The Latest Look at Cell Phone Health Risks

Mobile phones are staples to our modern lives. You may have been concerned to see recent headlines like this:

As with any issue of this sort, you have competing interests from: media outlets that are always ready to hype a scary story; groups that depend on sowing fear to increase their influence; industry leaders who are quick to downplay any risk; and scientists who usually offer a firm “maybe … under certain conditions.” Getting the truth becomes a challenge.

The latest uproar is the result of a U.S. National Toxicology Program study, published May 26th, that suggested a potential link between cell phone use and cancer. Specifically, male rats exposed to the same wireless signals that cell phones emit seemed more likely to develop certain types of brain and heart tumors than the control rats. Interestingly, no difference was observed between female rats.

So what does it mean? It’s hard to say (and the people who seem the surest are probably the people you should trust least), but here are some important considerations:
  • This was just one study among many others. Some research has found a cellphone-cancer link, but a lot more studies have discovered no link whatsoever.
  • The latest study still needs to be “picked apart.” Any reputable scientific study will have been undertaken in a controlled environment and measured against objective standards, but errors still take place. This latest research will still need to withstand peer review and criticism, and the results will need to be independently verified by repeating the experiment.
  • Cell phone radiation varies widely from call-to-call and even during calls. If you can’t measure the levels, it’s difficult to draw a line between safe and not safe. Plus, rats are not people, and how cell phone radiation is concentrated on the physiologies has to be different than with humans.
  • Real world experiences don’t verify the results. Cell phone usage has exploded in the past few years, and yet brain cancer rates are falling.
  • We shouldn’t dismiss the concern out-of-hand. The world is full of people ‘crying wolf,’ but occasionally the wolf is real. Studies will continue-as well they should-and we can continue to consider new findings as they are presented until we have some definitive answers.
So, are there practical things you can do to protect yourself while the debate rages? Absolutely.
  1. Use a headset to keep your mobile phone away from your head when possible.
  2. Limit phone use for children who have thinner and smaller skulls.
  3. Don’t sleep with an active phone under your pillow. If anything, raise the volume on your morning alarm and position the phone as far from you as possible.
  4. Be skeptical of phone accessories like RF energy shields that promise protection… there’s no guarantee that they are making your phone any safer.