For years we have been warned to limit our mobile phone use and to use hands-free sets in the wake of "growing evidence that we should reduce exposure" to cell phone radiation. But the verdict is in and a team of scientists said today the radio frequency levels in our wireless devices puts the five billion users at risk for brain cancer.
According to the World Health Organization for Research on Cancer, which convened today in Lyon, France, those electromagnetic fields that seep from our cell phones increase the risk for glioma, which is a malignant type of brain cancer.
Dr. Jonathan Samet from the University of Southern California was among those discussing the cell phone study.
He said the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion that means that there could be some risk.
One of the biggest concerns about cell phones and cancer stems from the exposure to radio frequency waves. Some researchers suggest that these could have the effect of holding your head near a microwave oven.
Cell phone radiation falls into the same band of nonionizing radio frequency as microwaves used to heat or cook food.
The question about whether or not cell phone users are frying their brain or causing other tumors in the head and neck area has been a hot topic since the 1990s when wireless devices became more widespread.
“Over the last few years, there has been mounting concern about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices,” said Nicolas Gaudin, Ph.D., head of The World Health Organization’s IARC Communications International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The team of scientists within the World Health Organization said a study conducted on cell phone users revealed that spending an average of 30 minutes a day on the phone jumps the risk of brain cancer up to 40 percent.
Oncologists say the most common form of primary brain tumors, gliomas, start in the brain or spinal cord tissues and these lethal tumors often outsmart traditional cancer treatments such as surgery.
Although there are great strides in brain tumor research, this form of cancer can quickly invade healthy brain tissue.
Researchers at the World Health Organization now say “given the large number of mobile phone users, it is important to investigate, understand and monitor any potential public health impact.”
"It is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐term, heavy use of mobile phones,” said the team director, Christopher Wild.
“Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting.”
Cell phones first became widely available in the United States in the 1990s, but their use has increased dramatically since then. According to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, there were an estimated 270 million cell phone subscribers in the United States as of December 2008, representing about 87 percent of the total population.
Scientists say that the number of cell phone users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children.
Today, there are about five billion mobile phone users across the globe representing nearly three-quarters of the world's population, according to the International Telecommunications Union.
Mobile or cellular phones are now an integral part of modern telecommunications. In many countries, over half the population uses mobile phones and the market is growing rapidly.
It is possible that if there are health effects due to mobile phone use, they might be more pronounced in children because their nervous systems are still developing and their lifetime exposure will be greater than adults, who started at a later age.
In some parts of the world, mobile phones are the most reliable or the only phones available.
Researchers say the number of people using cell phones has quickly increased because of lifestyle changes, advanced services, handsets and increased take-up of mobile health services and mobile banking.
"Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services," said ITU secretary-general Dr. Hamadoun Touré.
Deeper studies are now underway and should give a clearer picture of the health effects of cell phone use in the near future.
But government officials are now calling for cell phone boxes to have labels much like cigarette packs, with what's called the radiation "absorption rate" for phones when they're sold. They say the information exists in the packaging material but, nobody really reads all the fine print.
Monday’s announcement by the World Health Organization follows a host of studies and critics that call the data inconclusive.
"In general, rating agencies such as this tend to be conservative by nature. They have to be," said Dr. Henry Friedman, deputy director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
"The reality is that all of the epidemiological studies that have been done to date have basically been negative."
The cell phone industry responded by stating that the World Health Organization based their findings on limited evidence. "But to be clear, there are no studies that conclusively link cell phone use to adverse health effects," said Jack Rowley, GSMA Director for Research and Sustainability.
Even the FCC said all cell phones sold in this country are safe, and the American Cancer Society is also on record as saying cell phones are "unlikely" to cause cancer.
Many scientists say it could be years before long-term studies on cell phones and cancer are complete.
As the cell phone-cancer conundrum rolls on, the American Cancer Society published options on their website to avoid pressing the device directly next to your ear.
For instance, use a hands-free device such as a corded or cordless earpiece. Using an earpiece moves the antenna away from the user's head, which decreases the amount of RF waves that reach the head. Corded earpieces emit virtually 0 RF waves (although the phone itself still emits small amounts of RF waves that can reach parts of the body if close enough, such as on the waist or in a pocket). Bluetooth earpieces have an SAR value of around 0.001 watts/kg (less than one thousandth the SAR limit for cell phones as set by the FDA and FCC).
Choose a phone with a low SAR value. Different models of phones can give off different levels of RF waves. One way to get information on the SAR level for a specific phone model is to find the FCC identification number for that model. The FCC ID number is usually somewhere on the phone, sometimes under the battery pack. Once you have the ID number, go to the following Web address: www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid. On this page, you will see instructions for entering the FCC ID number.
Limit you and your children's cell phone use. One of the most obvious ways to limit exposure to RF waves from cell phones is to limit how much you use them. You may want to use your cell phone only for shorter conversations, or use it only when a conventional phone is not available. Parents who are concerned about their children's exposure may limit how much time they spend on the phone.
For safety reasons, it is especially important to limit or avoid the use of cell phones while driving.