Thinking Tech

Are cell phones safe? Fact is we don't know yet

Are cell phones safe? Fact is we don't know yet

Posting in Cancer

The perception in the U.S. are that cell phones held close to the head are perfectly safe. Europe thinks differently and the U.S. National Cancer Institute says we need another decade of studies before we can rule anything out.

An article in Gentleman's Quartley (GQ) last month reignited the public debate about cell phones causing brain cancer. The article, among things, cites the Interphone Study done in France which found that cell phones drive up the chances of adults getting a brain tumor by 40 per cent on the side of head where the device is used.

credit: phonedog.com

"There are multiple reports, mostly out of Europe's premier research institutions, of cell-phone and PDA use being linked to "brain aging," brain damage, early-onset Alzheimer's, senility, DNA damage, and even sperm die-offs (many men, after all, keep their cell phones in their pants pockets or attached at the hip)," the article said.

Europe and the 13 countries that participated in the ongoing Interphone Study which commenced in 2000 are worried about the potential damage cell phone cause even though studies that we rely on here in the U.S. seem to suggest otherwise. Call it Kyoto II: the U.S. did not participate in Interphone.

"The European Environment Agency, warned that cell-phone technology "could lead to a health crisis similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking, and lead in petrol," the GQ article said.

This news (well, not exactly news....the above warning was issued in 2007) comes when just above every living and breathing American north of 12 has a cell phone. Some 270 million were in use in the U.S. at the end of 2008, according to The National Cancer Institute (NCI) Fact Sheet on Cell Phone Risk, which suggests  we make shorter phone calls and use a hands free device to keep the blasted things away from our skulls. Here's what the NCI says:

"There is concern that RF energy produced by cellular phones may affect the brain and nervous system tissue in the head because hand-held cellular telephones are usually held close to the head. Researchers have focused on whether RF energy can cause malignant (cancerous) brain tumors such as gliomas (cancers of the brain that begin in glial cells, which surround and support the nerve cells), as well as benign (noncancerous) tumors, such as acoustic neuromas (tumors that arise in the cells of the nerve that supplies the ear) and meningiomas (tumors that occur in the meninges, which are the membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord) (1). The salivary glands also may be exposed to RF energy from cellular telephones held close to the head."

While the NCI concedes there's no proven link between all this human body mayhem and cell phones, it says we need another decade of long term studies before we rule anything out. This tells me the NCI without definitely saying so suspects cell phones can be linked to a variety of disorders to the brain and central nervous system.

Here's what really bothers me. When was the last time someone voiced to you any concern about cell phones emitting harmful radio frequency energy. Throw in cell towers if you happen to live close to one.

My perception is that the U.S. public thinks that we've ruled out the dangers of cell phones. Clearly we shouldn't. Remember, about four decades passed before we came to universal conclusion that smoking is harmful. And we knew all along it was.

The situation with cell phones is less clear, but let's at least admit, the jury is still out and that it might be wise to heed the NCI's advice to keep those calls short and go hands free.

[Check out a related SmartPlanet post about a groundbreaking cell phone study that found 250,000 Swedes have a condition known as electro-hypersensitivity].

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure