The three most common brain tumor types — and the ones most cellphone and human health studies focused on — are gliomas (malignant tumors of the brain and spinal cord), meningiomas (mostly noncancerous tumors of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, though a small percentage are cancerous), and acoustic neuromas (noncancerous tumors on the main nerve that leads from the inner ear to the brain). Note that of these, gliomas are the main concern — they generally have more severe outcomes than meningiomas and acoustic neuromas.
I don't know why, but I recently had a concern about the fact I keep my smartphone in my pocket for a good part of the day. Was this a "smart" idea, or was there a potential problem with phone radiation? To address this concern, I searched for answers on the Internet. There were a lot of contraptions, many of which seemed to be too good to be true. The one that looked the most promising was Blocsock, not cheap at $24 for the high-end model with the pouch, but it did say it blocked 96% of the cell phone radiation from your body by having special radiation-blocking material on one side, with the side facing away from your body regular material so the phone could still communicate with the outside world. Cheap eBay knockoffs had material on both sides, meaning when you put your phone in them, your phone could't communicate with the outside world! Others did not have the testing results that assured how well the blocking material worked. There is a very detailed SAR test report validating the Blocsock, which I found at sustainablemobile.com. You can Google it. It is a very exhaustive testing report!
Mobile devices work by sending radio waves in the air. And while the National Cancer Institute has pointed out that the radio-frequency (RF) energy cell phone emits is low, it does not discount the possible long term health risks it poses. Some of the most recent smartphones (such as the iPhone 7 in particular), release a higher level of radiation than older cellphones; and with people spending more and more time on their devices, it’s only a matter of time before adverse effects might catch up.
Overall, the reviews of case-control studies seem to suggest there is perhaps no risk of cancer with cellphone use — unless you look at some subgroups (like people in blinded studies or people with long-term exposures). But these reviews are based on case-control studies — which are like the National Enquirer of the science world: cheap and often misleading.
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To find out about the state of research on the link between phones and cancer, we spoke with Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health and an expert in phone radiation who led a World Health Organization working group on the subject. In 2011, the WHO group deemed phone radiation “possibly carcinogenic,” which is less certain than other classifications, but isn’t an outright “no” either. Six years later, Samet said the evidence in either direction is still mixed and that for the time being, there remains “some indication” of risk.
The pacemaker studies were a harbinger of bad things to come. Results showed that cell phones do indeed interfere with pacemakers, but moving the phone away from the pacemaker would correct the problem. Amazingly, the industry was extremely upset with the report, complaining that the researchers went off target. When Dr. Carlo and his colleagues published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997,11 the industry promptly cut off funding for the overall program. It took nine months for the FDA and the industry to agree on a scaled-down version of the program to continue going forward. Dr. Carlo had volunteered to step down, since he was clearly not seeing eye-to-eye with the industry, but his contract was extended instead, as no one wanted to look bad from a public relations standpoint.
But scientists disagree on how real—or how serious—these risks really are, and studies have not established any definitive links between health problems and radiofrequency (RF) energy, the type of radiation emitted by cell phones. “This document is intended to provide guidance for people who want to reduce their own and their families’ exposure to RF energy from cell phones,” the guidelines state, “despite this uncertainty.”
EWG believes that cell phone testing procedures should include cases and other accessories, whether supplied by the phone manufacturer or a third party. Since these cases and accessories have no other use and have the potential to influence the phone’s transmitting and receiving activity and the amount of radiation that a user might encounter, they fall within FCC’s authority.
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%.
But, like the human studies, one can pick apart the NTP studies too. For one thing, the animals experienced cell phone radiation that was different from what humans live with. As Bucher said in a statement, “In our studies, rats and mice received radio frequency radiation across their whole bodies. By contrast, people are mostly exposed in specific local tissues close to where they hold the phone. In addition, the exposure levels and durations in our studies were greater than what people experience.”
According to the FTC, there is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from electromagnetic emissions. Products that block only the earpiece – or another small portion of the phone – are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. Such 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." The FTC has enforced false advertising claims against companies that sell such products.
“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 reduced 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.”
But this study also has some drawbacks. First, it is based only on whether or not people had a cell phone subscription at the time. It didn’t measure how often these people used their phones (if at all), or if people who didn’t have a subscription used someone else’s phone. There are also limits as to how well this study might apply to people using cell phones today. For example, while the cell phones used at the time of the study tended to require more power than modern cell phones, people also probably used the phones quite a bit less than people use their phones today.