New questions are being raised about radiation from cell phones

By: Shannon Cake - 07-06-2010


We walk and talk, text and send. For billions of people, cell phones have become a habit.

“I’d be useless,” said Seth Donahoe, a financial advisor who keeps his phone with him constantly. “From 9 a.m. til 7 at night it’s all business usually.”

But what about radiation emitted from cell phones,” I asked.

“I think about it all the time.”

“It doesn’t change your behavior?”

“No, not at all.”

For years, the cell phone and wireless industry has pointed to the Federal Communications Commission and numerous studies conducted by cancer research groups. These agencies could find no hard scientific evidence that the small amount of radiation from your cell phone can cause cancer–more specifically a brain tumor.  However, recent reports indicate a possible shift in that theory.

“The 10 year data has just come out that shows over a longer-term period, continuous exposure to radiation does increase your risk of primary brain tumors,” said Dr. Charles Theofolis, a local neurosurgeon.

He points to a study reported in a physicians trade journal, Surgical Neurology. “Before studies like this one came out–who knew? Now that the data has come out, I’m going to say there is preliminary data showing there’s an increased risk,” he said.

The authors of the study found: “there is adequate epidemiological evidence to suggest a link between prolonged cell phone usage and the development of an brain tumor.”

“Radiation alters the DNA of cell,” said Dr. Theofolis. “So when you start altering DNA and form mutant cells in the brain, that’s what causes brain tumors and brain cancer.”

The World Health Organization recently wrapped up its own international study on the topic. There were mixed conclusions, but the organization did warn with the “changing patterns of mobile phone use, particularly in young people, further investigation of phone use and brain cancer risk is merited.”

“The problem part is you really don’t know what happens to children,” said Olga Naidemko, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, which, among other things, works to restrict cell phone use among kids. “There are no studies that look at children’s health so there is no organization that can come out and say cell phones are safe for children because we simply don’t know.”

A cell phone trade group in Washington, D.C. is familiar with the recent research. John Walls, vice president of CITA-Wireless Association, said more studies should be done in some areas.

“Looking at research that has been done and evaluated, it has been determined that in some respects there’s no increased risk from cell phone use. However in terms of long-term use and maybe with regard to children, those are areas we could do more research on,” he said.

Dr. Theofolis says it makes sense that children would be more vulnerable to cellphone radiation because their skulls haven’t fully formed. “Because children have thinner skulls, some part of the brain can absorb twice as much radiation as you and I because the skull is so thin. So just think about children using cell phones, it could be a 5 fold increase of brain cancer in children.”

“My feeling is we are going to see a bump in brain tumors down the road,” said Dr. Theofolis. “I’m worried enough that I use my speaker phone on my cell phone as much as I can.”

But Seth Donahoe says despite the recent studies he has no plans of changing his habits.

“I feel like it’s the cigarettes of my generation; like one day I’m going to end up with cancer because the cell phone is stuck to my ear,” he said. “My kids are going to be like, ‘You didn’t know? You didn’t think you could get cancer from that?’”

As a precaution, Dr. Theofolis recommends using a speaker phone. The next best step is using a wired headset to your phone. He said the worst is to put the phone next to your ear.


Environmental Working Group rates phones based on radiation: click here

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