Can cell phones cause cancer?

Can cell phones cause cancer?

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Technology has always made an impact on our society. Over the last few decades, there have been many inventions that have changed our lifestyles. Cellular Telephony has, by all accounts, modified how we interact with others; but at what cost? Are there health issues associated with this technology? More explicitly can cell phones cause cancer? This question is the basis of this review. The researcher has compiled articles that cover this topic from diverse scholarly sources, and diverse countries.
It is undeniable that cellular technology has become main stream. “It was estimated that there were 92 million cell phone users in the US, a number growing by one million every month.” (Frumkin, Jacobson, Gansler & Thun 2001). The arrival and widespread use of cell phones has peaked interest of the health effects of radiofrequencies in the human body.
Cell phones use radio frequencies to transmit signals. Radio Frequencies (RF) are a form of electrical waves similar to those used in radios, microwaves, radars or satellite stations. They are emitted from a transmitter, and received using an antenna. This telephony technology is restricted geographically to small zones called “Cells”. Every cell has a base station capable of sending and receiving radio waves. When a call is started a signal leaves the handheld unit headed to the closest base station. This station answers by allocating a specific channel to the unit. When this “channel” is established, modulated radio frequency signals are both received and transmitted. The head of the user is in the near field of use because the distance from the antenna to the head is a few centimeters. (Blettner & Berg 2000) If the antenna is inside the body of the phone, the exposure to Radio Frequencies is greater. The antenna might be requesting a stronger signal to contest with the interference of the battery or the actual shell of the phone’s body.
The level of RF a person receives is related to many factors, not only the placement of the antenna. Factors that can increase the level of RF are the number of “cells”, the distance to the “base station”, or the obstacles between the caller and the station. The number of cell zones depends on the user population. Heavily populated areas have more cells allowing for more telecommunication traffic. Being close to a cell site lowers the power needed to sustain a call, hence reduces the exposure to RF.

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Rural areas are covered by only a few cells, and each call needs more power, increasing the RF exposure. Additionally, obstacles or other radio wave interference can make the signal solicit more power. Therefore the amount of power sent from a base station to a particular handheld can vary, even with in a single call. (Frumkin et al. 2001).
Another consideration is the equipment itself. Different manufacturers use different power levels for their phones. Each manufacturer is required to report the power level needed for its equipment to work, and the amount of absorption of RF. The specific absorption rate (SAR) is the amount of radiofrequency energy absorbed into the local tissue. According to the FCC’s safety guidelines for handheld cellular phones, the limit is 1.6 watts per kilogram of body weight. It should also be noted that as technology improves, better receivers are created, and lower power is needed. Hence newer equipment has lower SAR ratings.
RF exposure can cause heating of cells and human tissue. This heating might cause malign effects on the body especially the central nervous system which is more sensitive to heating due to its limited capability to dissipate the heat. Goldsmith in a 1995, stated in his article, “Laboratory studies suggest that adverse biologic effects can be caused by temperature rises in tissues that exceed 1ºC above their normal temperatures”. There is additional concern that RF exposure below detectable heating might have carcinogenic effects. RF does not have enough energy to cause DNA degeneration. General concern is that studies are generally short.
It is a common theme among all the reviewed articles that “widespread of cell phone use is little more than a decade old, and there has been limited opportunity to examine long-term health effects…” (Ahlbom, Green, Kheifets, Savitz, & Swerdlow. 2004). Only short term exposure has been researched. Case studies have been mainly performed in the Scandinavian countries, United Kingdom, and the United States. Animal studies have reported a lack of connection between RF and damage to cell tissue. There is no support for an increase of cancer risk among rats. The only incidence of cancer had been related to whole body RF irradiation of animals (Fisher 2000).
A human controlled study in Sweden compared 233 patients diagnosed with brain cancer to their cell phone use statistics. They found that there was no general type of cancer to associate with cell phone use. (Mild, Hardell, Kundi, Mattson, 2003). Another study in New York, Providence and Boston compared 469 patients and found that when specific locations of tumor within the brain were considered there were no links to the use of cell phones. Other researchers agree that there has not been a study that shows a clear link between the side of the head on which the brain cancer occurred and the side of the head where the user holds the phone.
Currently the International Agency for Cancer has launched a case control study in 13 countries. This multinational study will include approximately 6000 brain tumors and they relationship to phone usage. (Blettner et al. 2000). All the current conclusions for these numerous studies tend towards a precautionary approach. They argue that where the public health is a stake, the risks can be so high and the cost of latter correction action is too great, therefore the prevention is better than the cure (Maisch 2001).
Cellular technology is relatively a new technology, we cannot assume complete safety because the lack of long-term follow-up of its biological effects. However, we can see that equipment is getting more and more advanced and is requiring less power to function. Lower power requirements will lower the energy emitted and probably make it unlikely to cause tissue damage. Some common sense should still apply to the use of cell phones. “Children should be discouraged from using mobile phones, as their developing bodies could be more prone to radiation damage.” (Maisch 2001). Phone calls should be kept brief and hands free kits should be used when at all possible.
As cellular telephones are a relatively new technology, we do not have yet the long-term follow up on their possible health effects. Several well designed studies have shown no consistent association between cell phone use and cancer. It is impossible to prove that this technology is complete safe. There are no conclusive facts to prove or dismiss such a connection between brain cancer and the use of cellular phones. However all researchers do agree that is too early to make any conclusions based on long-term exposure.

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