It’s also possible that longer-term studies and cancer incidence tracking will find larger cancer effects in another five or 10 years — or that how we use cellphones is evolving such that the devices may cause cancer in ways these studies didn’t account for. (These days, many people text instead of talking, and hold their cellphones in their pockets but not on their heads and necks.) That’s why some people look to animal studies to supplement our understanding of the potential biological effects of cellphones.
Instead, we have to rely on “observational” data, tracking people’s real-world cellphone use and their disease incidence. Studies using observational data tend to be weaker, messier, and less clear-cut than experimental studies like RCTs. They can only tell us about associations between phenomena, not whether one thing caused another to happen. So that opens up a lot of the ambiguity we’re going to delve into next.
When it comes to ionizing radiation — which we’re exposed to in X-rays, in CT scans, and during air travel — we know it’s powerful enough to damage the DNA, and that repeated DNA damage over time can cause cancer. That’s why, for example, you’re not supposed to get too many X-rays in your lifetime. (In case you were wondering, there’s no precise number on how many X-rays are too many — but the Food and Drug Administration suggests keeping track and avoiding any that seem unnecessary.)
Radiofrequency radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation can be categorized into two types: ionizing (e.g., x-rays, radon, and cosmic rays) and non-ionizing (e.g., radiofrequency and extremely low frequency, or power frequency). Electromagnetic radiation is defined according to its wavelength and frequency, which is the number of cycles of a wave that pass a reference point per second. Electromagnetic frequencies are described in units called hertz (Hz).