Today’s report, the final one, was about a decade in the making and is the last of several versions that have been released since preliminary results were presented in May 2016. It represents the consensus of NTP scientists and a group of external reviewers, according to the release. In the future, the NTP plans to conduct studies in smaller exposure chambers and to use biomarkers such as DNA damage to gauge cancer risk. These changes in the experimental setup should mean that future studies will take less time.
Users were defined as anyone who made at least one phone call per week for six months between 1982 and 1995. So any person who made 26 calls was a cell phone user and therefore considered exposed to radiation. Those with less than 26 calls were non-users. In reality, the radiation exposure between users and non-users defined in this manner is not discernable.
There was also “equivocal” evidence that it raised the risk of heart conditions, and led to evidence of DNA damage. Baby rats born to mothers during the trial had lower birth weights. The scientists also found a statistically significant increase in lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) among female mice and heightened rates of liver cancer in the male mice. All those findings were labeled “equivocal.”
As a result, stories about a single nuclear meltdown or possible link between cellphone radiation and cancer will be amplified much more than news about the nine people who probably died today in the US from distracted driving. “This possible health effect from radiation is pretty esoteric at this point. If there is anything there, it seems to me like it’s going to be very, very small,” says Kenneth R. Foster, a bioengineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been investigating whether there are biological effects from radio waves since the 1970s. “Driving and texting, people get killed doing that — but it’s not a very exciting risk to worry about.”
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.”
What the study showed: Self-reported cell phone use was not associated with an increased risk of glioma, meningioma, or non-central nervous system tumors. Although the original published findings reported an association with an increased risk of acoustic neuroma (14), this association disappeared after additional years of follow-up of the cohort (15).
A 2010 review stated that "The balance of experimental evidence does not support an effect of 'non-thermal' radiofrequency fields" on the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, but noted that research on low frequency effects and effects in humans was sparse. A 2012 study of low-frequency radiation on humans found "no evidence for acute effects of short-term mobile phone radiation on cerebral blood flow".
According to the FTC, there is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from electromagnetic emissions. Products that block only the earpiece – or another small portion of the phone – are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. Such 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 FTC has enforced false advertising claims against companies that sell such products.
The energy of electromagnetic radiation is determined by its frequency; ionizing radiation is high frequency, and therefore high energy, whereas non-ionizing radiation is low frequency, and therefore low energy. The NCI fact sheet Electromagnetic Fields and Cancer lists sources of radiofrequency radiation. More information about ionizing radiation can be found on the Radiation page.