Can Cell Phones Cause Cancer?
People all over the world have been using cellular phones for the past 30 years and for the same amount of time, the scientific community and the wireless phones industry had been trying to prove if mobile phones cause cancer or not. Back when the concept of cellular phones was first introduced in the early 90s, there have been only 6 in 100 adults in the United States who were subscribed to mobile phone subscriptions. That number is nothing compared to today’s 3 out of 4 American adults owning at least one mobile phone. So does the increasing number of people who owns a mobile phone translate to the fact that it is not harmful indeed? This technology essay will discuss the history of studies conducted in the name of proving if cellular phones cause cancer and recent findings.
Which home appliance can cause cancer or can affect us negatively?
Whether cell phones can cause cancer or not has been a controversial topic for the past three decades in both the scientific community and the cell phone industry. Of course, the matter of proving whether using a cell phone is safe for people’s health falls down to the scientists. Even the cell phone industries themselves had to fund scientific studies to prove their consumer’s safety when using their products. The scientific community is divided on this topic as most independently funded cell phone safety-related studies conducted between 1990 and 2006 have found that the radiofrequency radiation from cell phones has biological effects. While only almost half of the studies, cell phone industry-funded and independent combined, claim that the use of cell phones has no biological effects on humans whatsoever.
The clash was started by George Carlo in 1993 and has continued on and off for years. Carlo was first hired by Tom Wheeler, the president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), to conduct a study and handle a public relations crisis as claims of cell phone users being diagnosed with cancer rose. 2 years later, the cell phone industry-financed Wireless Technology Research project (WTR) began and was directed by Carlo. After some time, the WTR project conducted and reviewed numerous studies linked to cell phone usage and cancer. It was then that Carlo posed serious questions about the safety of using cell phones.
In 1999, Carlo shared the correlated finding between the risk of developing rare neuroepithelial tumors outside of the brain in cell phone users has more than doubled and the occurrence of those brain tumors on the side of the head where the phone is usually placed by a person when taking a call. He was positive that the radiation from the cell phone’s antenna causes genetic damage in humans. He then urged the cell phone manufacturers to share this information with their users and let them be the judge of their own health risks.
Over the years, there have been numerous allegations in the medical research community, in the media, and even in courts that the use of cell phones can actually cause cancer. This argument is basically grounded on the assumption that the exposure of humans to radiofrequency radiation emitted by cell phones and other hand-held communication devices can cause brain tumors and therefore cancer.
These concerns have further been fueled by a publication in Radiation Research which implied that exposure to RF radiation could possibly increase the risk of lymphoma in mice (Repacholi, Basten, Gebski, & Finni, 1997). However, due to a lack of sound and conclusive evidence, this line of thinking can only be equated to the assertion that sitting close to a television screen can cause cancer. Proponents of this argument have so far failed to provide solid epidemiological evidence that clearly demonstrates the existence of a causal relationship between radiofrequency radiation from cell phones and the prevalence of cancer.
According to some previous scientific studies, there is absolutely no link between radiofrequency radiation emitted from cell phones and its ability to cause cancer in humans because the amount and concentration of radiofrequency radiation emitted when using a cell phone is far too weak to significantly affect a human’s health. Notably, all living organisms derive thermal energy by absorbing microwave radiation.
In human beings, this thermal energy is regulated through metabolic control systems such as blood flow, sweating, and other cooling mechanisms aimed at maintaining a stable internal temperature and transfer of energy. The amount of radiation the body absorbs while an individual uses a cell phone is significantly less than the radiation produced in the process of metabolism. If radiation due to the body’s metabolic process cannot cause cancer, then how can smaller amounts of radiofrequency radiation emitted by cell phones be carcinogenic?
In addition to that, according to those who say that cell phones do not pose any harm to humans, the only forms of electromagnetic radiation that can cause cancer in humans are the ones with ionizing properties such as ultraviolet rays, gamma rays, and x-rays. Cell phones emit microwave radiation which does not ionize body molecules.
Microwave radiation can neither break nor modify chemical bonds in the human body. It cannot, therefore, produce a chemical process that may lead to cancer. They found that this form of energy is over a thousand times weaker than the energy produced by the body’s metabolic process or by the normal thermal environment. The connection between cell phone radiofrequency radiation and cancer is therefore scientifically implausible.
There have been numerous studies on cell phone radiation in the United States and Europe over the past 30 years. For instance, in a major Danish study, researchers collected data on brain cancer prevalence in European countries with the best medical care history such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The study’s objective was to compare the prevalence of brain cancer from the late 1980s to the early 1990s when cell phones were either not in use or rare and the first ten years of the 21st century when there was widespread use of cell phones (Leikind, 2010). The findings of the study showed that there was no significant effect, or increase, in brain cancer prevalence during the period when cell phones were widespread in Europe.
Are there any research findings that prove or disprove the correlation between cell phones and cancer?
As technology, along with cell phones, continue to advance, the unanswered question of the possibility of cell phones causing cancer in humans continues to trouble some cell phone users. Today, there are over 5.22 billion cell phone users, with more than half the number being smartphone users, all over the globe. Cell phones are considered a staple in this Internet Age and a person is rarely seen go about his day without one. Cell phones make communication and organization a whole lot easier for a lot of people and it has numerous other functions aside from that.
Because of the ongoing concern of some users who are aware of the previous studies, the scientific community and even the cell phone industry continue to conduct more studies to prove that using cell phones does not cause cancer and does not pose any health hazard. And so, recent studies have been conducted by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the US Department of Health and Human Services and results show that there is indeed a correlation between lab rats and exposure to radiofrequency radiation emitted by cellphones. They exposed lab rats to 2G and 3G radiofrequency radiation and continuously adjusted the exposure according to the rat’s growth in accordance with the safety guidelines of 1.6 watts per kilogram of body weight in humans.
This 2018 study conducted by the NTP has noted that even though lab rats have shown health effects due to being exposed to constant radiofrequency radiation, the risk of developing cancer in humans is still inconclusive, as aligned with other previous studies on the matter. The NTP found an increased risk of uncommon malignant schwannomas or heart tumors in the Schwann cells in the heart of male rats which is not present in female rats and mice. The Schwann cells of rodents and humans are similar and humans who develop vestibular schwannomas are reported to be those who use cell phones heavily. Aside from heart tumors, there is also an increase in developing tumors in the brain and adrenal glands.
However, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) reviewed the study and deemed that this can’t be used to determine the ability of radiofrequency radiation to develop cancer in humans. To address the people who are concerned about their health, the NTP advised concerned cell phone users that they wear an earpiece when taking a call instead of putting the cell phone right next to their head to avoid getting into contact with the heated cell phone.
In addition, according to the National Cancer Institute, they still have found no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation coming from cell phones poses negative health effects and also increases the risk of cancer in humans. That the only consistently recognized biological effect of radiofrequency radiation in humans is heating (National Cancer Institute, 2019). Radiofrequency exposure due to using a cellphone may cause heating to the person’s body if the device is being held. However, this heat is not enough to do any potential worrying effects on the human body.
Still, after conducting hundreds of studies regarding the link between cell phone use and the development of cancer, no specific answer can be concluded. There is not enough evidence for both sides to get the answer that they are inclined to. As of writing, it is still not determined if cell phones can cause cancer or not. And because observing and discovering new cancer-causing agent takes many years and countless studies, it is possible that three decades is considered a short time for observation given the fact that humans' cell phone usage constantly changes over the years.
To add, every human’s cell phone usage differs from each other, although most are similar. A human’s exposure to radiofrequency radiation emitted by cellphones varies from the amount of time they spend using their cell phone and how close the cell phone is from their body, their distance from the cell phone tower, the amount of cellular traffic in the area at their time of usage, and the model and make of the phone they are using as each phone gives off different amounts of radiofrequency radiation. Aside from actively using a cell phone, studies have also found that an idle phone can also emit radiofrequency radiation. And with the rapidly growing number of cell phones and cell phone users all over the globe, the concerned cell phone users find the uncertainty to be deeply troubling.
Even today, there is a lack of solid proof that ensures users and cell phone manufacturers alike that cell phones are indeed completely safe to use. This is why it is suggested to just limit cell phone usage or at least make sure to use an earpiece or other methods to keep the cell phone’s antenna away from a person’s head. For now, all cell phone users can do is be wary of possible health effects and trust that the findings of recent studies are most likely accurate.
In conclusion, the available scientific information on cell phone radiation and brain cancer does not call for special precautions when using a cell phone or any other mobile device. Cell phone users are nevertheless advised to limit the length of their calls to avoid exposure to extreme levels of radiofrequency radiation which may have other discomforting effects such as headaches and mental fatigue. However, the existing evidence linking cell phone radiofrequency radiation to cancer is not only weak but scientifically implausible too.
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Hertsgaard, M., & Dowie, M. (2018, July 23). The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/14/mobile-phones-cancer-inconvenient-truths
Leikind, B. (2010). Do cell phones cause cancer? Skeptic Journal, 15(4), 7-20.
National Cancer Institute. (2019, January 9). Cell Phones and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet . National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/cell-phones-fact-sheet
Repacholi, M., Basten, A., Gebski, V., & Finni, J. (1997). Lymphoma in EM: Transgenic mice exposed to pulsed 900 MHz electromagnetic fields. Radiation Research, 147, 631-640.
Schmidt, C. (2018, March 29). New Studies Link Cell Phone Radiation with Cancer . Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-studies-link-cell-phone-radiation-with-cancer/