Cell phones and cancer: searching for the missing link

Cell phones and cancer: searching for the missing link

It's no news that cell phones areliterally in every pocket – their number grows byhundreds of millions every year. But with that comes an alarming, but yet unproven theory: what if there is a link between cell phone use and braincancer? A recent article by the New York Times takes a deep look atthe issue from the very first tort suit against a phone maker in theearly nineties to the latest studies. The crux of the matter? In all likelihood you shouldn't be concerned, but taking precautions wouldn't hurt. Read on to find out why.

The issue gained wider publicity after a Larry Kingshow back in 1993, brought up by David Reynard from Floridaafter the death of his wife. “The tumor was exactly in the patternof the antenna,” Reynard said. A type of brain cancer that appearsin some 6,000 adults was the reason for his wife's demise and Reynardwas convinced that cell phone radiation was to blame. A civil lawsuit followed against NEC, but the Florida Circuit Court hearing thecase admitted that evidence was uncertain, while the scientifichypotheses – speculative, and eventually Reynard's claim wasrejected.

Fast forward to 2011, when phones, justlike technology in general, have moved a great deal, the same question remains: do we have any convincingevidence to establish a link between cell phone use and brain tumors?

A large-scale population survey seemsto be the best way to determine it. One of the first studies covered12-year period from 1990 to 2002 only to establish thatage-adjusted incidence of brain cancer hasn't increased. Quite theopposite, actually, it fell to 6.5 cases per 100,000 men and womenin 2002 from 7 cases in 1990, even onthe background of a dramatic increase of cell phone use.

A gigantic study dubbed Interphonetook on the task in 13 countries for ten years including 5,117brain-tumor cases and 5,634 people with no brain cancer. It wasbacked and financed mostly by the European Union along with cellphone firms, and coordinated by the WHO. The much anticipated resultsshowed no clear evidence, even worse – some of them werecontradictory, mostly due to thefact that the respondents were asked to fill in their previous daily cellphone as per their memory.

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But disproving a link between increasedcell phone use and brain cancer based on such a survey would also bea mistake as a phone might have an elusive rather than direct carcinogenic effect, whichmight develop into a tumor after much longer period like 20 year.Non-ionizing radiation - the one coming from cellular phones ormicrowaves - doesn't directly damage human DNA, but has some subtleeffects. Increasedbrain-glucose activity in the area of the brain just next tothe antenna of the phone is one of them, but that's still far frombrain cancer. Glucose is a suger serving as a metabolic brain fuel, but its increasecould also happen as you turn on your favorite tune or if somethinginvokes a dulcet memory. Actually, even in the case of a simplevisual response the glucose burst is much more dramatic, but that inno way means that looking at objects causes cancer, according to arecent study published in The Journal of the American MedicalAssociation.

Unfortunately, gaining further evidence has proven hard to finddue to the sparse nature of our exposure and varying cell phone use. To limit the risk, though, we can always try to reduce calls to under 10 minutes or use a Bluetooth headset if we plan on spending more than an hour per day on the phone is a first step. Keeping the phone away from the body and not using it in a car without an external antenna should decrease radiation exposure. Finally, radiation hazard is higher in children, so keeping them away from using cell phones is definitely a good idea. The bottom lineis that there is no conclusive evidence that cellular phonescause cancer. Inthe future, if companies release phone-log data, we might be closerto knowing the truth, but meanwhile the only thing left to do isexercising caution.

source: NYTimes, Wikipedia and Electroschematics

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