Pong’s research indicates that badly designed cell phone cases can partially block a phone’s antenna, making the device work harder to transmit signals. Due to gaps in the FCC’s cell phone regulations, a phone worn right next to the body and enclosed by a case that obstructs the antenna could expose the user to more radiation than the FCC’s legal limit.
“It’s quite informative that the NTP data found evidence of an increased tumor risk in the male rats for glial cells and in the [heart] Schwann cells,” said Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the Berkeley School of Public Health (who writes about electromagnetic radiation here). “That’s compelling evidence that what we’re seeing in humans — even though the signal is not clear — is highly suggestive, and that there is indeed something real going on with regard to tumor risk in humans.”
Just as inevitably, worries about brain cancer spawned a market for products that supposedly protect cell phone users. For $62, you can order a Delta Shield, a thin polyester patch that contains a microchip that allegedly renders cell phones harmless. Users are instructed to place the patch on their cell phone battery. The similar BIOPRO Cell Chip, sold online for $35, attaches to the outside of the phone. The penny-size WaveShield 2000 Gold, selling for about $25, fits on the earpiece.
There’s not a lot of research on the effects of cell-phone use on children’s and teens’ health, the report acknowledges, but some studies have suggested that it may be associated with hearing loss, ringing in the ears, headaches and decreased well-being. Children who use cell phones will also have more years of exposure to RF energy over their lifetimes than people who started using them as adults, which leads some doctors to recommend added caution.
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.
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).
The FCC has yet to implement GAO’s recommendations to more closely reflect real-life use. For a narrow subset of smartphones – those sold with lanyards or straps – the FCC advises manufacturers to test phones at a distance of no more than 5 mm from the body (FCC 2014). Yet the FCC has done nothing to ensure more realistic testing of most other smartphones or to account for the widespread use of accessories such as cases, which many different manufacturers produce with both metallic and non-metallic components.
The guidelines recommend keeping phones away from the body when they’re not in use—in a backpack, for example, rather than a pocket—and sleeping with phones away from the bed. People may also choose to use speakerphone or a headset to make calls, rather than holding the phone to their heads. (They should remove their headsets when they’re not in use, though, as these devices also emit small amounts of RF frequency.)
In the US, a small number of personal injury lawsuits have been filed by individuals against cellphone manufacturers (including Motorola, NEC, Siemens, and Nokia) on the basis of allegations of causation of brain cancer and death. In US federal courts, expert testimony relating to science must be first evaluated by a judge, in a Daubert hearing, to be relevant and valid before it is admissible as evidence. In a 2002 case against Motorola, the plaintiffs alleged that the use of wireless handheld telephones could cause brain cancer and that the use of Motorola phones caused one plaintiff's cancer. The judge ruled that no sufficiently reliable and relevant scientific evidence in support of either general or specific causation was proffered by the plaintiffs, accepted a motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiffs' experts, and denied a motion to exclude the testimony of the defendants' experts.
A 2012 study by NCI researchers (25) compared observed glioma incidence rates in U.S. SEER data with rates simulated from the small risks reported in the Interphone study (6) and the greatly increased risk of brain cancer among cell phone users reported in the Swedish pooled analysis (19). The authors concluded that overall, the incidence rates of glioma in the United States did not increase over the study period. They noted that the US rates could be consistent with the small increased risk seen among the subset of heaviest users in the Interphone study. The observed incidence trends were inconsistent with the high risks reported in the Swedish pooled study. These findings suggest that the increased risks observed in the Swedish study are not reflected in U.S. incidence trends.
An analysis of data from all 13 countries participating in the Interphone study reported a statistically significant association between intracranial distribution of tumors within the brain and self-reported location of the phone (7). However, the authors of this study noted that it is not possible to draw firm conclusions about cause and effect based on their findings.