New Studies Provide No Clear Answer Regarding Cell Phones and Cancer


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Two government studies recently released on the effects of cell phones and cancer in rats and mice suggest that if there is any risk, it’s small. The New York Times reported that despite years of research surrounding safety questions about cell phones and health effects, there is still no clear answer.

These two studies on the effects of cell phone radiation, conducted 10 years and costing $25 million, are considered “the most comprehensive assessments of health effects and exposure to radio-frequency radiation in rats and mice to date,” according to a statement from the toxicology program, part of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The studies exposed 3,000 rodents to nine hours of radiation per day for two years, more than humans experience even with extensive cell phone use, so the results cannot be applied directly to humans, said Dr. John Bucher, a senior scientist at the National Toxicology Program. 

The results in male rats linked tumors in the heart to high exposure to radiation from the phones, but that problem did not occur in female rats or any mice. It’s unclear why only male rats develop the heart tumors, but Dr. Bucher said one possibility is simply that the males are bigger and absorb more of the radiation.

The studies also found some DNA damage in the exposed animals, but according to Dr. Bucher, “We don’t feel like we understand enough about the results to be able to place a huge degree of confidence in the findings.” Dr. Bucher added that nearly 20 animal studies on this subject have been done, “with the vast majority coming up negative with respect to cancer.”

Other scientists felt the ambiguous findings were of concern. Joel M. Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, said that based on the overall results of the study, the government should reassess and strengthen the limits it imposes on how much and what types of radiation cell phones can emit.

The New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement saying it respected the research by the toxicology program, had reviewed many other studies on cell phone safety and had “not found sufficient evidence that there are adverse health effects in humans caused by exposures at or under the current radio-frequency exposure limits.”

Additionally, the statement noted that the FCC sets exposure limits for RF energy from cell phones but relies on the F.D.A. and other health agencies for scientific advice on determining the limits.

Regarding how people can limit the potential effects of cell phones, health officials offer common-sense advice: Spend less time on cell phones, use a headset or speaker mode so that the phone is not pressed up against the head, and avoid trying to make calls if the signal is weak as the cell phone has to work harder to connect. Additionally, California issued advice to consumers including texting instead of talking, carrying the phone in a backpack, briefcase or purse, not a pocket, bra or belt holster; and not sleeping with the phone close to your head.

February 12, 2018

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