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.
This 2017 review, published in Neurological Sciences, looked at case-control studies on cellphone use, focusing on glioma, meningioma, and acoustic neuromas. This review was interesting because the researchers divided the studies by quality, and higher-quality studies — which tended to be funded by the government and not the cellphone industry — showed a trend toward an increased risk of brain tumors, while lower-quality studies did not. Overall, though, their meta-analysis found an increased risk of brain cancers (mostly gliomas) among people who were using cellphones for 10 or more years, and no increase in the risk of acoustic neuroma.
But, dear reader, don’t think we’ve reached a “case closed” moment: Unfortunately, even the best evidence on cellphones and brain tumors is far from ideal. Remember, these cohort studies are still observational research — not experimental studies like RCTs. That means they can’t tell us about causation, and there are still many ways they could be biased.
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).