Cellphones and Cancer: What You Must Know Now
While the jury's still out, researchers are showing concern over one particular class of users — and a certain set of behaviors
Most people in the developed world are plugged in — they have cellphones, computers or television up and running in front of them most of the time. And that constant stimulation can be harmful in several ways.
Still, you might be thinking of exercise and human interaction at this point — but what about radiation exposure from cellphones?
Recently, a new government study may have had a few jumping out of their seats. Thankfully, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has shed some light on the results.
According to a statement released by the FDA on February 2, the National Toxicology Program studied the effects of high levels of radio-frequency radiation in rodents. As done in many studies, this research used excessively high amounts of radiation in order to add more understanding to previous studies.
Not surprisingly, the NTP researchers found that these high levels did actually cause cancer. Here, however, the FDA remained careful in interpreting. Officials pointed out that not only were radiation levels high, but also exposure through whole body radio-frequency mostly caused their result.
While the NTP research can add to the pool of radiation research already available, the FDA will interpret the findings alongside other research for the most complete picture.
For now, the FDA stated, "Based on this current information, we believe the current safety limits for cellphones are acceptable for protecting the public health."
Can cellphones cause cancer? One of the major concerns some people have with cellphones is their potential for causing cancer. While experts already know that radiation from X-rays and similar machinery does increase the risk, they're less sure about sources like cellphones and microwaves.
According to the National Cancer Institute, sources known to cause cancer actually use ionizing radiation, the high frequency form of radiation energy. Cellphones, on the other hand, use nonionizing radiation at very low levels.
Unlike the first, this latter type doesn't cause DNA damage. Instead, researchers have only verified that nonionizing radiation does heat human tissue in areas exposed to it.
So far, though, the NCI states that researchers haven't found conclusive evidence going either way with nonionizing radiation. Should that concern you?
Possibly, but it more likely means that current levels of cellphone radiation are safe. Take a look at a few studies that have shown inconsistent results:
Interphone study. In a multinational case-control study of people in 13 different countries, researchers investigated whether cellphone usage contributed to certain types of cancer. These included gliomas and meningiomas.
To accomplish this, researchers investigated thousands of cancer cases and compared them with over 7,000 controls. They studied data from questionnaires, which study participants answered to the best of their knowledge.
Overall, reviews of this Interphone study have held its results as inconclusive. The study was published in 2007 in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
CERENAT study. In another study, researchers looked for a relationship between cellphone use and gliomas and meningiomas in adults. The study was conducted in France between 2004 and 2006. It was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2014.
Researchers started by conducting a face-to-face questionnaire to over 1,300 participants. As a result, researchers found no association with cancer in participants who used cellphones at a normal rate.
However, they did find an increased risk in the heaviest users.
Because of the number of studies with inconclusive or conflicting data, more research is needed to confirm this result.
Cellphone safety precautions. For now, the consensus is that cellphones are safe at their current radiation levels. However, you may still want to follow a few safety guidelines to reduce your risk anyway.
A few small changes will do the trick:
- Use your cellphone for important calls only.
- Keep phone calls short, only a few minutes at a time.
- Opt for texting whenever possible.
- Use hands-free kits, including Bluetooth devices.
- Store cellphones away from the body — for instance, in your pocketbook or on a desk rather than in your pocket.
- In all of these instances, the aim is to reduce cellphone time and keep the device away from your head as much as possible. If you keep this in mind, you'll be well on your way to protecting yourself from radiation.
In addition, you should also be sure to moderate the amount of time your children are exposed. Most of these recommendations are for development purposes, but they can also protect your child from radiation exposure.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:
1.) Children under 18 months should have highly limited exposure to media, except video calling.
2.) Children between 18 and 24 months should use media with adult supervision. Their exposure should also be greatly limited.
3.) Children ages two to five years should get one hour or less of screen time per day. This could include interactive games or videos on your cellphone.
4.) For children age six and older, you should place limits on media time. Here, you should ensure that it's not taking up too much time and hampering other developmental activities. For instance, teens should not be spending hours every day talking on the phone with friends.
According to the FDA and available research, cellphones are likely safe to use at their current levels of radiation. While the inconclusive studies may not make you feel confident, you can follow a few steps to reduce your risk. Rest assured that researchers are still investigating this concern.
This piece originally appeared in AskDrManny.com. Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.