Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?


Well that’s what several environmental groups in San Francisco seem to think. Last month, the city passed the nation’s first local law – the Cell Phone Right-to-Know Ordinance – that requires retailers to post radiation-emission data on all cell phone packages. Measured in what’s known as the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which reflects how much energy human tissue absorbs from a device’s electromagnetic waves, government leaders in favor of the requirement insist  the public deserves greater transparency and information about these levels. And many hope this law will soon spread to other cities and states across the country.

The law will go into effect early next year, and not surprisingly, has caused quite an uproar among the wireless industry.

With 285 million mobile phone users in the US alone, including three out of every four teenagers, what data exists to support the idea that cell phones cause a health risk?

That’s where things get interesting.

A recent Washington Post article reports: In 2006, Lennart Hardell, a professor of oncology and cancer epidemiology at the University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden, reported that adults he followed who had used cellphones for more than 10 years “give a consistent pattern of increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma,” forms of brain tumors. That study has been used as the basis for public health alerts by way of commercials, billboards and warning labels in nations including Britain, Israel, Finland and France, but it has had little resonance in the United States. Hardell published a report last year that said teens and children have a fourfold increased chance of getting brain cancer.

According to an article in USA Today: The most significant long-term study to date — a 13-country analysis initiated in 2000 and published in May by the World Health Organization‘s International Agency for Research on Cancer — found that cellphone users overall had no increased risk for glioma or meningioma, two common brain tumors.

The  World Health Organization states on its web site: “To date, no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use.”

Yet, in the same USA Today article, another researcher from the American Cancer Society notes: “we’ve never studied” potential problems that could arise from more than 10 years of cellphone use. And since all previous studies have focused on adults, he says scientists need to study long-term cellphone use by children, whose brains are still developing and may be particularly vulnerable because their skulls are thinner than those of adults.”

In an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, Ronald Herberman, former director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute says, “I believe we have ample evidence for questioning the long-term impacts of cell phones on health and solid grounds for concerns about the long-term implications of their use.”

For those who are concerned, the FDA and the FCC, the agencies that oversee cellphone use and health, say mobile phone users can better protect themselves by limiting lengths of conversations and using hands-free devices, to place more distance between a phone and the head, as often as possible. For more information about radiation levels for each cell phone model, check out CNET’s comprehensive guide.

What are your thoughts on cell phones and cancer? Are you more concerned, less concerned or just more confused?

Chart: USA Today