DO CELL PHONES CAUSE BRAIN TUMORS?
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Cellular (cell) phones first became widely available in the United States in the 1990s, but their use has increased dramatically since then. Along with the large and still growing number of cell phone users (both adults and children), the amount of time people spend on their phones has also risen sharply in recent decades.
Cell phones (including smartphones) give off a form of energy known as radio frequency (RF) waves, so some concerns have been raised about the safety of cell phone use. With respect to cancer, concern focuses on whether cell phones might increase the risk of brain tumors or other tumors in the head and neck area.
HOW DO CELL PHONES WORK?
Cell phones work by sending signals to (and receiving them from) nearby cell towers (base stations) using RF waves. This is a form of electromagnetic energy that falls between FM radio waves and microwaves. Like FM radio waves, microwaves, visible light, and heat, RF waves are a form of non-ionizing radiation. They don’t have enough energy to cause cancer by directly damaging the DNA inside cells. RF waves are different from stronger (ionizing) types of radiation such as x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet (UV) light, which can break the chemical bonds in DNA.
At very high levels, RF waves can heat up body tissues. (This is the basis for how microwave ovens work.) But the levels of energy given off by cell phones are much lower, and are not enough to raise temperatures in the body.
HOW ARE PEOPLE EXPOSED
The RF waves from cell phones come from the antenna, which is part of the body of a hand-held phone. The waves are strongest at the antenna and lose energy quickly as they travel away from the phone. The phone is typically held against the side of the head when in use. The closer the antenna is to the head, the greater a person’s expected exposure to RF energy. The body tissues closest to the phone absorb more energy than tissues farther away.
Many factors can affect the amount of RF energy to which a person is exposed, including:
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1.The amount of time the person is on the phone.
2.Whether or not the person is using the speaker mode on the phone or a hands-free device. Using one of these allows the phone to be held away from the head.
3.The distance and path to the nearest cell phone tower. Cell phones adjust their power to use the minimum amount for a good signal. Being farther away from the tower requires more energy to get a good signal, as does being inside a building.
4.The amount of cell phone traffic in the area at the time. Higher traffic may require more energy to get a good signal.
5.The model of phone being used. Different phones give off different amounts of energy.
DO CELL PHONES CAUSE TUMORS?
Because cell phones usually are held near the head when being used, the main concern has been whether they might cause or contribute to tumors in this area, including:
1.Malignant (cancerous) brain tumors such as gliomas
2.Non-cancerous tumors of the brain such as meningiomas
3.Non-cancerous tumors of the nerve connecting the brain to the ear (vestibular schwannomas, also known as acoustic neuromas)
4.Non-cancerous tumors of the salivary glands
A few studies have also looked at possible links to other types of cancer, such as skin cancer and testicular cancer.
HOW CAN I LOWER MY EXPOSURE TO RF WAVES FROM CELL PHONES
It is not clear at this time that RF waves from cell phones cause harmful health effects in people, but studies now being done should give a clearer picture of the possible health effects in the future. Until then, there are several things that people who are concerned about RF waves can do to limit their exposure.
1.Use the speaker mode on the phone or a hands-free device such as a corded or cordless earpiece.
2.Texting instead of talking on the phone may be another option to reduce your exposure.
3.Limit your (and your children’s) cell phone use. This is one of the most obvious ways to limit your exposure to RF waves from cell phones.
4.Some people might consider choosing a phone with a low Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value. Different models of phones can give off different levels of RF waves.
WHAT ABOUT CORDLESS PHONES?
Cordless phones, commonly used in homes, have base units that are plugged into telephone jacks and wired to a local telephone service. They are not considered “cell” phones. Cordless phones operate at about 1/600 the power of cell phones, so they are much less likely to be a concern in terms of health effects.
Varbah A. Sannoh
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