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%.
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.”
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people speculate, joke, or jokingly speculate that their cellphone might be giving them cancer. It comes from a very reasonable place of discomfort — few people understand how radiation works, we put our phones right beside our brains all the time, and technology in general often feels like it ought to be causing some sort of societal ill.
Manufacturers conduct government-required certification tests using a bare phone, set to transmit at maximum power, with no accessories. The recorded maximum SAR is reported to the FCC and listed in the phone’s manual. A phone tested with accessories under the same conditions can produce a higher SAR because the materials surrounding the antenna can affect the amount of radiation that reaches and is absorbed by the user’s body. A case can influence both the overall amount of emitted radiation and how it is directed.
Transmitters, including cell phones, emit radio signals on more than the assigned frequency. These other signals on other frequencies are “harmonics” and/or “noise” and/or “dirty” signals from less than optimal transmitters, antennae, and/or resonating frequencies emitted from metallic objects in close proximity to the transmitter, like the other components of the cell phone.
Remember: The cancer incidence data in humans, at least to date, suggests no avalanche of head and neck tumors. Since so many people are exposed to cellphones, if there were a big risk, we’d probably see it turn up. “If cellphones caused brain tumors at the rate that cigarettes caused lung cancer,” said Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society, “we would have figured it out by now.”
The Ministry of Health Medical Administration circular (from 2002) addressed to hospital Directors, states that use of mobile phones and wireless handheld transceivers (walkie talkie) in the hospital, must on the one hand guarantee the patient’s wellbeing and safety, and on the other hand, allow the staff, the patients and their families to enjoy the service benefits. This circular outlines the areas where use of mobile phones is strictly forbidden and areas where use is permitted (while keeping an appropriate safety distance from areas where life-supporting equipment or systems are operated).
Again, non-ionizing radiation — the radiation from cellphones — doesn’t have enough energy to break our DNA, and therefore, we have traditionally thought, it couldn’t cause cancer. But there is some question about whether it’s as harmless as was once believed, or whether there might be another mechanism at play, other than direct DNA damage, that could lead to cancer or other biological problems.
Parents and consumer advocacy groups occasionally capture attention for voicing concerns about cellphones and other types of non-ionizing radio-frequency radiation exposure, such as the energy emitted from wifi routers in schools. In some cases, they have exaggerated what we know about the risks to kids, and rarely note that cellphones are also just one of many radiation sources we all live with. (Even the Earth itself, the air we breathe, and the sun and stars in our galaxy constantly give off radiation.)
Another thing that many people fail to realize is that EMF-emitting devices such as laptop computers are exceptionally more harmful when plugged in as opposed to when they’re operating on battery power alone. Tests have shown that working on a laptop that’s plugged in can result in up to 100 times more radiation exposure than using one that’s operating on battery power.
While the Federal Communication Commission limits how much radiofrequency radiation can come out of your cellphone, the Food and Drug Administration can have a say about whether those limits are safe. So the FDA asked the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a division within the National Institutes of Health, to investigate. Based on the NTP’s results, as well as hundreds of other studies, the FDA is still confident that the current limits on cellphone radiation are safe, according to a statement from Jeffrey Shuren, the director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
A cellular phone is basically a radio that sends signals on waves to a base station. The carrier signal generates two types of radiation fields: a near-field plume and a far-field plume. Living organisms, too, generate electromagnetic fields at the cellular, tissue, organ, and organism level; this is called the biofield. Both the near-field and far-field plumes from cell phones and in the environment can wreak havoc with the human biofield, and when the biofield is compromised in any way, says Dr. Carlo, so is metabolism and physiology.
Generally speaking, the near-field refers to the RF field close to the antenna and the far-field is the RF field further away from the antenna. Often times when you use your cell phone, your body is often located in the near-field (one wavelength or less) of the cell phone antenna. It is especially concerning when you hold your phone next to your head or wear it on your body as you can be exposed to very intense near-field radiation from the phone.
Although recall bias is minimized in studies such as COSMOS that link participants to their cell phone records, such studies face other problems. For example, it is impossible to know who is using the listed cell phone or whether that individual also places calls using other cell phones. To a lesser extent, it is not clear whether multiple users of a single phone, for example family members who may share a device, will be represented on a single phone company account. Additionally, for many long-term cohort studies, participation tends to decline over time.
When we think of harmful radiation, things like X-rays or gamma rays usually come to mind, but these types of radiation are different from mobile phone radiation in important ways. Radiation on the ultraviolet side of visible light, like those types just mentioned, has a wavelength that is short enough to alter some of the chemical properties of the objects it interacts with. It is referred to as ionizing radiation, for this reason. Non-ionizing radiation, which includes visible light, microwaves and radio waves, is typically regarded as harmless. Large amounts of it can produce a heating effect, like in a microwave oven, but no short-term damage has been linked to exposure to non-ionizing radiation.
There are alternate technologies that can be considered when looking to reduce cell phone radiation exposure which we don’t use. Why don’t we use them? Incorporating technologies such as antennas into a case can greatly reduce outgoing cell phone radiation levels when close to the cell tower, but not totally. If farther away, the cell phone signal levels increase, as does the radiation exposure to the body, possibly to unacceptable output power levels. This design does not reduce radiation exposure from the WiFi and Bluetooth RF because cell phones do not have the capacity to reduce their power levels whether or not an antenna is present. Maybe just as important, this design does not have the shielding capacity for ELF emissions which have the same dangers as the RF emissions. Other device attachments like buttons and stickers are minimally effective to totally ineffective, with no scientific basis. In short, there are no other technologies capable of up to eliminating all of the many potentially harmful cell phone emissions from hitting the body.
A phone's specific absorption rate (SAR) reveals the maximum amount of radiation the human body absorbs from the phone while it's transmitting. SAR testing ensures that the devices sold in the U.S. comply with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) SAR exposure limit, but the single, worst-case value obtained from this SAR testing is not necessarily representative of the absorption during actual use, and therefore it is not recommended for comparisons among phones. In short, selecting a lower SAR phone will not reliably ensure lower radiation absorption during use. The FCC has more information at Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) For Cell Phones: What It Means For You.
There are theoretical considerations as to why the possible risk should be investigated separately in children. Their nervous systems are still developing and, therefore, more vulnerable to factors that may cause cancer. Their heads are smaller than those of adults and consequently have a greater proportional exposure to the field of radiofrequency radiation that is emitted by cell phones. And, children have the potential of accumulating more years of cell phone exposure than adults do.
What the study showed: Most published analyses from this study have shown no statistically significant increases in brain or central nervous system cancers related to higher amounts of cell phone use. One analysis showed a statistically significant, although modest, increase in the risk of glioma among the small proportion of study participants who spent the most total time on cell phone calls. However, the researchers considered this finding inconclusive because they felt that the amount of use reported by some respondents was unlikely and because the participants who reported lower levels of use appeared to have a slightly reduced risk of brain cancer compared with people who did not use cell phones regularly (4–6).