The City of San Francisco last month passed a law requiring mobile phone retailers to display the level of radiation mobile phones emit. Why bother if mobile phones don’t cause cancer or do they….? Are there top secret, highly confidential, for your eyes only, keep it on the hush-hush, on the down-low and Q.T. documents secured far from inquisitive eyes suggesting otherwise…. is this a cloak and dagger campaign reminiscent of the tobacco companies in the 1980s suggesting that smoking does not cause cancer?
Tobacco companies in those days would pay for research that would conclude no link between cancer and smoking but now a days scientific publishing has stringent processes that can detect (well most of the time) fraudulent authors and biased methods.
But before we look at the scientific evidence let us try and get some fundamentals right as to what the hullabaloo is all about.
Mobile phones communicate by transmitting electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range, these radio waves pass through a network of fixed antennas called base stations. Part of the radio waves emitted by mobile phone are absorbed by the human head. Exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation can cause cancer by damaging the DNA in cells, causing mutations and leading to the development of tumours.
Another potential risk of mobile phones is that they produce small amounts of heat in the brain well actually to be precise mobile phone produce a small fraction of a degree of heat on the surface of the head.
An additional potential cause for concern is mobile phone masts and base stations and their effects on people who live in proximity to these towers.
So a look at the scientific evidence if you please…WHO, the world’s largest and presumably impartial health organization says and I quote ! “To date, no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use.” This in reference to hundreds of studies that have been conducted – one review in 2009 found 465 papers on the subject of mobile phones and cancer.
The problem is that some studies suggest a link and other don’t and others are not conclusive.
One notable study was the Interphone study conducted in 13 countries coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which reported that, overall, cell phone users have no increased risk of brain tumours but for the small proportion of study participants who reported a considerable amount of time spent on the phone there was some increased risk, however the researchers considered this finding inconclusive.
In 2006 a large Danish study that followed over 420,000 Danish citizens showed no increased risk of cancer. And more recently a study in England found no association between risk of early childhood cancers and the mother’s exposure to mobile phone base stations during pregnancy.
Most studies are deemed inconclusive for a few reasons
– most studies require people to recall frequency and duration of use and are therefore dependent on the accuracy of the person’s memory and well some of us have faulty memories…this is called recall bias.
– mobile phone technology is always changing from analogue in 1990s to digital and 3G now a days.
– it can take years between exposure and the clinical onset of a tumour and cell phones have only been around for the past twenty years.
While we wait for more research, the WHO recommends the precautionary principle – in the absence of a scientific consensus, it is advisable to act to avoid harm….therefore Ladies and Gentlemen reduce your exposure by keeping the phone at a distance such as when texting, using the internet, using a hands free kit or blue tooth headset. Also bare in mind that using phones in areas with good reception decreases exposure as the phone can transmit at a reduced power.
But the most immediate danger to us all, even for those who don’t use cell phones, is drivers who talk on their mobile phones!
Dare I say it but in a busy office such as mine where everyone has a mobile phone and some have two and even three phones will the concentration of radiation be that much higher so as to effect you even more? Kind of like … passive smoking? Do certain phones emit less radiation i.e. could a Huawei be better for you than a high powered I-phone or I-pad?
In certain countries particularly developed countries they have set regulations on the radio frequency that the phone will emit and thus the body will absorb. In USA its 1.6 watts per kg, Europe 2. Not sure and doubting Malawi. The Mose wa Lero phones I am not sure. Having several phones in your work place does not amplify your risk unless you have all the phones very very very close to your head.
Steven Novella, who comes highly recommended both for his podcast and blog, btw – has a nice summary too. If there is an effect, it’s likely small…