Cell phones are almost as common as pocket change these days, may be even more common than pocket change, since widespread use of credit cards have reduced the personal dependence from the cash on a daily basis. It seems nearly everyone, including an increasing number of children, carries a cell phone wherever they go. Cell phones are now so popular and convenient that they are far surpassing landlines as the primary form of telecommunication for many people. Many of my friends entirely abandoned the conventional phone, and use their mobile phones for all purposes.
The question over whether cell phones may pose any health risk for users has been debated for years, and researchers say the final answer could still be years away. Since the wireless industry's early days, there have been fears that cell phones could be harmful to your health. Some 600 studies have been conducted on the health effects of cell phone use, but the results have been conflicting.
Several reputable organizations, including the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute, say there's no conclusive evidence that using cell phones can harm your health. Other independent research, meanwhile, indicates a link between health problems and cell phone use.
How does a mobile work?
Mobile phones (as well as wireless home phones) send and receive voice and text messages via radio waves. These waves – a form of electromagnetic radiation – connect your phone to a wireless network of fixed antennas called base stations. If you move out of range from one base station, the network will automatically connect you to a nearer one with a stronger signal.
The radiation given out by mobile phones is in the microwave range. It is very low level, but some experts believe long-term exposure could be damaging.
'Your phone is continually 'checking in' with its nearest base station to ensure a good connection – it's what we call a 'handshake',' explains Glynn Hughes, a former telecommunications engineer who now runs a wireless protection company. 'It's that short but powerful pulsing you can hear if your mobile is near the radio, which is your phone is trying to 'handshake' with its closest antennae, emitting radiation in the process,' he says.
Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?
Wireless cell phones transmit signals via radio frequency (RF), the same kind of low-frequency radiation used in microwave ovens and AM/FM radios. Scientists have known for years that large doses of high-frequency radiation—the kind used in X-rays—causes cancer, but less is understood about the risks of low-frequency radiation.
Studies on the health risks of cell-phone use have produced mixed results, but scientists and medical experts warn that people should not assume no risk exists. Cell phones have been widely available for only the past 10 years or so, but tumors may take twice that long to develop.
Because cell phones haven’t been around very long, scientists haven’t been able to assess the effects of long-term cell-phone use, or to study the effects of low-frequency radiation on growing children. Most studies have focused on people who have been using cell phones for three to five years, but some studies have indicated that using a cell phone an hour a day for 10 years or more can significantly increase the risk of developing a rare brain tumor.
Mobile Phones are Safe (Brief Overview of Related Studies)
- According to some studies, the use of a cell phone can slightly decrease the risk of developing the brain tumors glioma and meningioma.
- Cell phone radiation, like radio, TV, and visible light radiation, is non-ionizing and cannot cause cancer. Ionizing radiation, including x-rays and ultraviolet light, produces molecules called ions that have either too many or too few electrons. Ions are known to damage DNA and cause cancer. Cell phone radiation lacks sufficient energy to add or remove electrons from molecules, and therefore it cannot ionize and cause cancer.
- Cell phone radiation levels are tested and certified by the manufacturer to meet the safe levels established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Random tests of phones on the market by FCC scientists further ensure that radiation levels meet FCC guidelines.
- Cell phones do not cause cancer or other health problems. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), US Government Accountability Office (GAO), and numerous other agencies have concluded that there is no evidence in the scientific literature proving that cell phones cause brain tumors or other health problems.
- If cell phones were causing cancer we could expect a rise in the rate of brain and other related cancers. However, according to the National Cancer Institute, there has been no increase in the incidence of brain or other nervous system cancers between the years 1987 and 2005 despite the fact that cell phone use has dramatically increased during those same years.
- Many activities that distract drivers are much more dangerous than talking on a phone. Research shows that cell phone use is a factor in less than 1% of accidents and that adjusting the radio or CD player, talking with passengers, or eating, and drinking while driving are all responsible for more accidents than cell phones.
- Studies correlating head tumors and cell phone use show inconsistent results, may have been tainted by recall bias (participants not remembering how often and for how long they have used their cell phones), and have not been replicated. Most studies have not found any association between cell phone use and the development of head tumors.
- Cell phones increase personal safety by providing an easy means of contacting others during an emergency. According to an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) poll, 56% of people over the age of 65 cite safety as a reason they have a cell phone.
- Despite popular belief, it is safe for persons with a pacemaker to use a cell phone. According to the American Heart Association, the radiofrequency emissions (RF) of cell phones available in the United States do not affect pacemaker functioning during normal use.
Mobile Phones are NOT Safe (Brief Overview of Related Studies)
- Studies have shown an association between cell phone use and the development of glioma, a type of brain cancer. According to one meta-study there is a "consistent pattern" connecting cell phone use and the increased risk of developing brain cancer.
- Many studies have found that long term cell phone use increases the risk of tumors of the head. According to one Swedish study, the risk of acoustic neuroma (a tumor formation on the nerve near the ear) was greater on the side of the head that the cell phone was held.
- Using a cell phone while driving, even with a hands-free device, is unsafe and can make accidents more likely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that driving distractions, including the use of cell phones, contribute to 25% of all traffic crashes.
- The radio frequency (RF) emissions from cell phones have been shown to damage genetic material in blood cells which is a common precursor to cancer.
- Driving while talking on a cell phone is as dangerous as driving drunk. According to researchers at the University of Utah people who drive while talking on their cell phones are as impaired as drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%.
- Children are at an increased risk for adverse health effects from cell phone radiation. One study has shown that children under the age of eight absorb twice the amount of radiation into their brain tissue as adults due to their lower skull thickness.
- The radiofrequency radiation from cell phones can damage the DNA in sperm. Cell phone storage in front pockets has been linked to poor fertility and an increased chance of miscarriage and childhood cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic Center for Reproductive medicine, semen quality "tended to decline as daily cell phone use increased."
- Long term cell phone use can increase the likelihood of being hospitalized for migraines and vertigo by 10-20%.
- The use of cellphones by people with pacemakers is unsafe. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), radiofrequency energy from cell phones can create electromagnetic interference (EMI) that may disrupt the functioning of pacemakers, especially if the cell phone is placed close to the heart.
- Lithium-ion batteries, used in most cell phones, can explode from exposure to high heat, or from overcharging a faulty counterfeit battery. These explosions have caused injuries and started fires.
What can you do to reduce your risk?
Confusing, mixed results? Sure. There is no substantial proof that mobile phones are dangerous to your health, but that does not mean that the risk does not exist on long-term scale. Therefore, being proactive and reducing your exposure to the radiation they produce is definitely a good idea. There are several recommendations how can you limit your exposure to the potential threat without giving away the convenience of using the device:
- Keep calls to a minimum, especially when talking to young children.
- Avoid using your phone in areas of poor reception. Calling when you're in an area with good reception allows your phone to transmit with less power, meaning lower radiation.
- Get into the habit of using your fixed landline phone (but not cordless) when you know you'll be on a long call.
- Send a text message in place of a call where possible so you're not bringing the phone close to your head.
- Use a 'hands free' device for calls. Keep your phone on a desk or table a good distance away from you and put it on speakerphone.
- Never keep a switched-on phone in a breast or trouser pocket. Studies have shown that mobile phones might affect male fertility. Mobiles can interfere with pacemakers but little research has been done into their effect on healthy hearts.
- Turn your phone off at night and stick to a conventional alarm clock for your wake up call. If you have to keep it on, place it away from your bed.
- Choose a low radiation phone. The American Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists all phone models and their SAR rating (specific absorption rate).
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