New federal research suggests that cellphone radiation can cause two types of cancer in laboratory rats. This makes it clear that rats shouldn’t use cellphones, but what about the humans in your family?
That’s still unclear, but the researchers say the findings were worrisome enough that they released them more than a year before the study ends.
“We felt it was important to get that word out,” John Bucher, associate director of the National Toxicology Program, said in a conference call with reporters, NBC News reported. “Overall, we feel that the tumors are likely to be related to the exposures.”
After two years of exposure to radio-frequency radiation, the same kind emitted by cellphones, some of the male rats in the study developed lesions and malignant tumors in their brains and hearts.
They absorbed a staggering amount of radiation, however. The waves were directed at their cages for “10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, nine hours a day,” even before they were born, NBC’s Maggie Fox reported.
Also, curiously, only the male rats got cancer, and their tumors did not seem to affect their life expectancy. They lived longer, on average, than rats in the control group that were not exposed to radiation.
This, and the "low incidence" of cancers that developed, has caused some scientists to challenge the partial findings, released May 27, as insubstantial. Even Bucher said he wouldn’t be giving up his cellphone.
But he said the majority of experts who reviewed the research were convinced that the radiation had caused the tumors, and that even a modest number of cases merits attention.
"Given the widespread global usage of mobile communications among users of all ages, even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure to RFR could have broad implications for public health," the preliminary report said.
An estimated 92 percent of Americans have a cellphone, and three-quarters of children have one by age 4, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
No studies have shown a direct link between their use and cancer, although a study group of the World Health Organization has deemed them "possibly carcinogenic." The Food and Drug Administration says if there is a risk, "it is probably very small." There has been no change in brain cancer rates since cellphone use became widespread in the 1990s.
But cancer can take decades to develop, and some experts worry that children may be more at risk than adults. "Their heads are smaller than those of adults and consequently have a greater proportional exposure to the field of radiofrequency radiation that is emitted by cell phones. And, children have the potential of accumulating more years of cell phone exposure than adults do," the website of the National Cancer Institute says.
Several long-term studies are ongoing, even as health-care providers are increasingly using Americans' love of cellphones to help them stay healthy, with apps that help them fill prescriptions, train to run a 5K and learn yoga.
Until results are conclusive, parents can minimize their risk, and that of their children, by using landlines unless cellphones are necessary, and using a headset or speaker instead of holding the phone near your head, where exposure is greatest, according to the National Institutes of Health.
And keep in mind that it's not just our cellphones that expose us to radio-frequency radiation. Other sources are microwaves, televisions, radios and laptops, and it's sensible to keep a distance when possible.
"Magnetic fields drop precipitously at a distance of about 1 foot from most appliances. For computer screens, at a distance of 12–20 inches from the screen that most persons using computers sit, magnetic fields are similarly dramatically lower," the National Cancer Institute says.