Could Cell Phones Really Cause Cancer?

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Cancer and cell phones

Paranoid that cell phones could cause cancer? You’re not alone—there are countless career bloggers, news networks and industry experts that share your concerns. The National Cancer Institute even has a whole webpage devoted to addressing this hotly-contested topic. Let’s put all the facts on the table – and you can assess the risk for yourself.

How cell phones work

Cell phones work by sending radiofrequency (RF) waves to and from nearby cell towers. RF waves fall somewhere between FM radio waves and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum, so they’re relatively low-energy. As a form of non-ionizing radiation, they’re not strong enough to directly damage the DNA inside your cells. In fact, the only consistently-recognized biological effect of radiofrequency energy is heating—and even then, the waves are too weak to increase the temperature of the human body.

How cancer works

Generally, cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow rapidly, upsetting the balance of normal cells and reducing their ability to function properly. Exposure to certain types of radiation is known to increase the risk of cancer. High-energy, ionizing waves (like x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolent light) are strong enough to break the chemical bonds of DNA and cause cells to mutate. These cancerous cells can then reproduce and wreak havoc throughout the body. (Note: this is a very basic overview of a very complex phenomenon. For more information, check out this guide from the American Cancer Society.)

The mice that made waves

A quick Google search combining “cancer” and “cell phones,” turns up some pretty terrifying headlines. Don’t believe everything you read.

Most of these articles cite a partially complete animal study that exposed rats to RF waves over the span of their lifetime. The results indicate a slightly elevated risk of tumors in male rats. However, there are some major points to consider. The amount of RF radiation used in the study was much higher than what most cell phones can emit. And the rats were exposed to radiation for much longer than the average person would spend on the phone. Plus, we’re talking about rats here. It’s quite a jump to assume the human body would be affected in exactly the same way.

Drawing conclusions

Here’s the bottom line: based on everything we know, there’s no confirmed link between cancer and cell phones.

Cell phones do not emit potentially-dangerous ionizing radiation. The energy they do generate is too low on the electromagnetic spectrum to cause DNA damage. Further, the incidence of brain cancer has not increased despite the exponential growth of cell phone use.

Phone a friend

Still skeptical? For the biochemically-inclined, The National Cancer Institute has compiled a helpful list of notable studies. For everyone else, this is where the experts stand:

U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

“At this time we do not have the science to link health problems to cell phone use. Scientific studies are underway to determine whether cell phone use may cause health effects.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

“The majority of studies published have failed to show an association between exposure to radiofrequency from a cell phone and health problems.”

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

“Current scientific evidence has not conclusively linked cell phone use with any adverse health problems, but more research is needed.”

You’re in the clear

Take a deep breath. You won’t have to say goodbye to your mobile companion anytime soon. There’s no definitive evidence to suggest a correlation between cancer and cell phone usage.

If you’d rather not take any chances, you can talk on a hands-free device, opt for a landline connection or send more texts. There’s just one thing we know for sure: it wouldn’t hurt for the medical community to delve deeper into this research topic. Stay tuned for future studies—but for now, talk to friends and family without worry. (And stay away from those alarmist articles.)

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About Author

Kara

Kara graduated from Clemson University with degrees in English and Communication Studies. As any good Tiger alumna would, she live-tweets every Clemson football game and wears way too much orange. When she’s not training to become a Pokémon master, she creates content to help bridge the gap between the real world and the virtual world.

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