WEDNESDAY, June, 1 (HealthDay News) -- Can using a cellphone
increase the risk of cancer?
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that it might.
After a group of scientists from 14 countries, including the
United States, analyzed peer-reviewed studies on cellphones, the
team announced Tuesday that there was enough evidence to categorize
personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
This puts cellphones in the same category as lead and auto
exhaust. The WHO report noted that there wasn't enough evidence to
prove the radiation from cellphones is linked to cancer, but enough
to alert consumers to a possible connection.
Dr. Michael Schulder, vice chairman of neurosurgery and director
of the brain tumor institute at North Shore Long Island Jewish
School of Medicine in Hempstead, N.Y., said the category into which
WHO is putting cellphones is one that asserts there
may be a concern. "That's fairly weak as a concern goes," he
According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC),
which regulates radiation from cellphones, "there is no scientific
evidence to date that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to
cancer or a variety of other health effects, including headaches,
dizziness or memory loss."
But, Schulder said, "commonsense would tell you that since a
cellphone is a microwave generator and emits radiation, it has the
potential to alter DNA. And it should be used in moderation."
Proving a causal relation between cellphone use and brain tumors
is very hard to do, Schulder added. "It [would] take following many
patients over many years to try to draw a connection," he said.
"Even if a connection exists, it will be very hard to prove."
That's partly because the radiation emitted by cellphone
includes very low level microwave radiation, a type of non-ionizing
radiation which is absorbed near the skin. It's not ionizing
radiation such as that emitted by an X-ray or CT scan. So-called
ionizing radiation -- a known cause of cancer -- has enough energy
to break down chemical bonds by knocking electrons off atoms or
molecules (thus "ionizing" them and making them unstable).
However, to be on the safe side, Schulder recommends not
speaking for long periods with the phone held to the ear. In
addition, he suggests using an earpiece or speaker whenever
possible. Both will keep the phone away from your head, he pointed
"If you use these methods, then any risk of brain tumor formation from the phone will be essentially eliminated," Schulder said.
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer
Society, added: "Given that the evidence remains uncertain, it is
up to each individual to determine what changes they wish to make,
if any, after weighing the potential benefits and risks of using a
If some feel the potential risk outweighs the benefit, they can
take actions, including limiting cellphone use or using a headset,
he said. "Limiting use among children also seems reasonable in
light of this uncertainty," Brawley said.
"On the other hand," Brawley said, "if someone is of the opinion that the absence of strong scientific evidence on the harms of cellphone use is reassuring, they may take different actions, and it would be hard to criticize that," he said.
Brawley also noted that many common exposures -- even coffee
drinking --are classified by WHO as potentially concerning.
For those who want to know how much radiation their phone emits,
the FCC recommends contacting the manufacturer.
The FCC noted that earpieces will indeed "significantly reduce
the rate of energy absorption" in a user's head, but that if the
phone is attached to the waist or another part of the body, "then
that part of the body will absorb [radiofrequency] energy."
Besides ear pieces, there are other devices (such as metal
cellphone shields) that claim to protect users from cellphone
radiation or reduce it, but the FCC is skeptical of them.
"Studies have shown that these devices generally do not work as advertised," an FCC official statement cautioned. "In fact, they may actually increase radio frequency absorption in the head due to their potential to interfere with proper operation of the phone, thus forcing it to increase power to compensate," the agency stated.
Another expert, Dr. Roberto Heros, a professor of neurological
surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has a
different take on cellphone safety.
"Our culture has become a slave to the cellphone," he said. "We feel we cannot be out of touch for one minute, and we have to be connected by the cellphone."
Heros thinks people should limit the time they spend on the
devices. But, he said, "they should use it when necessary. They
should not [hesitate to] make calls that are necessary, because of
any fear or panic about radiation," he said.
"If you really want to save lives, then don't use the cellphone while you're driving," Heros said. "Not because of brain cancer, but because of immediate death from an accident."
For more information on cell phone safety, visit the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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