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IMAGE Concerns that cell phones cause brain tumors have not stopped millions of people from enjoying wireless links to friends, family, and business associates. The all-too-familiar chirp of a cellular phone shatters the peace at the beach, breaks up conversations, and intrudes just about everywhere. But such encroachments on privacy may be the least of our concerns.

Health Problems?

People have voiced concern about the dangers of radiofrequency (RF) energy from cell phones. After reviewing the results of multiple studies, though, scientists have not found definite evidence about the harm from cell phones.

One case-control study of 996 adults with a brain tumor found that using a cell phone on one side of the head was associated with an excess risk of having a brain tumor. Despite this, most case studies have found that long-term cellular phone use is not clearly associated with increased risk of a brain tumor.

A large case-control study coordinated by the World Health Organization that included 5,117 patients with brain tumors and matched control patients without brain tumors did not find a clear link between cell-phone use and risk of brian cancer. The authors warned that further research should be performed. They especially felt that more studies were needed, as the patients in this study used the mobile phones less than people do regularly today.

Playing It Safe

So are cell phones safe? The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers the health risk small, and given the evidence they have available, has not linked cell phones with any health problems. If you are concerned about the risk of using a cell phone, the FDA recommends the following:

  • Hold longer calls on a conventional phone, restricting cell phone use to shorter calls and situations where traditional phones are not available.
  • Use speaker mode, a headset, or a hands-free kit to place more distance between your head and the cell phone.

Although current studies do not connect cell phone use to brain cancer, that does not mean this not change. Cell phone users are getting younger, which means their exposure to RF energy is longer. Future studies will determine if longer-term use of cell phone has an effect on the brain or not.

  • Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association

    http://www.ctia.org

  • Center for Devices and Radiological Health (FDA)

    http://www.fda.gov

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • Brain tumor. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us . Updated June 30, 2013. Accessed September 9, 2013.

  • Carlo G, Jenrow RS. Scientific progress—wireless phones and brain cancer: current state of the science. Medscape General Medicine. July 31, 2000.

  • Davis FG, McCarthy BJ, Berger MS. Centralized databases available for describing primary brain tumor incidence, survival, and treatment: Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States; surveillance, epidemiology, and end results; and National Cancer Data Base. Neuro-Oncology. 1999;1:205–211.

  • Hardell L, Carlberg M, Söderqvist F, Hansson Mild K. Meta-analysis of long-term mobile phone use and the association with brain tumours. Int J Oncol . 2008 May;32(5):1097-1103.

  • Health issues: do cell phones pose a health hazard. United States Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/HomeBusinessandEntertainment/CellPhones/ucm116282.htm . Updated August 8, 2012. Accessed September 9, 2013.

  • Hepworth SJ, Schoemaker MJ, Muir KR, Swerdlow AJ, van Tongeren MJ, McKinney PA. Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in adults: case-control study. BMJ . 2006 Apr 15;332(7546):883-887.

  • INTERPHONE Study Group. Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study. Int J Epidemiol. 2010 Jun;39(3):675-94.

  • Johansen C, Boice JD, McLaughlin JK, Olsen JH. Cellular telephones and cancer—a nationwide cohort study in Denmark. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2006;98:1707-1713.

  • No Evidence Linking Cell Phone Use to Risk of Brain Tumors. United States Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/UCM212306.pdf . Updated May 2010. Accessed September 9, 2013.

  • Reducing exposure: hands-free kits and other accessories steps to reduce exposure to radiofrequency energy. United States Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/HomeBusinessandEntertainment/CellPhones/ucm116293.htm . Updated August 8, 2012. Accessed September 9, 2013.