"On the same [IARC] scale that said phone use was possibly carcinogenic, smoking is at the highest level. They are class 1 carcinogens; that's beyond doubt, they definitely do cause cancer ... There's an absolute difference between substances, where the evidence says that there is no doubt about the fact that they cause cancer, compared to mobile phones, where they say it is still possible because the data over ten years use still isn't in."
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Its major goal is to identify causes of cancer. The IARC has classified RF fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence of a possible increase in risk for brain tumors among cell phone users, and inadequate evidence for other types of cancer. (For more information on the IARC classification system, see Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.)
The research continued, and what it uncovered would be a dire warning to cell phone users and the industry’s worst nightmare. When the findings were ready for release in 1998, the scientists were suddenly confronted with another challenge: the industry wanted to take over public dissemination of the information, and it tried everything it could to do so. It was faced with disaster and had a lot to lose.
According to the WHO, the "precautionary principle" is "a risk management policy applied in circumstances with a high degree of scientific uncertainty, reflecting the need to take action for a potentially serious risk without awaiting the results of scientific research." Other less stringent recommended approaches are prudent avoidance principle and as low as reasonably practicable. Although all of these are problematic in application, due to the widespread use and economic importance of wireless telecommunication systems in modern civilization, there is an increased popularity of such measures in the general public, though also evidence that such approaches may increase concern. They involve recommendations such as the minimization of cellphone usage, the limitation of use by at-risk population (such as children), the adoption of cellphones and microcells with as low as reasonably practicable levels of radiation, the wider use of hands-free and earphone technologies such as Bluetooth headsets, the adoption of maximal standards of exposure, RF field intensity and distance of base stations antennas from human habitations, and so forth. Overall, public information remains a challenge as various health consequences are evoked in the literature and by the media, putting populations under chronic exposure to potentially worrying information.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that studies reporting biological changes associated with radiofrequency radiation have failed to be replicated and that the majority of human epidemiologic studies have failed to show a relationship between exposure to radiofrequency radiation from cell phones and health problems. The FDA, which originally nominated this exposure for review by the NTP in 1999, issued a statement on the draft NTP reports released in February 2018, saying “based on this current information, we believe the current safety limits for cell phones are acceptable for protecting the public health.” FDA and the Federal Communications Commission share responsibility for regulating cell phone technologies.
Wherever you come out on the cellphone and cancer question, one thing is clear: How we live with cellphones, along with our exposure to the radiation they emit, has changed dramatically over the past several decades. That has policy implications; it’s something regulators, researchers, and cellphone companies need to pay attention to. In that context, a few things should happen:
A large, long-term study has been comparing all of the people in Denmark who had a cell phone subscription between 1982 and 1995 (about 400,000 people) to those without a subscription to look for a possible increase in brain tumors. The most recent update of the study followed people through 2007. Cell phone use, even for more than 13 years, was not linked with an increased risk of brain tumors, salivary gland tumors, or cancer overall, nor was there a link with any brain tumor subtypes or with tumors in any location within the brain.
Let’s be honest, we’re addicted to our smartphones. According to an ABC news report, the average person checks their phone 150 times per day, not to mention the other 15 hours per day it sits in your pocket. It’s also nothing new that cell phones emit Electromagnetic Fields/Radiation (EMF/EMR) when it’s glued to the side of our head more than 22 times per day.
Over time, the number of cell phone calls per day, the length of each call, and the amount of time people use cell phones have increased. Because of changes in cell phone technology and increases in the number of base stations for transmitting wireless signals, the exposure from cell phone use—power output—has changed, mostly lowered, in many regions of the United States (1).