Changing technology and methods of use. Older studies evaluated radiofrequency radiation exposure from analog cell phones. Today, cell phones use digital technology, which operates at a different frequency and a lower power level than analog phones. Digital cell phones have been in use for more than two decades in the United States, and cellular technology continues to change (3). Texting and other applications, for example, are common uses of cell phones that do not require bringing the phone close to the head. Furthermore, the use of hands-free technology, such as wired and wireless headsets, is increasing and may reduce exposure by distancing the phone from the body (36, 37).
We began by getting a baseline of ambient RF in the room at the location of our testing. We then recorded a baseline of the cellphone RF while on an active call with no case. And finally, we measured the reduction in that baseline (still on the active call) using a variety of different cases and RF reducing products – all at the same set distance from the phone.
Today’s report, the final one, was about a decade in the making and is the last of several versions that have been released since preliminary results were presented in May 2016. It represents the consensus of NTP scientists and a group of external reviewers, according to the release. In the future, the NTP plans to conduct studies in smaller exposure chambers and to use biomarkers such as DNA damage to gauge cancer risk. These changes in the experimental setup should mean that future studies will take less time.
Instead, we have to rely on “observational” data, tracking people’s real-world cellphone use and their disease incidence. Studies using observational data tend to be weaker, messier, and less clear-cut than experimental studies like RCTs. They can only tell us about associations between phenomena, not whether one thing caused another to happen. So that opens up a lot of the ambiguity we’re going to delve into next.
Take a closer look at the product claims. Many refer to their “shielding technology” and not the product itself. In many cases, the “FCC Certified” labs they cite are actually testing how much RF the raw shielding material can block. They’re testing the materials used in the products. They’re not testing how much RF the actual products block while on a real-world phone.
Some studies have found a possible link. For example, several studies published by the same research group in Sweden have reported an increased risk of tumors on the side of the head where the cell phone was held, particularly with 10 or more years of use. It is hard to know what to make of these findings because most studies by other researchers have not had the same results, and there is no overall increase in brain tumors in Sweden during the years that correspond to these reports.
In order to protect the population living around base stations and users of mobile handsets, governments and regulatory bodies adopt safety standards, which translate to limits on exposure levels below a certain value. There are many proposed national and international standards, but that of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is the most respected one, and has been adopted so far by more than 80 countries. For radio stations, ICNIRP proposes two safety levels: one for occupational exposure, another one for the general population. Currently there are efforts underway to harmonise the different standards in existence.
Researchers have carried out several types of epidemiologic studies in humans to investigate the possibility of a relationship between cell phone use and the risk of malignant (cancerous) brain tumors, such as gliomas, as well as benign (noncancerous) tumors, such as acoustic neuroma (tumors in the cells of the nerve responsible for hearing that are also known as vestibular schwannomas), meningiomas (usually benign tumors in the membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord), and parotid gland tumors (tumors in the salivary glands) (3).