Is Your Cell Phone Giving You Cancer?
Scientists have been going back and forth about the potential dangers of the radiation emitted by your cell phone for years. Since portable phones are relatively new-fangled, we haven't had enough time to study the long-term use of cell phones. Studies so far have been contradictory, with some scientists believing there is little to no risk posed by cell phones, and others linking longterm use to a higher risk of developing cancers.
A new study released this week found that the saliva of cell phone users had more stress damage than that of non-cell phone users. Well, you say, what does it mean if my spit is stressed? Uh, it's not good: the presence of oxidative stress, which was found in the saliva of users, causes and encourages cancer. Here's a run-through of what else science has said about our cell phones so far...
Cell Phones Encourage Cell Growth... But Are They Bad Cells?
In a 2011 study, participants spoke on their cell phones for nearly an hour, and researchers found that this led to an immediate increase in cell activity in the area closest to the phone — in other words, your brain.
The good news is that the findings were generally benign: the researchers found no evidence that the growth of cells around the cell phone area had negative effects, meaning they didn't seem to provoke either tumors nor cancers. Scientists concluded, however, that "further studies are needed to assess if these effects could have potential long-term harmful consequences."
Cell Phones Damage The DNA In Semen
In a talked-about 2009 study, researchers found evidence that having a phone near testicles damages the semen inside. Results suggested that radiation emitted from having a cell phone in a guy's back or front pockets stresses out sperm's DNA (as if winning the sperm race wasn't stressful enough!) and does irreversible damage to it.
While this won't directly create cancers, researchers say sperm with damaged DNA may in turn produce children with birth defects.
But The FDA and FCC Say Phones Are Safe
Before any electronic device hits the mass market, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission are legally required to ensure that the product is not harmful to humans. In the cases of all the cell phones that the FDA and FCC have encountered, the boards have confirmed that they believe none of them act as carcinogenics.
Though the FCC is currently conducting longer-term research on cell phone use, these regulators maintain that if any devices posed substantial risk for humans, they would not be on the market. (Enter conspiracy theories about corporations having ties to the government here.)
World Health Organization Is Pretty Concerned
In 2011, the WHO's International Agency For Research On Cancer division officially changed the class of cell phones from "non-carcinogenic" to "possibly carcinogenic." This stemmed from a concern, based on preliminary evidence, that cell phones might contribute to causing glioma, a form of brain cancer.
However, they noted that this risk might only occur in "heavy" cell phone users — those who use their phones for at least half an hour a day, every day, for 10 years. This is a limited demographic and, critics say, a premature conclusion. The WHO is still investigating whether more demographics might see an increased likelihood of cancer with little or "heavy" cell phone use — and what kind of use might be dangerous.
Hot Radiation Is Worse Than Normal Radiation
You know that your cell phone gets hotter the longer you talk — but did you know that the heated radiation could be worse for you than what your cell phone emits normally? Like microwaves, hot cell phones heat up living tissue... but microwaves aren't pressed up against your skin. After you've been talking on your cell for awhile, your head's surface temperature will heat up in response to the phone, though there's no evidence to suggest that that could be dangerous.
What could be dangerous, however, is the effect all of that heating has on your eyes, which are less able to cool down by themselves. Though there's been no direct link made between cataracts and cell phone use, rabbits developed cataracts when exposed to the same kind of radiation. Monkeys, however, did not... so no need to panic just yet?
Biggest Study Yet Finds No Link
A long-term, large-scale Danish study in 2006 reassured cell phone users everywhere when it found absolutely no link between cell phone usage and cancer. The study utilized more than 400,000 participants, and kept watch for all kinds of different tumors. The group showed no higher incidence of cancer.
These conclusions, researchers said, "provide evidence that any large association of risk of cancer and cellular telephone use can be excluded." In science, however, 20 years isn't that long a time (think about, say, dinosaurs...) and the study's leaders admitted that further work had to be done to double-check their findings.
Until then, if you're concerned, experts suggest you can err on the safe side by purchasing a wireless headset to use for calls, and store your phone in your bag rather than in your pocket.