Cell Phone Radiation Debate: Why the Controversy?

Ever since cell phones were first linked to brain cancer, a debate has ensued. Is it a direct link? Does correlation equal causation? Many in the scientific community and media maintain there is not enough proof, while others have taken the opposite stance.

Generally speaking, the proponents are usually associated with the mobile industry, issuing well-funded studies that indicate cell phones are benign. On the other side, there are independent and university researchers motivated by personal interest or public health concern. These researchers have published findings that, almost always, contradict cell phone industry. Other scholars have tried to remain neutral, claiming both sides are right. They are basically saying that cell phones emissions may cause cancer, but only in the ‘right conditions.’ Because these results are often at odds with one another, inevitable debate ensues – which can be very confusing to all of us.

Meanwhile, cell phone usage exploded across the globe. According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 6 billion people out of the total world’s population of 7 billion have access to cell phones. That’s more people with cell phones than there are with working toilets. If there is a danger from cell phone radiation, it is extremely important to get answers.

A Hot Debate

In the public forum, the scientific data has been heavily contested on both sides of the issue. Frequently, the legitimacy of studies are called into question and the scientists involved are accused of having bias. One scientific paper found flaws when it analyzed case studies with contrasting views about the cellphone-cancer link. The paper called out one study that claimed cell phone usage actually protected against brain tumors. Not surprisingly, the paper noted that certain studies were funded by the cell phone industry and perhaps subject to conflicting interests. Another paper examined studies that found a correlation between non-ionizing radiation exposure and childhood leukemia, poking holes in the study findings. In reality, it is easy to find fault in studies. Statistical sampling may be too small to be significant, testing procedures are too small to be sufficiently precise, and there are not enough study parameters. Unfortunately, no study is perfect. But one area where everyone seems to agree is that there is a growing abundance of study which need corroboration.

Attacking the Messenger

Recently, major news outlets have begun discussing the topic of cell phone safety with more frequency. One contributor to Forbes gave his thoughts on a new study which suggested WiFi exposure is more dangerous to children than previously thought. A New York Times writer also shared a piece entitled “[The] Debate Continues on Hazards of Electromagnetic Waves.”

In perhaps the most controversial article, a New York Times contributor wrote an opinion piece on the potential dangers of cell phone radiation, which resulted in major backlash. The article suggested that cell phone and WiFi radiation could be viewed as dangerous as cigarette smoke was in the 70s—an invisible threat that was so prevalent in society that no one fully investigated it. The writer pointed to studies and experts that suggested cell phone radiation could be carcinogenic. His conclusion was to avoid radiation exposure for himself and his children based on the data that was available today. Ironically, some of the readers reacted negatively to his article and the editor was forced re-title the article. It is still unclear why these readers are of the view that there are no dangers, particularly because there is such a growing body of evidence to the contrary.

Current Research

Cell phones were widely adopted only in last 15 years or so, yet it may take as many as 20-30 years of focused study to pinpoint how cell phone radiation affects our health. Theories take time to prove and mechanisms of action need to be displayed.

Odds of Developing Brain Cancer from Cell Phones

Correlation Between Cell Phone Use and Brain Cancer
Figure 1: Correlation Between Cell Phone Use and Brain Cancer

For example: It’s not enough to show a markedly higher incidence between increased cell phone use and cancer. You have to show exactly how the cell phone emissions cause brain cancer for science to call it proof. In the case of human study, this basically means we have to wait until a large percentage of cell phone users develop cancer for direct causation to be found. Which also means we have to eliminate and be able to ignore other risk factors such as the role of genetics and other environmental factors. It doesn’t matter that cell phones held to the head or kept in bras caused tumors in the shape of the cell phone.

Nonetheless, from what data exists today, the World Health Organization has found enough evidence to categorize Radio Frequency (RF) radiation exposure from cell phones as possibly carcinogenic. There has also been the groundswell of scientific studies conducted across multiple countries by various vested interests, governments, corporations, academics and concerned citizens. Study after study produces what can only be characterized as alarming. An abundance of data that exists which suggests long-term exposure to cell phone radiation can cause irreparable damage on a cellular level and increase your personal incidence of otherwise extremely rare forms of cancer.

One recent study published in Electromagnetic Biology & Medicine explored experimental data and attempted to uncover the physical action/reaction to a cell phone radiation exposure or, the metabolic effects of low-intensity RF radiation in living cells. In the researcher’s findings, they observed that a metabolic imbalance (oxidative stress) caused by radiation from wireless devices could be the link to a number of health risks including neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. The researchers believed that the stress caused by cell phone RF radiation exposure can not only explain cancer, but also other minor disorders such as headache, fatigue, and skin irritation. According to coauthor, Dr. Igor Yakymenko, “These data are a clear sign of the real risks this kind of radiation poses for human health.”

Conclusion

Studies are beginning to expose the mechanism by which cell phone radiation might cause cancer. The long-term effects of cell phone radiation exposure will be better understood as the technologies continue to grow in our lives along with our maturing scientific understanding. Study and additional evidence is still needed, yet enough data has been found for major health organizations to issue warnings. Even in many manufacturer’s electronic device manuals, they mention that radiation exposure should be minimized for safety’s sake. As we await more research, we are left with a personal decision to make. If we can limit cell phone radiation exposure, why wouldn’t we?

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