Overall, the reviews of case-control studies seem to suggest there is perhaps no risk of cancer with cellphone use — unless you look at some subgroups (like people in blinded studies or people with long-term exposures). But these reviews are based on case-control studies — which are like the National Enquirer of the science world: cheap and often misleading.
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:
3. A lab setting is the only legitimate way to show the effectiveness of our technology for a few main reasons: one, a controlled source is the only way to conduct a scientific study. Note that the controlled source that we used was specifically designed to simulate emissions from wireless electronics (RF and ELF emissions of various frequencies). Two, ambient levels in a non-controlled environment will affect readings, rendering the results inaccurate. Three, at-home equipment such as the meter used in the video is not suitable for the types of emissions by a wireless device, nor are they reliable.
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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.
Finally, the measurement of cell phone use in most studies has been crude. Most have been case-control studies, which have relied on people’s memories about their past cell phone use. In these types of studies, it can be hard to interpret any possible link between cancer and an exposure. People with cancer are often looking for a possible reason for it, so they may sometimes (even subconsciously) recall their phone usage differently than people without cancer.
Limit your (and your children’s) cell phone use. This is one of the most obvious ways to limit your exposure to RF waves from cell phones. You may want to use your cell phone only for shorter conversations, or use it only when a conventional phone is not available. Parents who are concerned about their children’s exposure can limit how much time they spend on the phone.
Cell-phone designs have changed a lot since the studies described above were completed. For example, the antennas—where most of the radiation from cell phones is emitted—are no longer located outside of phones near the top, closest to your brain when you talk, but are inside the phone, and they can be toward the bottom. As a result, the antenna may not be held against your head when you’re on the phone. That’s important because when it comes to cell-phone radiation, every millimeter counts: The strength of exposure drops dramatically as the distance from your body increases.
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When you make a phone call, just flip the shielded front cover down when you put the phone against your head. It’s that simple. By keeping the shielded front cover closed while against any part of your body, a barrier is created to protect from a broad spectrum of potentially harmful cell phone radiation emissions, yet won’t affect signal quality. You can use your cell phone with a higher sense of safety by simply keeping the shielded flip cover between your body and radiation-emitting source.
Use the speaker mode on the phone or a hands-free device such as a corded or cordless earpiece. This moves the antenna away from your head, which decreases the amount of RF waves that reach the head. Corded earpieces emit virtually no RF waves (although the phone itself still emits small amounts of RF waves that can reach parts of the body if close enough, such as on the waist or in a pocket). Bluetooth® earpieces have an SAR value of around 0.001 watts/kg (less than one thousandth the SAR limit for cell phones as set by the FDA and FCC).
RF waves from cell phones have also been shown to produce “stress” proteins in human cells, according to research from Martin Blank, Ph.D., a special lecturer in the department of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University and another signer of the recent letter to the WHO and U.N. “These proteins are used for protection,” Blank says. “The cell is saying that RF is bad for me and it has to do something about it.”
That’s why randomized controlled trials (RCTs) often yield fairly clear answers about the effectiveness of treatments compared to other study designs. (Fun fact: Scottish doctor James Lind, a clinical trial pioneer, figured out that citrus fruits seemed to have an effect on scurvy using one of the earliest RCTs.) RCTs can also be used to study whether something, like cellphone radiation, can cause disease.
As to increases in brain tumors tied to cell phone use, it’s too early to tell due to a lack of hard data, says Dr. Carlo. “We’re never going to see that in time to have it matter. Here in the US, we’re six years behind in getting the brain tumor database completed, and currently the best data are from 1999. By the time you see any data showing an increase, the ticking time bomb is set.”
As a result, stories about a single nuclear meltdown or possible link between cellphone radiation and cancer will be amplified much more than news about the nine people who probably died today in the US from distracted driving. “This possible health effect from radiation is pretty esoteric at this point. If there is anything there, it seems to me like it’s going to be very, very small,” says Kenneth R. Foster, a bioengineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been investigating whether there are biological effects from radio waves since the 1970s. “Driving and texting, people get killed doing that — but it’s not a very exciting risk to worry about.”