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Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? What Does the Research Really Say?

There is an on-going debate about whether or not cell phones cause cancer. It’s known that they emit electromagnetic radiation ... but is it enough to cause cancer? Because cell phone use is relatively new (starting mostly in the 1990s) reliable, long-term, scientific studies have been difficult to complete. 

cell phone

One study found that electromagnetic radiation from cell phones can penetrate almost completely through the skull of a 5-year-old child.

A number of studies have relied on cell phone users' memories as to the amount of their cell phone use over the years, which can lead to bias that can produce inaccurate results (recall bias). It can take many years, decades even, for a tumor to grow to a detectable size once it is exposed to a carcinogen (cancer-causing entity). This has prevented researchers from being able to adequately monitor most people over the amount of time necessary to measure cancer-growth. 

Thus, it has been difficult to produce controlled studies with accurate measurements from reliable data collection methods (making sure no other factors except for accurately measured cell phone use affect the results of the study). Perhaps not surprisingly, results have been inconsistent. 
Will the INTERPHONE Study Give Concrete Answers?

A large-scale, long-term, multi-national study has been launched in an attempt to determine whether or not there is a link between cell phones and cancer. Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are members of this collective study, known as the INTERPHONE study.  The hope is that with all of these countries performing similar research, pooling the large number of results will hopefully lead to a more reliable and comprehensive analysis of the link between cell phones and cancer. 

Initial results from these studies show a link between consistent cell phone usage (over a period of 10 or more years) and cancerous tumors in the same side of the head as the reported cell phone use.
Only a small portion of the results have been published so far. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom found that people who used a cell phone for 10 or more years show a higher risk of having a tumor on the same side of the head to which they reported holding their cell phones. Although their studies found no overall link between the risk of brain tumor and the duration (cumulative hours) of cell phone use, they did show an increased risk of brain tumor on the same side of the head as the reported cell phone use for people who used their cell phones for 10 or more years.
Although some studies have shown no link between cell phone use and cancer, this could be due to faulty measurements, data collection, and/or recall bias. What is important to note, however, is that some studies have shown a link between cell phone use and cancer.  Even if the reliability of these results is questioned, until it is proven that cell phones definitely do not cause cancer, the possibility of developing cancer from your cell phone exists. 

cell phone

Many experts are suggesting consumer’s err on the side of caution when it comes to cell phone usage.

Cell phone users should proceed with caution.

“Precautionary Measures Must be Taken”

Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, tumor immunologist and director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, has determined that precautionary measures must be taken when using cell phones. Thorough analysis of the penetration capabilities of electromagnetic radiation has prompted him to issue a warning about the dangers of cell phone usage. His study showed the penetrating effects of electromagnetic radiation on children's brains -- aged 5 and 10 years -- compared to that of an adult. 

What was shown is that children's skulls are thinner than adults and are therefore more susceptible to cell phone (electromagnetic) radiation. This radiation penetrated almost completely through the entire brain of the 5-year-old. 
In response to whether or not there is cause for concern, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said, “... some recent studies suggest a possible link between mobile phones and cancer and warrant follow-up to determine with more certainty whether cell phones are safe.” 

David Feigal, M.D., director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) warns that “...we need more definite answers about the biological effects of cell phone radiation, and about the more complicated question of whether mobile phones might cause even a small increase in the risk of developing cancer." 
The common consensus held by such organizations as the National Cancer Institute and the FDA is that there is a possible risk of cancer from cell phone usage. And according to Dr. Herberman, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

"Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later," Herberman told USA Today.

What can you do to lower your risk of cancer potentially caused by cell phones? 

  • Limit your cell phone usage as much as possible (especially for children or pregnant women)

  • Use the speaker-phone function when you do use your cell phone (the farther away your phone is from your body, the better)

  • Use a wired headset instead of holding the phone directly to your head

  • Turn off your phone when you’re not using it

  • Do not store your phone in your pocket or clipped to your belt (which may increase your exposure to radiation)

Recommended Reading
What are the Dangers of Living Near Cell Phone Towers?

The 13 Most Common Forms of Cancer and the Keys to Prevention


American Cancer Society. Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer. September 2008 July 23, 2008

National Cancer Institute. Cellular Telephone Use and Cancer. September 2008
Nordenberg, Tamar. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Cell Phones and Cancer: No Clear Connection. FDA Consumer magazine. November – December 2000

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