Cell phone use and cancer
>From PRI's Living on Earth 29 March, 2010 07:05:00
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Public health advocates say there's enough information linking cell phone
use to cancer to warrant warning labels.
This story is adapted from a broadcast audio segment; use audio player to
listen to story in its entirety.
Forty-five years ago, cigarette packages started carrying a label warning
that smoking may be hazardous to your health. Cell phones could be next, as
lawmakers in Maine and California are considering some sort of label on cell
phones -- or the packaging they come in -- warning of possible health
The science around cell phone use is still emerging and assessment of a
health risk is highly controversial. The National Cancer Institute says
there is not evidence of a health threat.
But some pamphlets that come with cell phones instruct users to keep the
device at least .98 inches from their body when the device is turned on and
connected to a wireless network.
Dr. David Carpenter, who directs the Institute for Health and Environmental
Safety at the University at Albany, says the instruction indicates that cell
phone manufacturers are aware that there's a potential threat of dangerous
levels of radio frequency radiation from the devices.
"They're dealing with specific absorption rate, or SAR, and that's the
regulatory standard and it's based on the intensity of radio frequency
radiation that would cause tissue heating. Cell phones use basically
microwaves, it's the same kind of radiation that cooks your potato in the
oven, and you don't really want to cook your brain while you're talking on
your cell phone."
Carpenter say there's enough information to warrant caution and warning
labels. "There's increasingly strong evidence that adults that have used a
cell phone intensively for 10 or more years are at significantly greater
risk of getting a brain tumor, but only on the side of the head where they
use the cell phone. And some evidence for cancer of the salivary gland
that's in the cheek. Again, only on the side of the head where the
individuals use the cell phone. Now, what's really frightening is research
that was just published a few months ago from Sweden that shows if you're
under the age of 20 when you begin to use a cell phone, the risks are five
times greater than if you start as an adult."
He adds that another study, from Scandinavia, found an increase in prostate
cancer in men that use cell phones. He believes this stems from men keeping
their phones on their belt or in their pocket.
"So, they're simply irradiating their pelvis and not their brain. So it's
likely that it's not just brain cancer we need to be concerned about, but we
should try to keep the cell phone off of any part of our body when we're
Carpenter suggests using an earpiece and keeping the devices away from the
body. He recommends that children be limited in their use of cell phones.
While he admits that there currently isn't enough information to determine
the extent of the health risks, Carpenter says it's best to be cautious.
"Are we going to be facing an epidemic of brain cancer in 10 or 20 years? We
know from a variety of other studies with various environmental exposures
that the latency for developing brain cancer after an environmental insult
is often 20 or 30 years. So this is just another reason to be cautious."
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