We would not blame you if you are confused about the question regarding cellphones and cancer. Even the experts do not agree on what to make of the latest rodent research.
Confusing Headlines About Cellphones and Cancer:
“‘Game-Changing’ Study Links Cellphone Radiation to Cancer” Mother Jones, May, 27, 2016
“Will Your Cellphone Give You Cancer?” New York Times, May 27, 2016
“Do Cellphones Cause Cancer? Don’t Believe the Hype” The Washington Post, May 27, 2016
“Cellphone-Cancer Link Found in Government Study” Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2016
“Government Admits Cellphones Cause Cancer” Newsmax Health, May 31, 2016
“Why It’s Not Time to Panic About Cellphones and Cancer” New York Times, May 31, 2016
“Are Your Children’s Cellphones Giving Them Cancer?” Deseret News National Edition, June 1, 2016
How the Study Was Organized:
First, let’s start with the actual research regarding cellphones and cancer. This was a $25 million-dollar, taxpayer-funded research project. In theory there was no conflict of interest because the investigators did not have a horse in the race.
Second, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) that ran the experiment is made up of highly regarded toxicologists who have been studying carcinogenesis for a very long time. Admittedly, they normally study chemicals, but they have a lot of experience with cancer bioassays.
Third, the protocol for this experiment was negotiated over a long period of time by many experts. The FDA, which is responsible for regulating radiation exposure, tasked the NTP to study any association between cellphones and cancer almost 20 years ago. Investigators had to design special equipment that would expose rodents to the radio-frequency (RF) energy from cellphones without raising body temperature.
In the first phase of the experiments, over 2,500 rats received varying amounts of RF exposure during the two years of the study. It amounted to roughly nine hours per day. (Keep in mind that even when you are not talking on your cellphone, there is some RF energy exposure from such devices.) The doses of radiation in the rat study were roughly in the ballpark of what humans might be exposed to in a wireless electronic environment.
What the Study Revealed:
The female rats did not demonstrate an increased risk of cancer during the experiment. Male rats, on the other hand, did appear to have an increase in two kinds of cancers: gliomas in the brain (a 2-3 percent increased risk over controls) and schwannomas in the heart (a 6 to 7 percent increased risk over controls).
Why were female rats seemingly not affected by cellphone radiation? So far we have seen no response to this question.
Why did the control rats not develop cancers? (One possible explanation is that these are such rare tumors that they do not often evolve spontaneously in control animals, but that remains to be resolved.)
Does rat research like this have implications for humans? This also remains unresolved. An association like that found in this NTP study is not final proof of cause and effect.
Do the results of this initial report support or refute human epidemiology research? The human epidemiology is highly variable. Some reports suggest an association between cellphone use and cancer while many others do not.
One review of data from eleven long-term studies where radio frequency human cellphone exposures lasted at least 10 years was published in Surgical Neurology (Sept., 2007):
“The results indicate that using a cell phone for more or equal to 10 years approximately doubles the risk of being diagnosed with a brain tumor on the same (‘ipsilateral’) side of the head as that preferred for cell phone use. The data achieve statistical significance for glioma and acoustic neuroma but not for meningioma.
“The authors conclude that there is adequate epidemiologic evidence to suggest a link between prolonged cell phone usage and the development of ipsilateral brain tumor.”
To be fair, there are quite a few other studies where no such association has been found. Nevertheless, it is somewhat disconcerting that the gliomas found in some of the epidemiological studies were also found in the male rats exposed to RF energy in this National Toxicology Program research.
Is brain cancer increasing?
One might assume that with so many people using cell phones on a daily basis we would have seen a dramatic increase in brain cancer over the last decade or two. Gina Kolata, medical reporter for the New York Times, says that there has been no detectable increase in brain cancer since 1992. That should be very reassuring, but sometimes it takes a long time for the data collection to catch up with the biology. Only time will tell if we will see an upward trend in brain cancer over the next few decades.
The Bottom Line on Cellphones and Cancer:
First, we have to admit that we are not necessarily objective about this issue. That’s because Joe’s interest in RF radiation, or what has also been dubbed EMF (electromagnetic field) radiation, dates back to the 1960s. You can learn more about his interest and involvement with EMF radiation and health at this link: Health Hazards from Hybrids.
Finally, the most intriguing aspect of the preliminary report from the National Toxicology Program to us is that there was any detectable effect from cellphone radiation. Many experts have assumed for decades that the amount of energy people were exposed to was so small as to be biologically meaningless. That view may no longer be sustainable.
The wireless and cellphone industry is so large and so much money is at stake that we have little doubt the results of this research will be downplayed or ignored. And most people are so dependent upon their smart phones and wireless technology that they will be reluctant to contemplate the implications of this animal research for their own health.
We will have to wait for the final report from the NTP to really make sense of the new animal research. It will include mice as well as rats. This data may not become available until the fall of 2017.
Until then, we encourage people who are even a little bit concerned about the new report to avoid leaving their cellphones next to their nightstands when sleeping. If you can use the speakerphone or a headphone/microphone device to talk, that should provide some reduction in RF exposure.
Don’t forget to read our history with EMF at this link. And please share your own thoughts on this controversial issue below in the comment section.