A work group of the World Health Organization has declared the radio frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The declaration was made after a week-long meeting of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, which involved 31 scientists from 14 countries, who decided there was enough evidence linking use of cellphones to an increased risk of glioblastoma.
The National Cancer Research Institute has released the following fact sheet to calm fears.
- Why is there concern that cell phones may cause cancer or other health problems?There are three main reasons why people are concerned that cell phones (also known as “wireless” or “mobile” telephones) may cause certain types of cancer or other health problems:
- Cell phones emit radiofrequency (RF) energy (radio waves), which is a form of radiation that has been under study for many years for its effects on the human body (1).
- Cell phone use began in Europe in the 1980s but did not come into widespread use in the United States until the 1990s. The technology is constantly evolving. The recent Interphone study is one of the few large studies of the effects of RF energy from cell phones on the human body.
- The number of cell phone users has increased rapidly. As of 2009, there were more than 285 million subscribers to cell phone service in the United States, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. This is an increase from 110 million users in 2000 and 208 million users in 2005.
For these reasons, it is important to learn whether RF energy from cell phones affects human health.
- What is RF energy and how can it affect the body?RF energy is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation can be divided into two types: Ionizing (high-frequency) and non-ionizing (low-frequency) . RF energy is a type of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. Ionizing radiation, such as that produced by x-ray machines, can pose a cancer risk. There is currently no conclusive evidence that non-ionizing radiation emitted by cell phones is associated with cancer risk (2).Studies suggest that the amount of RF energy produced by cell phones is too low to cause significant tissue heating or an increase in body temperature. However, more research is needed to determine what effects, if any, low-level non-ionizing RF energy has on the body and whether it poses a health danger.
- How is a cell phone user exposed to RF energy? A cell phone’s main source of RF energy is produced through its antenna. The antenna of newer hand-held cell phones is in the handset, which is typically held against the side of the head when the telephone is in use. The closer the antenna is to the head, the greater a person’s expected exposure to RF energy. The amount of RF energy absorbed by a person decreases significantly with increasing distance between the antenna and the user. The intensity of RF energy emitted by a cell phone depends on the level of the signal.When a call is placed from a cell phone, a signal is sent from the antenna of the phone to the nearest base station antenna. The base station routes the call through a switching center, where the call can be transferred to another cell phone, another base station, or the local land-line telephone system. The farther a cell phone is from the base station antenna, the higher the power level needed to maintain the connection. This distance determines, in part, the amount of RF energy exposure to the user.
- What determines how much RF energy a cell phone user experiences? A cell phone user’s level of exposure to RF energy depends on several factors, including:
- The number and duration of calls.
- The amount of cell phone traffic at a given time.
- The distance from the nearest cellular base station.
- The quality of the cellular transmission.
- The size of the handset.
- For older phones, how far the antenna is extended.
- Whether or not a hands-free device is used.
- What parts of the body may be affected during cell phone use? There is concern that RF energy produced by cell phones may affect the brain and other tissues in the head because hand-held cell phones are usually held close to the head. Researchers have focused on whether RF energy can cause malignant (cancerous) brain tumors, such as gliomas (cancers of the brain that begin in glial cells, which surround and support the nerve cells), as well as benign (noncancerous) tumors, such as acoustic neuromas (tumors that arise in the cells of the nerve that supplies the ear) and meningiomas (tumors that occur in the meninges , which are the membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord) (1). The salivary glands also may be exposed to RF energy from cell phones held close to the head.
- What studies have been done, and what do they show?Numerous studies have investigated the relationship between cell phone use and the risk of developing malignant and benign brain tumors.The most significant study of long-term use is the 13-country Inter-phone study, which is a multinational consortium of case-control studies. Inter-phone was coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (3). The primary objective of the Interphone study was to assess whether RF energy exposure from cell phones is associated with an increased risk of malignant or benign brain tumors and other head and neck tumors. Participating countries included Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
For additional research facts visit the The National Cancer Research Institute