Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer?

A part of me wishes we definitively knew the answer to this question simply to get people to refrain from talking on their cell phones while driving. Nothing is more frustrating on the road than seeing bad driving practices only to see the driver blabbing on a phone. In addition, we know that driving while talking on a mobile phone is equivalent to driving with an illegal blood alcohol level with regards to reaction time and focus on the road. People have been killed in car accidents by someone talking on a phone. I was in a car accident about 3 years ago when I was rear-ended by a woman talking on her cell phone. It is now illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving in California and other states are catching on as well. We also know that a headset or speaker phone does not reduce the risk of an accident. But I digress, we were supposed to be talking about brain cancer.

According to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association Americans spent 2.2 trillion minutes on their cell phones in 2008 which was a 100 billion minute increase from the previous year. Cell phones are becoming more and more advanced in their capabilities and at the same time, increasing their radio frequency output. A few studies have shown an increase in brain tumors on the same side of the head where the user holds the phone, but other studies have shown no association.

A 2009 study looked at 23 studies of 38,000 people and found no connection between cell phone use and brain tumors. However, there was a subset analysis of eight studies which showed a 10-30% increase in the risk of tumors from long-term use compared to people who rarely used a cell phone.

The European Environment Agency has stepped up and warned against the use of mobile phones in children because they have their entire lives ahead of them with exposure to radio frequencies and radiation. John Bucher, the associate director of the National Toxicology Program, testified before the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee. He stated that cell phone radiation penetrates deeper into a child’s brain because of the configuration of a young, growing skull.

Professor Lennart Hardell is a Swedish researcher who is at the leading edge of cell phone radiation and brain cancer risk research. He has found an increased risk of brain tumors from 10 or more years of mobile phone use. Several studies of his have been published with the following key findings:

  • For every 100 hours of cell phone use, the risk of brain cancer increases by 5%. For every year of use, the risk of brain cancer increases by 8%.
  • After 10 or more years of digital cell phone use, there was a 280% increased risk of brain cancer.
  • For digital cell phone users who were teenagers or younger when they first started using mobile phones, there was a 420% increased risk of brain cancer.

Why is there conflicting evidence? Is there special interest involved and who funded the studies in question? Dr. Hardell’s research is very compelling and I tend to trust European studies over American studies because there is usually less of a money-trail in Europe. There is a lot of money to be made on cell phone use and we live in a country where the bottom line means everything.

In addition, why is it clearly stated in the fine print of cell phone manuals to use caution regarding radio frequencies and warnings about keeping the phone as far away from the body as possible? Radiation decreases as the square of the distance from the phone. The farther the phone is from your body, the less radiation exposure. One example is the Blackberry 8300 which clearly states: “When using any data feature of the Blackberry device, with or without a USB cable, keep the device at least.98 inches from your body and it should not be worn or carried on the body.” This is clear enough for me that the cell phone manufacturers know the potential dangers of radiation.

Dr. Devra Lee Davis is the director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and author of the book Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide it, and How to Protect Your Family. She has testified before congress about this subject and has published numerous articles as well. She recommends the following to reduce your risk:

  • Put your phone in the “flight” or “off-line” mode when carrying, storing, or charging it.  This stops the electromagnetic emissions.
  • Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body or storing it near your body at night.
  • Use a wired headset (not Bluetooth!) or the speaker-phone mode to keep the phone as far from your body as possible while talking.
  • Switch sides of your head regularly while talking.
  • Use text messaging instead of talking.
  • Choose a device with the lowest SAR possible.  SAR stands for specific absorption rate, a measure of the strength of electromagnetic fields.
  • Children should only use cell phones near their heads for emergencies.  Texting away from the body is safer for children than talking on a cell phone.
  • Avoid using the phone while the signal is weak or when moving at high speeds as in a car or train.  This increases the power to the phone as it tries to stay connected.

Until more research is done that is not funded by the phone industry I will treat this as if cell phone radiation is in fact detrimental to my health. It is better to be safe than sorry and the studies that show an increased risk of brain tumors are simply too compelling to ignore. Use the simple steps outlined in this article and choose a phone with a low SAR to protect yourself from potential damage.