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Wherever you come out on the cellphone and cancer question, one thing is clear: How we live with cellphones, along with our exposure to the radiation they emit, has changed dramatically over the past several decades. That has policy implications; it’s something regulators, researchers, and cellphone companies need to pay attention to. In that context, a few things should happen:
Still, despite the odds, these fears could be around for a while — because it’s hard to prove that cellphone radiation doesn’t cause harm. There are just too many combinations of genes, environmental exposures, patterns of cellphone use, plus a healthy helping of random chance to consider. It’s why we’re still having the conversation about whether coffee, for example, is good or bad for us. So while the bulk of evidence points to no health effects from cellphone radiation, the scientific literature is still somewhat mixed, Foster says. “Someone who wants to worry can pick and choose and find a lot of evidence that would support their theories.”
Cell phone radiation emissions present the greatest potential health risks when directly touching the body, especially the head, breasts and reproductive organs. This is referred to as zero distance to the body. Moving your cell phone away from your body just a few inches reduces the health risks. As a rule of thumb, when a cell phone is moved at least one foot away from the head or body, cell phone radiation is reduced by as much as 80%.
“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.”
"Possibly carcinogenic" was a phrase that may media outlets pulled out of the release, but it's a dangerous takeaway for consumers, out of context. "Possibly carcinogenic to humans", or group 2B, is a sub-classification or monograph, applied to agents by the IARC. Other agents (or items of everyday life) in Group 2B include pickled vegetables, lead and Potassium bromate — an oxidising additive common in flour. In all, there are 272 agents listed as possibly carcinogenic.
One of the studies reports that male rats exposed to very high levels of radiofrequency radiation grew tumors around their hearts. Female rats exposed to the radiation didn’t, and neither male nor female mice showed obvious health problems in a second study. Neither study turned up clear evidence that radiofrequency radiation causes brain tumors, although the researchers are continuing to investigate. The studies are drafts that haven’t yet been reviewed by outside scientists.
He believes the FDA should put out guidance based on the results of the rat studies. “I would think it would be irresponsible to not put out indications to the public,” Melnick says. “Maintain a distance from this device from your children. Don’t sleep with your phone near your head. Use wired headsets. This would be something that the agencies could do right now.”