Though some findings were reassuring, others do raise concerns. Specifically, three of the studies—one from Sweden, another from France, and a third that combined data from 13 countries—suggest a connection between heavy cell-phone use and gliomas, tumors that are usually cancerous and often deadly. One of those studies also hinted at a link between cell phones and acoustic neuromas (noncancerous tumors), and two studies hinted at meningiomas, a relatively common but usually not deadly brain tumor.

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).
The Working Group indicated that, although the human studies were susceptible to bias, the findings could not be dismissed as reflecting bias alone, and that a causal interpretation could not be excluded. The Working Group noted that any interpretation of the evidence should also consider that the observed associations could reflect chance, bias, or confounding rather than an underlying causal effect. In addition, the Working Group stated that the investigation of risk of cancer of the brain associated with cell phone use poses complex methodologic challenges in the conduct of the research and in the analysis and interpretation of findings.
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Of course, scientific seesawing like that doesn’t provide a lot of clarity or confidence for the 90 percent of American adults and roughly 80 percent of teens who report having a cell phone. So how concerned should you be about cell-phone radiation? Consumer Reports’ health and safety experts conducted a thorough review of the research and offer some guidance.
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.
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.
In one type of study, called a case–control study, cell phone use is compared between people with these types of tumors and people without them. In another type of study, called a cohort study, a large group of people who do not have cancer at study entry is followed over time and the rate of these tumors in people who did and didn’t use cell phones is compared. Cancer incidence data can also be analyzed over time to see if the rates of brain tumors changed in large populations during the time that cell phone use increased dramatically. These studies have not shown clear evidence of a relationship between cell phone use and cancer. However, researchers have reported some statistically significant associations for certain subgroups of people.