Overall, the reviews of case-control studies seem to suggest there is perhaps no risk of cancer with cellphone use — unless you look at some subgroups (like people in blinded studies or people with long-term exposures). But these reviews are based on case-control studies — which are like the National Enquirer of the science world: cheap and often misleading.
The Stewart report recommended that children should only use mobile phones in emergencies. The recommendation was based on the theory that children could be more at risk from the radiowaves emitted by mobile phones. This is because their brains are still developing and their skulls are thinner, making it easier for the radiowaves to penetrate them. Also if they start using mobiles at a young age, their cumulative lifetime use will be higher than adults. According to the Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation, “little has been published specifically on childhood exposures” since 2000. As a result, children are still advised only to use mobile phones in emergencies. However, surveys suggest that many children are ignoring the advice. A survey of 1,000 British children, carried out in 2001, found 90% of under-16s own a mobile and one in 10 spends more than 45 minutes a day using it.
Then there is non-ionizing radiation, which encompasses the vast majority of light we are exposed to: visible light from lightbulbs, infrared light from an oven and from people, gigahertz light from our wifi, megahertz light to/from our cell phones, and radio waves hitting our car radio. They are not harmful in small doses because one photon does not have enough energy to ionize atoms and/or break apart molecules. In very large doses, non-ionizing radiation can be harmful. For example, a visible light laser with sufficient power (at least several hundred times more than a legal laser pointer) which is concentrated in a small enough spot will burn your skin and do worse things to your eye if it gets in there. And those of us who are old enough, remember the gerbil-in-a-microwave flash animations which went viral 17 years ago  as a humorous (but not exactly factual) representation of what would happen if you microwaved a live rodent.
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A few other health concerns have been raised about cell phone use. One has been whether the RF waves from cell phones might interfere with medical devices such as heart pacemakers. According to the FDA, cell phones should not pose a major risk for the vast majority of pacemaker wearers. Still, people with pacemakers may want to take some simple precautions to help ensure that their cell phones don’t cause a problem, such as not putting the phone in a shirt pocket close to the pacemaker.
Lab studies: Lab studies usually expose animals to something like RF energy to see if it causes tumors or other health problems. Researchers might also expose normal cells in a lab dish to RF energy to see if it causes the types of changes that are seen in cancer cells. It’s not always clear if the results from these types of studies will apply to humans, but lab studies allow researchers to carefully control for other factors that might affect the results and to answer some basic science questions.
EWG also reviewed data in the FCC filings on tests of battery life during a continuous call, measured on an iPhone 4 without a case and on the same phone with an Incipio Le Deux case. This case was chosen because it contains metallic parts (a stainless steel back plate). The presence of metallic components influences the phone’s radiation properties, as the FCC acknowledges (FCC 2001; FCC 2014). Under the test conditions with constant signal strength, an iPhone 4 without a case had 85 percent of battery capacity after a one-hour call and 70 percent after two hours. When the test was repeated with the Incipio Le Deux case, the phone had only 65 percent of battery capacity after a one-hour call and only 10 percent after two hours (Pong 2012).
The Pong Case is easy to use and snaps on to activate two built in antenna that draw away radiation. Tests performed by Pong labs and Wired magazine show that Pong cases redirect energy from the face of the cell phone or tablet toward the back of the device, reducing absorption by 67%. While one might think this would interrupt reception, the opposite occurs and reception has actually been observed to increase up to 13%. It fits most major phone brands and Pong also makes a case for the iPad (however it works a little differently and diffuses the energy instead of redirecting). The products come with a 6 month warranty and a 60 day money back guarantee. For more information, visit their website or watch these videos.
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.
But this study also has some drawbacks. First, it is based only on whether or not people had a cell phone subscription at the time. It didn’t measure how often these people used their phones (if at all), or if people who didn’t have a subscription used someone else’s phone. There are also limits as to how well this study might apply to people using cell phones today. For example, while the cell phones used at the time of the study tended to require more power than modern cell phones, people also probably used the phones quite a bit less than people use their phones today.
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.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that the IARC classification means that there could be some risk associated with cancer, but the evidence is not strong enough to be considered causal and needs to be investigated further. Individuals who are concerned about radiofrequency exposure can limit their exposure, including using an ear piece and limiting cell phone use, particularly among children. (5)
“If you're looking for ways to limit your exposure to the electromagnetic emissions from your cell phone, know that, according to the FTC, there is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduced exposure from these electromagnetic emissions. In fact, products that block only the earpiece—or another small portion of the phone—are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. What's more, these shields may interfere with the phone's signal, cause it to draw even more power to communicate with the base station, and possibly emit more radiation.”
The use of "hands-free" was not recommended by the British Consumers' Association in a statement in November 2000, as they believed that exposure was increased. However, measurements for the (then) UK Department of Trade and Industry and others for the French Agence française de sécurité sanitaire environnementale [fr] showed substantial reductions. In 2005, Professor Lawrie Challis and others said clipping a ferrite bead onto hands-free kits stops the radio waves travelling up the wire and into the head.
One of the most robust animal studies in the world comes from the US government. In 1999, during the Clinton administration, the Food and Drug Administration asked the National Toxicology Program (NTP) to study the toxicity and cancer-causing capability of cellphone radio-frequency radiation. At the time, health officials felt epidemiological studies in humans wouldn’t answer these questions, so the NTP embarked on studies in rats and mice.
Scientists have reported adverse health effects of using mobile phones including changes in brain activity, reaction times, and sleep patterns. More studies are underway to try to confirm these findings. When mobile phones are used very close to some medical devices (including pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, and certain hearing aids) there is the possibility of causing interference with their operation. There is also the potential of interference between mobile phones signals and aircraft electronics. Some countries have licensed mobile phone use on aircraft during flight using systems that control the phone output power.
But, like the human studies, one can pick apart the NTP studies too. For one thing, the animals experienced cell phone radiation that was different from what humans live with. As Bucher said in a statement, “In our studies, rats and mice received radio frequency radiation across their whole bodies. By contrast, people are mostly exposed in specific local tissues close to where they hold the phone. In addition, the exposure levels and durations in our studies were greater than what people experience.”
If you're looking for ways to limit your exposure to the electromagnetic emissions from your cell phone, know that, according to the FTC, there is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from these electromagnetic emissions. In fact, products that block only the earpiece – or another small portion of the phone – are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. What's more, these shields may interfere with the phone's signal, cause it to draw even more power to communicate with the base station, and possibly emit more radiation.
Cell-phone designs have changed a lot since the studies described above were completed. For example, the antennas—where most of the radiation from cell phones is emitted—are no longer located outside of phones near the top, closest to your brain when you talk, but are inside the phone, and they can be toward the bottom. As a result, the antenna may not be held against your head when you’re on the phone. That’s important because when it comes to cell-phone radiation, every millimeter counts: The strength of exposure drops dramatically as the distance from your body increases.
The next day, telecommunications stocks took a big hit on Wall Street and the media had a field day. The industry trade association at the time, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), went into crisis mode, claiming thousands of studies proved cell phones were safe and what Reynard and his attorney said was bunk. TIA reassured the public that the government had approved cell phones, so that meant they were safe. The media demanded to see the studies, but, says Dr. Carlo, “The industry had lied. The only studies in existence then were on microwave ovens. At that time, 15 million people were using cell phones, a product that had never been tested for safety.”
The government’s policies must change. Cell phone users should make their voices heard to prompt the FCC and manufacturers of cell phones and cases to ensure that these accessories never increase and, to the extent possible, decrease, users’ radiation exposure. At minimum, the FCC must take cell phone cases into consideration when it updates its standards to ensure that the use of a case will not expose people to more radiation than its legal SAR limit.
Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from x-rays, is known to increase the risk of cancer. However, although many studies have examined the potential health effects of non-ionizing radiation from radar, microwave ovens, cell phones, and other sources, there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk in humans (2).