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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Fact or fiction: Debate continues over cell phones’ impact on brain cancer

Talking on your cell phone frequently could produce an expensive phone bill – but could it also give you cancer?

For now, the answer is no. There have been several studies about the link between cell phones and brain cancer and many of them have pointed toward the negative.

In 2006, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported a Danish study that claimed, “Any large association of risk of cancer and cellular telephone use can be excluded.”

Researchers carried out the study by following 420,095 Danish cell phone users from 1982 to 2002. Their studies proved that heavy cell phone use did not cause an increase in brain tumors, acoustic neuromas, salivary gland tumors, eye tumors or leukemia.

Yet, there is still concern regarding the mobile phones. The effects of radiofrequency energy emitted by cell phones on humans are still being researched.

Paul Knoepfler, a cancer biologist and member of the UC Davis Cancer Center, speculates that a cell phone’s ability to emit microwave radiation through obstacles can have adverse effects.

“We are all very happy when our cell phones work inside buildings or even elevators where the user is surrounded by metal,” said Knoepfler in an e-mail interview. “But if you think about it, if the signal from the cell phone is strong enough to do that, it is definitely going right through your skull and into your brain because your ear is only a couple inches from your brain. Therefore, although current research does not suggest high risk, cell phone users are in a sense irradiating their brains and there is almost certain to be some kind of risk associated with that.”

He adds that frequency to the radiation might play an important role.

“It is the same kind of issue as getting your teeth [or chest] X-rayed,” said Knoepfler. “In those cases the exposure time is usually a split second and occurs only once every few years or less. While X-rays are a much stronger form of radiation, cell phone users often spend hours every day on the phone, so that magnifies the radiation exposure.”

Another problem with this type of study is that cell phones are a new invention, relatively speaking. The long-term effects of cell phones are hard to measure because brain cancer itself can take years to manifest and cell phones are ever changing.

With the new California law, a hands-free device is now required when driving. Knoepfler said it might be a safer alternative, as a wireless device emits less radiation to the brain.

However, it still emits radiation.

“You have to remember that any wireless signal is a form of radiation,” said Knoepfler. “So there could be risk associated with Bluetooth, but the same may apply to WiFi.”

Does this mean that having a radiation device strapped right by the temples for long periods of time will be dangerous?

The Bluetooth is used for short-range transfer of information, however, so most often signal strength is likely to be a lot less intense than that emitted by cell phones, he said.

“The Bluetooth signal just needs to go a few feet, not miles,” Knoepfler said.

“All risk is relative,” Knoepfler said. “The danger of dying from crashing your car into a semi truck on I-80 from being distracted by chatting on the cell phone as you drive is probably much higher than from the radiation given off by that cell phone during your drive and the risk from Bluetooth is even lower.”

“If you spend hours every day on the cell phone with it pressed against your ear year after year, you are definitely exposing your brain cumulatively to a significant amount of microwave radiation that over time could add up to trouble,” he said.

To add to the fear, not all studies point to safety. A study on the issue was done recently by Dr. Siegal Sadetzki, a physician and lecturer at Tel Aviv University.

The study concluded that frequent cell phone users had a higher chance of developing tumors on the salivary gland on the side of the head where they hold the cell phone.

“The jury is still out on this important question,” Knoepfler said on the cell phone debate.

“There have been a number of studies looking for links between cell phone use and brain tumors, which together have given conflicting results…. We just don’t know enough yet to say that kind of heavy, long-term cell phone use is safe or not,” he said.

And the topic generates concerns among college students as well.

Susan Tiang, a sophomore biological science major, said cell phones do not cause any sort of brain damage.

“I don’t think [cell phones] do enough to chemically cause your cells to mutate,” Tiang said.

Chino Mayrina, a junior English major, points out the uncertainty of holding an electromagnetic radiation device to one’s head.

“It has to do something. It operates on [radiofrequency energy] and that’s found in microwaves and such things,” Mayrina said. “It’s easy to think they share a similar concept.”

APPLE LOVELESS can be reached at features@californiaaggie.com.

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