Cell phones work by sending signals to (and receiving them from) nearby cell towers (base stations) using RF waves. This is a form of electromagnetic energy that falls between FM radio waves and microwaves. Like FM radio waves, microwaves, visible light, and heat, RF waves are a form of non-ionizing radiation. They don’t have enough energy to cause cancer by directly damaging the DNA inside cells. RF waves are different from stronger (ionizing) types of radiation such as x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet (UV) light, which can break the chemical bonds in DNA.
The exact source of radiation in a cell phone is from the transmitter, a device located near the antenna that converts audio data into electromagnetic waves. The amount of radiation a cell phone can emit is limited by legal restrictions in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Additionally, the average radiation levels of most mobile phones are available to the public, courtesy of the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S.
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.
Leibovich was very careful to point out in our interview that Cellsafe is not claiming that the radiation absorbed by the body during phone use leads to health issues like brain tumours, male infertility or damage to unborn babies. But the Cellsafe website strongly suggests these links. Its homepage (image below) leads with the phrase "You should be concerned!" in an eye-catching red, and there is as much screen real estate on the site dedicated to information about the dangers of radiation, as there is for descriptions of the Cellsafe products. This information refers to "high levels of RF radiation" in several places, but it doesn't say whether this describes radiation from phone use.
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.
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The science is still out on whether the long-term use of cell phones—which emit electromagnetic radiation when they send and receive signals from towers or WiFi devices—can affect human health. But for people who want to reduce their exposure to this type of energy, the California Department of Public Health has published new guidelines on how to do just that.
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) released a fact sheet about these issues, shortly after the IARC re-classification, entitled "Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones". The fact sheet points to the findings of the IARC and describes some of the known short-term and long-term effects of phone use, but ultimately, it lands on the side of where the most conclusive evidence exists:
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.