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Are Cell Phones Causing Cancer?

Posted by on Dec 14, 2015

Link between cell phones and cancer

This is a debate that has been argued for over a decade now. But even that question itself needs to be broken down in order to properly examine the answers that are available. If cell phones are not the only cause of cancer, are they increasing the risk of cancer - or at least certain types of cancer? It seems almost everyone has had someone in their family or friend circle develop this terrible disease. It definitely was not so, twenty years ago - nor were cell phones around then.

Is this just a coincidence, or is there a co-relation? It has been twenty-five years since we have been told that the research is "inconclusive." In this article, we’re going to examine the latest research and developments that might help us lean on one side or another, in this 25 years long saga.

Let’s start with our own examinations to find out whether cell phones really cause cancer

You can’t go anywhere without seeing dozens of people furiously typing away on a cell phone. No longer exclusively used for making calls, smart phones allow for texting, online shopping, GPS directions, sending emails, managing business, and playing games. Almost all of us have that one friend who never looks up from their phone during a meal. And the risks of texting and driving are becoming more and more apparent with every passing day. How many near accidents have you had due to someone looking at their cell phone instead of the road?

As an increased number of individuals are coming to rely on cell phones, that increases the amount of signals bouncing through air all around us. According to www.cancer.gov, there are three main reasons why people believe our increased reliance on cell phones may lead to the growing number of cancer victims:

"Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy (radio waves), a form of non-ionizing radiation. Tissues nearest to where the phone is held can absorb this energy.

The number of cell phone users has increased rapidly. As of 2010, there were more than 303 million subscribers to cell phone service in the United States, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. This is a nearly threefold increase from the 110 million users in 2000. Globally, the number of cell phone subscriptions is estimated by the International Telecommunications Union to be 5 billion.

Over time, the number of cell phone calls per day, the length of each call, and the amount of time people use cell phones have increased. Cell phone technology has also undergone substantial changes."(1)

Radiofrequency? Radiation? That sounds a bit scary. Yes, we live in Digital Age when we feel the world around us slipping more and more into the realm of Science Fiction, and so we have all heard the term radiofrequency before. But have we ever stopped to think about what kind of effect that is having on our bodies? I vividly remembering a babysitter warning me not to stand too close to the microwave while it was in use due to radiation. So how true was that warning? And does that really have anything to do with cell phones?

The website goes on to examine the possible effects that these radiofrequencies can have on the brain and the rest of the human body.

"The only known biological effect of radiofrequency energy is heating. The ability of microwave ovens to heat food is one example of this effect of radiofrequency energy. Radiofrequency exposure from cell phone use does cause heating; however, it is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature.

A recent study showed that when people used a cell phone for 50 minutes, brain tissues on the same side of the head as the phone’s antenna metabolized more glucose than did tissues on the opposite side of the brain (2). The researchers noted that the results are preliminary, and possible health outcomes from this increase in glucose metabolism are still unknown."(1)

And, in addition:

“Although there have been some concerns that radiofrequency energy from cell phones held closely to the head may affect the brain and other tissues, to date there is no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer.

It is generally accepted that damage to DNA is necessary for cancer to develop. However, radiofrequency energy, unlike ionizing radiation, does not cause DNA damage in cells, and it has not been found to cause cancer in animals or to enhance the cancer-causing effects of known chemical carcinogens in animals (3–5).”(1)

This particular article makes it sound as though the threat level is quite minimal. Despite the radiofrequencies all around us, without damage to our DNA it is quite unlikely that cancer would start forming as a result of extreme cell phone usage. And if that’s the case, then there really is no reason to worry or fear.

But, I prefer to hear a few scientifically supported theories from a variety of credible sources before I let my mind be swayed one way or another. So let’s take a look at what a couple of other sources say.

Jumping over to www.mayoclinic.org, they seem to agree with our previous findings:

“For now, no one knows if cellphones are capable of causing cancer. Although long-term studies are ongoing, to date there's no convincing evidence that cellphone use increases the risk of cancer.”(2)

So if there is no conclusive evidence that supports the theory that cell phones cause cancer, then why do so many people believe it to be so? And for that matter, why do the number of cancer cases seem to increase as the number of cell phones in circulation increases?

This could simply be a coincidence, or it could be that there are just lot more ways of tracking the number of cancer cases than they used to be. Yet, even with above findings, people worry that our technological advancements are affecting our health negatively.

With so many people asking the question, it is only natural that many of the popular resource guides would begin their own research and documentation as well.

Consumer Reports has also investigated this argument and while they don’t feel that their research has proven a great enough risk to discourage cell phone use, they do urge caution and offer up some protective measures to take if you're concerned.

They also took into consideration the fact that many of these studies were completed prior to the redesign of the majority of today’s popular cell phones.

“Cell-phone designs have changed a lot since the studies described above were completed. For example, the antennas—where most of the radiation from cell phones is emitted—are no longer located outside of phones near the top, closest to your brain when you talk, but are inside the phone, and they can be toward the bottom. As a result, the antenna may not be held against your head when you’re on the phone. That’s important because when it comes to cell-phone radiation, every milli­meter counts: The strength of exposure drops dramatically as the distance from your body increases.

Perhaps our best protection is that more people today use phones to text instead of talk, and headphones and earbuds are growing in popularity. On the other hand, it is also true that we use cell phones much more than we used to, so our overall exposure may be greater.” (3)

With the advancement in cell phone technology, it is true that many new considerations are being made in regards to the health of the customers using the product. We all remember how Apple’s antennae caused signal trouble for being located on one side of the device.

Consumer Reports also brings up a good point in that the majority of users favor texting, emailing, and instant messaging over actually talking into their phone. Or if they do, they’re using a Bluetooth microphone or some other hands free device. And the main concern seems to be the effect of the cell phone receiver being directly up against the user’s head/brain. So, logically, if you’re not pointing the antennae against your head, you should be free from potential side effects, right?

Despite their belief that there’s no need to panic, Mr. Schipper with Consumer Reports feels that further study and clarification is needed and should be top priority, especially when it comes to trusting our children with cell phones.

“The substantial questions raised regarding cell phones deserve some clear answers:

The Federal Communications Commission’s cell-phone radiation test is based on the devices’ possible effect on large adults, though research suggests that children’s thinner skulls mean they may absorb more radiation.

Consumer Reports agrees with concerns raised by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Government Accountability Office about the tests, and thinks that new tests should be developed that take into account the potential vulnerability of children.

We think that cell-phone manufacturers should prominently display advice on steps that cell-phone users can take to reduce exposure to cell-phone radiation.” (3)

In addition, they offer some great tips for erring on the cautious side, just in case you're still feeling a little wary about your favorite electronic device.

"Try to keep the phone away from your head and body. That is particularly important when the cellular signal is weak - when your phone has only one bar, for example - because phones may increase their power then to compensate (a great reason to buy a cell phone signal booster) Text or video call when possible.

When speaking, use the speaker phone on your device or a hands-free headset.

Don’t stow your phone in your pants or shirt pocket. Instead, carry it in a bag or use a belt clip.” (3)

If you run an online search for an answer on whether or not cell phones run the risk of causing cancer, you're in for some disappointment. There is no definitive answer. Not yet anyway. There are many scientists still hypothesizing, experimenting, and testing in an attempt to narrow down the correct answer.

And you can find hundreds of websites, articles, and blogs that claim to “have the answer” but many of them offer mere speculation. And there will always be theorists out there who ignore scientific advancement based one or two experiences of others. And the fact of the matter is that many people are skeptical of technology. There are so many books and movies out there that warn us of the consequences of relying on mechanics and artificial intelligence; maybe we have this fear ingrained in us?

Unfortunately, there just doesn't seem to be one absolute concrete answer at this point in time. But like most of our world's discoveries, the answers will take time to be found. It has only been in the past decade that cell phones have really taken ahold of our society, so only time will tell what exact effects of our fascination and addiction to them will be.

I urge you to consider trustworthy sources when forming your own opinion. Pay close attention to the author of the article or blog you're reading and take note whether or not they're citing sources. It never hurts to manage your own research so that you can form an educated opinion, but pay close attention to who's opinion you're putting stock in. Erring on the cautious side is never a bad idea, but throwing out your cell phone doesn't seem to be necessary based on the research that has been done so far.

Invest in a good Bluetooth hands free headset (free with most of our cell phone signal booster kits), limit your phone conversations if you're concerned, and monitor your children's time spent on the phone (if applicable). Taking these precautions can relieve any worries you might have, and will help you to maintain a healthy balance with your cell phone.

1. National Cancer Institute (2013). Cell Phones and Cancer Risk. Retrieved December 14, 2015.

2. Moynihan, M.D., Timothy J. Is there any link between cellphones and cancer? Mayo Clinic

(2015). Retrieved December 14, 2015.

3. Schipper, David. Does Cell-Phone Radiation Cause Cancer? Consumer Reports (2015).

Retrieved December 14, 2015.

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