Earlier this week, I traveled to Manhattan from Long Island on public transport after a long time. Since I was by myself, with no driving to do, I got a chance to indulge in some people watching. I noticed a lot of this:
People spend a lot of times on their phones. Now with extended WiFi in the subway, this use will go up even further.
Let us start by talking about the reasons why people are concerned that cell phones might have the potential to cause certain types of cancer or other health problems:
- Cell phones emit radio waves which are a kind of non-ionizing radiation. Parts of the body nearest to the antenna can absorb this energy.
- The number of cell phones, the number of calls per day and duration of calls have significantly increased over the past few decades.
- Cell phone radiation test used by the FCC is based on the devices’ possible effect on adults—not children. Children’s skulls are thinner and can absorb more radiation.
Brain cancer incidence and mortality or death rates have changed little in the past decade.
In the United States, 23,770 new diagnoses and 16,050 deaths from brain and other central nervous system cancers are estimated for 2016.
The percentage of people diagnosed with brain cancer who will still be alive 5 years after diagnosis compared with the survival of a person of the same age and sex who does not have cancer is about 35% and has also been fairly stable. The outcome is better for younger people compared to older.
The risk of developing brain cancer increases with age. From 2008 through 2012, there were fewer than 5 brain cancer cases for every 100,000 people in the United States under age 65, compared with approximately 19 cases for every 100,000 people in the United States who were ages 65 or older
We know beyond doubt that exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from x-rays, is known to increase the risk of cancer. What about non-ionizing radiation?
In May 2016, the US National Toxicology Program, released partial findings from a two-year study that exposed rats to the types of radio frequency radiation that cell phones give off and compared them with a non-exposed group. Some rats developed cancerous tumors after being exposed to the radiation—showing a potential connection between exposure to radiation and an increased risk of cancer. However, this study was only done on rats and while rats may be good subjects for medical research, these results cannot be extrapolated to humans.
There are a few large studies that have looked at the effect of cell phone radiation in humans. Analyses from the Interphone study have shown no statistically significant increases in brain or central nervous system cancers related to higher amounts of cell phone use. There is a Danish study showed no association between cell phone use and the incidence of glioma, meningioma, or acoustic neuroma, even among people who had been cell phone subscribers for 13 or more years.
A new study called MOBI-KIDS is now underway in 14 countries for which results are expected soon.
The bottom line is that there is no reason, yet, to panic over the latest research but it can be used as a good reminder to limit children’s screen time.
10 tips for safe cell phone use
Want more information?
The Federal Communications Commission or FCC provides information about the specific absorption rate or SAR of all cell phones produced and marketed within the last 1 to 2 years. The SAR is basically the amount of radio waves that your head absorbs from cell phone use versus the amount of radio waves it emits. To look up this information, you need your phone’s FCC ID number, which is usually located on the case of the phone, and look it up on the FCC’s ID search form. SAR levels for cell phones sold in the US range from a low of 0.18 to the maximum of 1.54
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