A carrier wave oscillates at 1900 megahertz (MHz) in most phones, which is mostly invisible to our biological tissue and doesn’t do damage. The information-carrying secondary wave necessary to interpret voice or data is the problem, says Dr. Carlo. That wave cycles in a hertz (Hz) range familiar to the body. Your heart, for example, beats at two cycles per second, or two Hz. Our bodies recognize the information-carrying wave as an “invader,” setting in place protective biochemical reactions that alter physiology and cause biological problems that include intracellular free-radical buildup, leakage in the blood-brain barrier, genetic damage, disruption of intercellular communication, and an increase in the risk of tumors. The health dangers of recognizing the signal, therefore, aren’t from direct damage, but rather are due to the biochemical responses in the cell.
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In addition to the increased brain cancer risk, in male rats there was also “clear evidence” of a link between the radiation and malignant heart tumors and “some evidence” of a link to adrenal-gland tumors, according to the release. In mice and in female rats, however, the link between radiation and tumors was “equivocal,” or uncertain. The hierarchy, from most to least certain, of characterizations used by the NTP is: “clear evidence”; “some evidence”; “equivocal evidence”; and “no evidence.”Today’s cellphones use higher-frequency radiation that is less able to penetrate animal tissues than the radiation used in the study, the Times reports. Further, since cellphones became popular, epidemiologists have not observed an overall increase in the frequency of brain cancers known as gliomas in humans.
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The reason we’re talking about cellphones and cancer — why there’s a concern here — is because they emit radiation, the invisible waves of electric and magnetic energy, of varying power, organized on the electromagnetic spectrum. You can see in the graphic below that less powerful (or lower-frequency) types of radiation are on the left, moving to the more powerful (or higher-frequency) types of radiation on the right.
A recent small study in people has shown that cell phones may also have some other effects on the brain, although it’s not clear if they’re harmful. The study found that when people had an active cell phone held up to their ear for 50 minutes, brain tissues on the same side of the head as the phone used more glucose than did tissues on the other side of the brain. Glucose is a sugar that normally serves as the brain’s fuel. Glucose use goes up in certain parts of the brain when it is in use, such as when we are thinking, speaking, or moving. The possible health effect, if any, from the increase in glucose use from cell phone energy is unknown.
The research continued, and what it uncovered would be a dire warning to cell phone users and the industry’s worst nightmare. When the findings were ready for release in 1998, the scientists were suddenly confronted with another challenge: the industry wanted to take over public dissemination of the information, and it tried everything it could to do so. It was faced with disaster and had a lot to lose.
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It isn’t just cell phones. When you get the phantom twitch, it is not from a nervous system reaction to the phone vibrator as many suggest. Why do I say that? One, I rarely experience phone vibration, yet I get the phantom twitch. Two, as I have to use a rental car for work and they always give you two electronic keys (they do NOT vibrate), that is in my pocket with my own car key, bringing the total of non-vibrating keys to three. They do not vibrate, but I still get the phantom twitch.
It’s true that cellphones do emit radiation. And radiation is a scary word for a lot of people, thanks in part to the horrific aftermath of nuclear accidents and photographs of victims of the nuclear bombs the US dropped on Japan in World War II. People hear radiation and they associate it with nuclear radiation and the bomb, says Geoffrey Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and author of the book Getting Risk Right. “There are all these associations and those are deeply ingrained in people. But it doesn’t apply here.”
Your phone sends radiofrequency, or RF, waves from its antenna to nearby cell towers, and receives RF waves to its antenna from cell towers when you make a call or text or use data. The frequency of a cell phone’s RF waves falls between those emitted by FM radios and those from microwave ovens, all of which are considered “non-ionizing” forms of radiation. That means that—unlike radiation from a nuclear explosion, a CT scan, or a standard X-ray—the radiation from your phone does not carry enough energy to directly break or alter your DNA, which is one way that cancer can occur. (FM radios and microwaves don’t raise alarms, in part because they aren’t held close to your head when in use and because microwave ovens have shielding that offers protection.)
The cellular phone industry was born in the early 1980s, when communications technology that had been developed for the Department of Defense was put into commerce by companies focusing on profits. This group, with big ideas but limited resources, pressured government regulatory agencies—particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—to allow cell phones to be sold without pre-market testing. The rationale, known as the “low power exclusion,” distinguished cell phones from dangerous microwave ovens based on the amount of power used to push the microwaves. At that time, the only health effect seen from microwaves involved high power strong enough to heat human tissue. The pressure worked, and cell phones were exempted from any type of regulatory oversight, an exemption that continues today. An eager public grabbed up the cell phones, but according to Dr. George Carlo, “Those phones were slowly prompting a host of health problems.”
The tricky part about measuring the radiation from a cell phone is that the emission strength varies widely over time. There will be strong bursts of varying intensity, followed by quiet periods. This makes it hard to compare "apples to apples". Also, because you are measuring up close to the source, you must use a near field meter AND you must maintain the position of the meter very precisely.
In subsequent analyses of Interphone data, investigators addressed issues of risk according to specific location of the tumor and estimated exposures. One analysis of data from seven of the countries in the Interphone study found no relationship between brain tumor location and regions of the brain that were exposed to the highest level of radiofrequency radiation from cell phones (9). However, another study, using data from five of the countries, reported suggestions of an increased risk of glioma and, to a lesser extent, of meningioma developing in areas of the brain experiencing the highest exposure (10).