Epidemiology studies investigating cell phone use patterns with human cancer risk have produced inconsistent results. Some studies enrolled people who already had tumors with suspected links to RF radiation, such as gliomas, acoustic neuromas and salivary gland tumors. Researchers compared the self-reported cell phone use habits of the cancer patients with those of other people who did not have the same diseases. Other studies enrolled people while they were still healthy, and then followed them over time to see if new cancer diagnoses tracked with how they used cell phones. All the epidemiology studies, however, have troubling limitations, including that enrolled subjects often do not report their cell phone use habits accurately on questionnaires.
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A decline in male sperm quality has been observed over several decades. Studies on the impact of mobile radiation on male fertility are conflicting, and the effects of the radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) emitted by these devices on the reproductive systems are currently under active debate. A 2012 review concluded that "together, the results of these studies have shown that RF-EMR decreases sperm count and motility and increases oxidative stress". A 2017 study of 153 men that attended an academic fertility clinic in Boston, Massachusetts found that self-reported mobile phone use was not related to semen quality, and that carrying a mobile phone in the pants pocket was not related to semen quality.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a component of the World Health Organization, appointed an expert Working Group to review all available evidence on the use of cell phones. The Working Group classified cell phone use as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence from human studies, limited evidence from studies of radiofrequency radiation and cancer in rodents, and inconsistent evidence from mechanistic studies (4).
But the 5G signals are weaker at traveling long distances, and weaker signals mean we need more antennas to amplify, or strengthen, the 5G network. According to the New York Times, “Instead of relying on large towers placed far apart, the new signals will come from smaller equipment placed an average of 500 feet apart in neighborhoods and business districts.” They’ll also emit a different kind of higher-frequency radio waves, known as millimeter waves.
These experimental findings raise new questions as to the potential for radiofrequency radiation to result in cellular changes and offer potential avenues for further laboratory studies. Cancers in the heart are extremely rare in humans, where the primary outcomes of potential concern with respect to radiofrequency radiation exposure from cell phones are tumors in the brain and central nervous system. Schwann cells of the heart in rodents are similar to the kind of cells in humans that give rise to acoustic neuromas (also known as vestibular schwannomas), which some studies have suggested are increased in people who reported the heaviest use of cell phones. The NTP has stated that they will continue to study this exposure in animal models to further advance our understanding of the biological underpinnings of the effects reported above.
Mobile phone use and the development of tumors in the exposure area. Accordingly, Dr. Elisabeth Cardis from the International Agency for Research on Cancer - IARC, started organizing a study (the INTERPHONE) with the participation of 16 sites worldwide, in the purpose of assessing whether use of mobile phones is connected with an increased risk for developing brain tumors (benign and malignant), auditory nerve tumor and salivary gland tumors. The purpose of the cooperation was to reach a satisfactory sample size that could answer the question from the statistical aspect and also to establish a situation where the study represents enough subjects who have used the mobile phone over a relatively long period (at least 10 years). In Israel, the study was conducted by Dr. Siegal Sadetzki, Director of the Cancer Epidemiology and Radiation Unit at the Gertner Institute, Sheba Hospital.
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This 2009 meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, looked at 23 case-control studies of the risk of both malignant and benign tumors from mobile phone use. When the authors included all 23, they found no increased risk of tumors. When they crunched certain subsets of the data — like looking only at studies that were blinded, or people who used cellphones for 10 or more years — they did find increases in tumor risks. Confusingly, when they divided up the analysis by tumor type, they found no increase in risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and a decrease in risk of meningioma.
Whether you call them cell phones, smart phones or mobile devices, it seems like everyone has one. According to the wireless telecommunications industry, the U.S. now has an estimated 300 million mobile subscribers, compared to 110 million subscribers a decade ago. The increase in cell phone use has generated concern about possible health risks related to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from this technology, and a market for shields as possible protection against the radio waves the phones emit. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, has some practical tips to help you avoid scams and limit your exposure to electromagnetic emissions from your cell phone.
Until the FCC establishes testing procedures that fully correspond to real-world cell phone use and reviews its radiation standards to ensure that they are fully protective for all users, including young children, EWG advises phone users to adopt these simple measures to minimize radiation exposure: Use a headset, keep the phone away from the body and text rather than talk.
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As to increases in brain tumors tied to cell phone use, it’s too early to tell due to a lack of hard data, says Dr. Carlo. “We’re never going to see that in time to have it matter. Here in the US, we’re six years behind in getting the brain tumor database completed, and currently the best data are from 1999. By the time you see any data showing an increase, the ticking time bomb is set.”
But there is also some ambiguity about cellphone radiation’s health effects. As Dr. John Bucher, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and a co-author of the NIH studies, told me, “[Our results] go against the notion that non-ionizing radiation is completely harmless.” In other words, he’s found that the type of radiation cellphones give off could cause biological changes, like promoting tumors, at least in animals.
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We’re also exposed to radio-frequency radiation from the networks that connect our phones. And while the coming rollout of 5G, or fifth-generation, wireless networks is expected to transmit data faster than ever, it will also increase the number of antennas sending signals to mobile devices, and potentially our exposure to radiation, with unclear health effects.
People can also reduce their exposure by limiting cell-phone use when the cellular signal is weak; when traveling in a high-speed car, bus or train; to stream audio or video; or to download or upload large files. All of these circumstances cause phones to put out higher-than-normal levels of RF energy. Phones also emit RF energy when connected to WiFi or Bluetooth devices, but at lower levels.
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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.
The cellular phone industry was born in the early 1980s, when communications technology that had been developed for the Department of Defense was put into commerce by companies focusing on profits. This group, with big ideas but limited resources, pressured government regulatory agencies—particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—to allow cell phones to be sold without pre-market testing. The rationale, known as the “low power exclusion,” distinguished cell phones from dangerous microwave ovens based on the amount of power used to push the microwaves. At that time, the only health effect seen from microwaves involved high power strong enough to heat human tissue. The pressure worked, and cell phones were exempted from any type of regulatory oversight, an exemption that continues today. An eager public grabbed up the cell phones, but according to Dr. George Carlo, “Those phones were slowly prompting a host of health problems.”
California officials issued the new report in response to increasing smartphone use in the United States, especially among children. About 95% of Americans own a cell phone, according to a press release from the California Department of Public Health, and the average age for a first cell phone is now 10 years old. About 12% of people use their smartphones for daily Internet access.
The first one is easy, cellular frequencies vary between 450–2000MHz, but 800 or 900 MHz is the most common. The power emitted by a cell phone varies over the course of the call (higher when making initial contact, which lasts a few seconds). It can go up to 2 Watts at the start of a call, and can go down to .02 Watts during optimal operation . Of course, most people barely use cell phones for calls, but I am using this example as a worst case scenario, because the phone is not right by your head when you are browsing Tinder.
A third requirement was for the FDA to create a formal interagency working group to oversee the work and provide input. The purpose of this was to alleviate any perception that the industry was paying for a result, not for the research itself. But the fourth and last requirement was considered by Dr. Carlo to be highly critical: “Everything needed to be done in sunlight. The media had to have access to everything we did.”
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.
In addition to the increased brain cancer risk, in male rats there was also “clear evidence” of a link between the radiation and malignant heart tumors and “some evidence” of a link to adrenal-gland tumors, according to the release. In mice and in female rats, however, the link between radiation and tumors was “equivocal,” or uncertain. The hierarchy, from most to least certain, of characterizations used by the NTP is: “clear evidence”; “some evidence”; “equivocal evidence”; and “no evidence.”Today’s cellphones use higher-frequency radiation that is less able to penetrate animal tissues than the radiation used in the study, the Times reports. Further, since cellphones became popular, epidemiologists have not observed an overall increase in the frequency of brain cancers known as gliomas in humans.
In the studies, the researchers looked at a whole slew of health outcomes (like offspring survival, bodyweight changes, and body temperature changes), but importantly, they also looked at brain tumors, including gliomas. They exposed the animals to radio frequency radiation for up to nine hours a day over two years, and then examined more than 40 tissues in each animal. And they had a control group that wasn’t exposed to radiation for comparison.
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But the results of these two rat studies align with those of the biggest cell phone-radiation human study to date, INTERPHONE. The INTERPHONE study, published in 2011, was a coordinated effort by researchers at 16 institutions across 13 countries, and found that the heaviest mobile phone users were more likely to develop glioma—the same type of brain cancer the NTP study found in the male rats. “So there’s a concordance between the animal and human data,” Melnick says.
So, what types of RF are these cases intended to block? If they block the frequency being used by the phone than if the blocking is complete the phone won’t work. If it’s partial than, as noted by the FCC and related in the article, the phone may attempt to compensate for the weakened signal by increasing it’s signal strength, thereby emitting higher levels of radiation itself, and reducing battery life in the process.