That brings us back to the main question here: Do cellphones cause tumors? We chose to focus this story on cancer risk, since it seems like the most common health concern people have about cellphones. But before we get to the answers, we need to take another (brief) detour to explain how this science has been done with human subjects. To do that, we need to zoom in on a nerdy subject: research methods.
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Lab studies: Lab studies usually expose animals to something like RF energy to see if it causes tumors or other health problems. Researchers might also expose normal cells in a lab dish to RF energy to see if it causes the types of changes that are seen in cancer cells. It’s not always clear if the results from these types of studies will apply to humans, but lab studies allow researchers to carefully control for other factors that might affect the results and to answer some basic science questions.
The BlocSock is a small, 3”x5½”, lightweight case that's only designed for cell phones, not tablets or laptops. One side is a normal fabric to ensure reception. The other side has a rectangular, metallic mesh to shield RF radiation. It's recommended that you keep the side with the shielding material between the phone and your body. When making or receiving calls, keep the shielding between your head and the phone. It can also be moved into a smaller “kangaroo style” pouch during calls. It's effective, and tests show that it reduces RF exposure 96%. For more information, check out the SAR research test or watch this video.
In June, at a meeting of scientific counselors to the toxicology agency, Donald Stump, one of the members, worried that the study “will be vulnerable to criticism that it was conducted using outdated technology.” The challenge, he added, is how to move forward with experiments that are large enough to be significant yet nimble enough to keep pace with the rapidly evolving devices.
"Someone claiming they need to reduce [the safe SAR level of 2 W/kg] by 90-percent — they just have no evidence to make that claim, and they are actually playing on the fact that people will be concerned enough about the possible cancer risk, although they don't understand that there's no sufficient data yet to make a statement about an actual cancer risk," said Professor Olver.
It also means regulators need to make sure their policies reflect new levels of exposure. The Federal Communications Commission currently oversees cellphone safety and sets the limits for how much radiation people should be exposed to. (This is measured by the specific absorption rate — the rate at which the body absorbs radio frequency energy — and the current limit for cellphones is 1.6 watts of energy per kilogram of tissue. The whole-body threshold is a SAR value of 0.08 watts per kilogram, and the tower radiation limit is 10 watts per square meter.)
But according to the FCC, comparing SAR values between phones can be misleading. The listed SAR value is based only on the phone operating at its highest power, not on what users would typically be exposed to with normal phone use. The actual SAR value during use varies based on a number of factors, so it’s possible that a phone with a lower listed SAR value might actually expose a person to more RF energy than one with a higher listed SAR value in some cases.
We asked Dr. George Carlo his thoughts on EMF cases and shielding products, “most offer some protection, some of the time, to some people, because they can alter the immediate electromagnetic field environment around the person,” and immediately emphasizes the importance of “some,” which seems to tell us that it’s vastly unpredictable. “All waveforms in the environment are highly variable and they interact with other factors in the environment that make them even more variable.” This pretty much sums up that the artificial electromagnetic energy universe is vastly unpredictable.
Laptop computers are best placed on a table at as much of an arm’s length away as possible to minimize radioactive contact. If you must use your laptop on your lap, you can purchase a laptop cooling pad which will add a bit of extra space between the device and your body. Even better are laptop cases specifically designed to shield against radiation.
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.
Recall bias, which can occur when data about prior habits and exposures are collected from study participants using questionnaires administered after diagnosis of a disease in some of the participants. It is possible that study participants who have brain tumors may remember their cell phone use differently from individuals without brain tumors. Many epidemiologic studies of cell phone use and brain cancer risk lack verifiable data about the total amount of cell phone use over time. In addition, people who develop a brain tumor may have a tendency to recall cell phone use mostly on the same side of the head where their tumor was found, regardless of whether they actually used their phone on that side of the head a lot or only a little.
Launched at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s request 10 years ago, the NTP study dosed rats and mice of both sexes with RF radiation at either 1.5, 3 or 6 watts of radiation per kilogram of body weight, or W/kg. The lowest dose is about the same as the Federal Communications Commission’s limit for public exposure from cell phones, which is 1.6 watts W/kg. The animals were exposed nine hours a day for two years (about the average life span for a rat), and the exposures were cranked up steadily as the animals grew, so the absorbed doses per unit body weight remained constant over time.
If you're looking for ways to limit your exposure to the electromagnetic emissions from your cell phone, know that, according to the FTC, there is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from these electromagnetic emissions. In fact, products that block only the earpiece – or another small portion of the phone – are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. What's more, these shields may interfere with the phone's signal, cause it to draw even more power to communicate with the base station, and possibly emit more radiation.
We also spoke to experts and searched government reports to try to find any other high-quality evidence that may not have been published in an academic database. We included the National Toxicology Program’s animal studies, since they are considered some of the most important animal research that was funded by the government to help answer the question of whether cellphones cause cancer. We also included research on the fertility effects of cellphone radiation, since that was a concern many researchers in the field had.
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RF waves from cell phones have also been shown to produce “stress” proteins in human cells, according to research from Martin Blank, Ph.D., a special lecturer in the department of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University and another signer of the recent letter to the WHO and U.N. “These proteins are used for protection,” Blank says. “The cell is saying that RF is bad for me and it has to do something about it.”
Cell phone radiation refers to radiation in the form of electromagnetic waves that is emitted from mobile phones. This type of radiation takes the form of radio waves that are near the microwave range. The amount of radiation that a given cell phone will emit depends on the exact frequency of the radiation, as well as whether the device is using an analog signal or a digital one. There has been speculation that large amounts of cell phone radiation could be hazardous to the user's health, but there are no conclusive scientific findings on the subject.
Forward your cell phone to landlines whenever you are at home, then power off the cell phone without missing a call. Biological effects can be related to both strength of cell phone radiation dose and duration of exposure, so consider whether or not your communication is urgent. Remember: Use a corded home landline (not a home cordless phone, because cordless phones use electromagnetic microwave technology just like cell phones). Most cordless phone base stations constantly emit microwave radiation regardless whether or not any connected handset is in use. The cordless phone handsets also emit microwave radiation. Corded landlines have no radiation emissions and are the best choice.