could have and probably should have gone to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which fought hard for jurisdiction. But the industry had enough influence in Washington to get whatever overseer it wanted. It simply didn’t want to tangle with EPA because, says Dr. Carlo, “… the EPA is tough.”
The first one is easy, cellular frequencies vary between 450–2000MHz, but 800 or 900 MHz is the most common. The power emitted by a cell phone varies over the course of the call (higher when making initial contact, which lasts a few seconds). It can go up to 2 Watts at the start of a call, and can go down to .02 Watts during optimal operation . Of course, most people barely use cell phones for calls, but I am using this example as a worst case scenario, because the phone is not right by your head when you are browsing Tinder.
In the studies, the researchers looked at a whole slew of health outcomes (like offspring survival, bodyweight changes, and body temperature changes), but importantly, they also looked at brain tumors, including gliomas. They exposed the animals to radio frequency radiation for up to nine hours a day over two years, and then examined more than 40 tissues in each animal. And they had a control group that wasn’t exposed to radiation for comparison.
Specifically, we looked for studies that measured rates of acoustic neuromas, gliomas, meningiomas, and thyroid cancers. We also narrowed our search to studies that looked at the effect of radio-frequency radiation originating from an actual cellphone, rather than experimental equipment. We did this because we wanted evidence that could apply to real life, not specific laboratory settings or hypothetical outcomes.
There’s a broad range of radiation types, and lots of harmless things emit radiation — like bananas, Brazil nuts, and granite countertops, according to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The type of radiation that comes out of our cellphones isn’t the same radiation that’s released by nuclear fallout or X-rays. Cellphone radiation, also known as radiofrequency radiation, is much weaker — so it can’t cause the same kind of cell damage that can lead to cancer.
In theory, men may be more vulnerable to cellphone radiation’s effects on fertility than women. Sperm cells are made and stored in testicles, whereas egg cells are stored in ovaries. And the location of these two organs means that sperm and eggs have different levels of protection from radiation. Testicles sit outside of the abdomen, which makes them more sensitive to radiation. And, well, a phone often sits in your front pocket.