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.
Searching PubMed for studies published in the past 10 years, we found 102 studies that ultimately resulted in 12 relevant systematic reviews. To limit bias in our assessment of the literature, we used a validated critical appraisal tool called AMSTAR to determine the quality of each review. Eight of the reviews were critically low quality, two were low quality, and two were moderate quality.
“We see either no change or very small increases in incidence in some tumor types,” Quinn Ostrom, the Baylor College of Medicine researcher who has been analyzing these cancer trends, explained. “I would be inclined to say this isn’t as much of an increase as you might expect if cellphones were causative [of brain tumors] due to the very sharp way use of these devices has gone up over the last 20 years.”
Of course, scientific seesawing like that doesn’t provide a lot of clarity or confidence for the 90 percent of American adults and roughly 80 percent of teens who report having a cell phone. So how concerned should you be about cell-phone radiation? Consumer Reports’ health and safety experts conducted a thorough review of the research and offer some guidance.
But he cautioned that the exposure levels and durations were far greater than what people typically encounter, and thus cannot “be compared directly to the exposure that humans experience.” Moreover, the rat study examined the effects of a radio frequency associated with an early generation of cellphone technology, one that fell out of routine use years ago. Any concerns arising from the study thus would seem to apply mainly to early adopters who used those bygone devices, not to users of current models.
Another part of the INTERPHONE study compared more than 1,000 people with acoustic neuromas to more than 2,000 people without tumors, who served as matched controls. As with gliomas and meningiomas, there was no overall link between cell phone use and acoustic neuromas. There was again a suggestion of a possible increased risk in the 10% of people who used their cell phones the most, but this was hard to interpret because some people reported implausibly high cell phone use, as well as other issues.
What the study showed: Most published analyses from this study have shown no statistically significant increases in brain or central nervous system cancers related to higher amounts of cell phone use. One analysis showed a statistically significant, although modest, increase in the risk of glioma among the small proportion of study participants who spent the most total time on cell phone calls. However, the researchers considered this finding inconclusive because they felt that the amount of use reported by some respondents was unlikely and because the participants who reported lower levels of use appeared to have a slightly reduced risk of brain cancer compared with people who did not use cell phones regularly (4–6).