So, you've read the numerous studies about the potentially harmful health effects of cell phone radiation and you are ready to something about it. Of course, you can use your phone sparingly and put it in airplane mode when possible, use a wired headset or speakerphone when on calls, and never store it in your pocket. However, is that realistic? How about for your kids? In today's world, with our increasing dependence on our cell phones, probably not!
The 13-country INTERPHONE study, the largest case-control study done to date, looked at cell phone use among more than 5,000 people who developed brain tumors (gliomas or meningiomas) and a similar group of people without tumors. Overall, the study found no link between brain tumor risk and the frequency of calls, longer call time, or cell phone use for 10 or more years. There was a suggestion of a possible increased risk of glioma, and a smaller suggestion of an increased risk of meningioma, in the 10% of people who used their cell phones the most. But this finding was hard to interpret because some people in the study reported implausibly high cell phone use, as well as other issues. The researchers noted that the shortcomings of the study prevented them from drawing any firm conclusions, and that more research was needed.
The three most common brain tumor types — and the ones most cellphone and human health studies focused on — are gliomas (malignant tumors of the brain and spinal cord), meningiomas (mostly noncancerous tumors of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, though a small percentage are cancerous), and acoustic neuromas (noncancerous tumors on the main nerve that leads from the inner ear to the brain). Note that of these, gliomas are the main concern — they generally have more severe outcomes than meningiomas and acoustic neuromas.
“One thing all these conditions have in common is a disruption, to varying degrees, of intercellular communication. When we were growing up, TV antennas were on top of our houses and such waves were up in the sky. Cell phones and Wi-Fi have brought those things down to the street, integrated them into the environment, and that’s absolutely new. The recognition mechanism, where protein vibration sensors on the cell membrane pick up a signal and interpret it as an invader, only works because the body recognizes something it’s never seen before.”
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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.
Today, the computer and phone have merged into one device that fits in the palm of your hand. A smartphone is essentially a small computer, yet has many times the computing power of traditional computers. There are no cords to connect you to a base. When turned on in your pocket or being used against your head, the cell phone touches some of the most sensitive parts of the body. Although the cell phone produces lower levels of radiation then past computers, they are now used much closer to the body and for longer periods of time, thus creating more health risks than in the past.
The energy of electromagnetic radiation is determined by its frequency; ionizing radiation is high frequency, and therefore high energy, whereas non-ionizing radiation is low frequency, and therefore low energy. The NCI fact sheet Electromagnetic Fields and Cancer lists sources of radiofrequency radiation. More information about ionizing radiation can be found on the Radiation page.