Cell phones emit low levels of radio frequency energy (i.e., radio frequency radiation) in the microwave range while being used. It is well known that high levels of RF can produce biological damage through heating effects (this is how your microwave oven is able to cook food). However, it is not known to what extent or through what mechanism, lower levels of RF might cause adverse health effects as well. Several research studies have shown that the radio frequency radiation from wireless phone antennae “appears to cause genetic damage in human blood,” while another case study uncovered a “statistically significant increase” in neuro-epithelial brain tumors among cell phone users. Other research has shown little or no adverse effects. ABC’s 20/20 News (May 26, 2000) took the five most popular phones sold in the US and tested them at a highly respected German laboratory. Four out of the five phones tested were above the SAR limit. One thing is for certain, similar to the case of cigarette smoking, it will take several tests and many years before the effects of radio frequency radiation on the human body are known.

Stephen Chanock, who directs the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, remains skeptical, however. Cancer monitoring by the institute and other organizations has yet to show increasing numbers of brain tumors in the general population, he says. Tracking of benign brain tumors, such as acoustic neuromas, was initiated in 2004 by investigators at the institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program, which monitors and publishes statistics on cancer incidence rates. According to Chanock’s spokesperson, the acoustic neuroma data “haven’t accumulated to the point that we can say something meaningful about them.”

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The frequency of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation ranges from 30 kilohertz (30 kHz, or 30,000 Hz) to 300 gigahertz (300 GHz, or 300 billion Hz). Electromagnetic fields in the radiofrequency range are used for telecommunications applications, including cell phones, televisions, and radio transmissions. The human body absorbs energy from devices that emit radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. The dose of the absorbed energy is estimated using a measure called the specific absorption rate (SAR), which is expressed in watts per kilogram of body weight.