Cell phones are ubiquitous symbols of the technological age. With a cell phone our aural and cognitive faculties are extended in an unprecedented manner, making our living experience very unique. For example, wherever we may be located geographically, we can get in touch with family members anywhere in the world and at any moment we choose. There are practical utilities such as parents checking on their children, making emergency calls when the elevator or the car breaks down, etc. Such are the range of benefits of cell phones that presently, across the globe, there are more than 3 billion units in use. That is nearly one in two people in the globe have a cell phone attached to their identity. This statistic makes it clear that cell phones have become inevitable to our lives. A link has been identified between some kinds of electromagnetic radiation and some cancers. These forms of electromagnetic radiation include “ultraviolet radiation, X-rays, and gamma rays. They are dangerous because they may break covalent chemical bonds in your body. Breakage of certain covalent bonds in key molecules leads to an increased cancer risk.” (Leikind) It is claimed that Radio Frequency (RF) waves employed by cell phones are not in the same grouping as these harmful radiations.
RF is a type of electromagnetic radiation that falls between “FM radio waves and those used in microwave ovens, satellite stations, and radar”. (Leikind) Those who defend the safety of cell phones point out that the device does not emit ionizing radiation, which has the potential to create chemical changes to molecules in the human body. In other words, in the absence of ionizing radiation, the human DNA will not be damaged by cell phone usage. It is argued that cell phones
“emit nonionizing radiation, which has lower energy and a longer wavelength than ionizing radiation. Nonionizing radiation is not strong enough to change an atom’s structure, but it can heat tissue. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) places a limit on the amount of RF energy that can be absorbed from a cell phone into the user’s local tissues–the specific absorption rate (SAR)–at 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg).” (Liberatore 70)
Hence, those cell phone devices that abide by FCC regulation on heat limit should be safe for usage. This is backed by recent research evidence as well, which suggest that short-term exposure to cell phones might cause no harm whatsoever. But in terms of long-term usage, results from a review of 18 studies on cell phone use of more than 10 years show “a consistent pattern of increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma. So if cell phones do pose a risk, the risk is still low – Acoustic neuroma occurs in less than 1 in 100,000 adults per year, and about 17,000 Americans each year are diagnosed with glioma.” (Liberatore 70) Other studies contradict this assessment by suggesting that there might be health hazards associated with prolonged cell phone usage. Since cell phones function through the transmission and reception of RF waves, there are concerns that nerves in the vicinity of ears and face are particularly vulnerable to exposure to the heat and radiation. The most alarming reports are those that link prolonged cell phone usage to brain cancer – an almost terminal ailment from which few patients recover. For example, scientists have found that
“At very low energy levels (< 10 W/[m.sup.2]), the fields in a restricted exposure window caused a significant leakage of [sup.14]C-mannitol, inulin, and also dextran (same molecular weight as albumin) from the capillaries into the surrounding cerebellar brain tissue. These findings, however, were not repeated in a study using [sup.14] C-sucrose. A recent in vitro study has shown that EMF at 1.8 GHz increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier to sucrose.” (Salford, Brun, Eberhardt, Malmgren, and Persson 882)
But it would still be premature to conclude that cell phones definitely increase chances of brain cancer. This is so because many leading organizations such as the American Cancer Society (ACS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the FCC, have pointed out that none of the research studies show a direct correlation. In a study conducted by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), more than 6,000 people with brain tumous were compared to more than 7,000 healthy people spread across 13 countries in Europe and North America. The study as not found any increase in tumors associated with the first 10 years of cell phone use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also seconded this view, stating that it would take atleast 15-20 years of consistent exposure to cell phones to suffer any health hazard. Since there are no longitudinal studies done over these many years, we have to wait and watch as more data is accumulated. The currently available data doesn’t attribute any risk to cell phone usage, but “we need more definite answers about the biological effects of cell phone radiation, and about the more complicated question of whether mobile phones might cause even a small increase in the risk of developing cancer.” (Nordenberg 19)
Hence, to sum up, there is no consensus as to the link between brain cancer and cell phone usage. There are reports in the media and scientific journals that warn people of the risks of getting brain cancer, eye cancer, etc. They claim that children’s fragile skuls heighten risk of brain cancer. Even some epidemiologists have warned that they cannot rule out the possibility of harm from cell phone radiation and that they must do more research. But there is the opposing camp which rejects these claims outright. They say there is very little evidence for linking brain cancer to cell phone usage. They question out that if electromagnetic radiation were so powerful, we don’t we get cancer from the wiring in the walls, hair dryers, electric blankets, or the power distribution wires nearby? (Leikind) Hence both sides do not have concrete evidence to prove or disprove each other’s claims. In the meantime, a few safety measures could be practiced to minimize possible risk. These are:
“Use hands-free devices (a Bluetooth has an SAR value of around 0.001 W/kg [ACS 2008]) or the speakerphone. Limit the number and length of the calls you make. Alternate the side of the head you hold the phone against and limit calls in rural areas (more radiation is emitted in these areas because of the farther distance to cell towers).” (Liberatore 70)
Leikind, Bernard. “Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?” Skeptic (Altadena, CA)Spring 2010: 30+.
Liberatore, Stephanie. “Q My Students Are on Their Cell Phones All the Time! Do Cell Phones Really Harm the Brain? and What about the Teen Brain?” The Science Teacher3 (2009): 70.
Nordenberg, Tamar. “CELL PHONES & Brain Cancer No Clear Connection.” FDA Consumer 2000: 19.
Salford, Leif G., Arne E. Brun, Jacob L. Eberhardt, Lars Malmgren, and Bertil R. R. Persson. “Nerve Cell Damage in Mammalian Brain after Exposure to Microwaves from GSM Mobile Phones. (Research).” Environmental Health Perspectives7 (2003): 881+.