For decades, health experts have struggled to determine whether or not cellphones can cause cancer. On Thursday, a federal agency released the final results of what experts call the world’s largest and most costly experiment to look into the question. The study originated in the Clinton administration, cost $30 million and involved some 3,000 rodents.
Cell phone radiation refers to radiation in the form of electromagnetic waves that is emitted from mobile phones. This type of radiation takes the form of radio waves that are near the microwave range. The amount of radiation that a given cell phone will emit depends on the exact frequency of the radiation, as well as whether the device is using an analog signal or a digital one. There has been speculation that large amounts of cell phone radiation could be hazardous to the user's health, but there are no conclusive scientific findings on the subject.
The Working Group indicated that, although the human studies were susceptible to bias, the findings could not be dismissed as reflecting bias alone, and that a causal interpretation could not be excluded. The Working Group noted that any interpretation of the evidence should also consider that the observed associations could reflect chance, bias, or confounding rather than an underlying causal effect. In addition, the Working Group stated that the investigation of risk of cancer of the brain associated with cell phone use poses complex methodologic challenges in the conduct of the research and in the analysis and interpretation of findings.
In 2011, researchers at the National Institutes of Health showed that low-level radiation from an activated cell phone held close to a human head could change the way certain brain cells functioned, even without raising body temperature. The study did not prove that the effect on brain cells was dangerous, only that radiation from cell phones could have a direct effect on human tissue.
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In this frequency range, the interaction between matter and light is via the electric field component of light (totally different from how ionizing radiation messes you up). In particular, an oscillating electric field causes polar molecules to rotate or attempt to rotate, and the lag between the applied field and the response of the molecules manifests as dissipation—i.e. heating [3]. This is the same dielectric heating which is the operating principle behind microwave ovens (which operate at 2450 MHz [4] similar to wifi). So if cell phones were to cause damage to tissue, the mechanism would be the same as what happens in a microwave oven—boiling the water in your head/body.
Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from x-rays, is known to increase the risk of cancer. However, although many studies have examined the potential health effects of non-ionizing radiation from radar, microwave ovens, cell phones, and other sources, there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk in humans (2).