Five billion people or three quarters of the world’s population use cell phones.
Now an international panel of experts has a new report on a possible link between cell phones and brain cancer.
This international agency, which belongs to the World Health Organization and is made up of experts from all over the world, reviewed dozens of published studies on cell phone use and concluded that cell phones could “possibly” cause cancer in humans.
Should you panic? Probably not. First of all, the organization classifies all kinds of things based on the likelihood that they can lead to cancer…from tobacco smoke to certain jobs. There are five categories of risk. They have placed cell phones in category 2B, which means that there is “limited evidence” that cell phones cause brain tumors in people. There is some evidence, but it’s not convincing.
While Group 2B is middle of the road, Group 1 is reserved for things like smoking, asbestos, and alcohol. It means that there’s extremely strong evidence that these things cause cancer.
Why is it so hard to evaluate whether cell phones cause cancer? Since many cancerous tumors take decades to develop, experts say it’s impossible to conclude cell phones have no long-term health risks. The studies conducted so far haven’t tracked people for longer than about a decade. And cell phone technology has changed so much that it’s not clear if studies done on older models apply today. It’s also hard to assess how much actual exposure to radiation a person has based on questionnaires and memory.
Cell phone antennas send signals to nearby towers using radio frequency waves, a form of energy similar to FM radio waves and microwaves. But experts say the radiation produced by cell phones cannot directly damage DNA and is much weaker than radiation emitted from things like X-rays or ultraviolet light. At very high levels, radio frequency waves from cell phones can heat up body tissue, but experts don’t believe that causes damage to human cells.
In the meantime, what can you do to protect yourself? It makes sense to avoid excessive use of cell phones, but routine use at this point does not seem to be dangerous. You can certainly use the speaker phone and Bluetooth technology in a car, for example, that allow you to talk on the phone without placing a device directly next to your head. I think, based on the evidence to date, most experts would agree that there is no reason to tell people to stop using mobile phones. The one caution, however, would be children, whose skulls are thinner and whose brain cells may be more sensitive to the effects of even low dose radiation.
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