Senators Want Research on Cell Phones, Cancer
Lawmakers Seek Answers to Possible Health Hazards for Cell Phone Users
WebMD News Archive
Sept. 15, 2009 -- Lawmakers say they will seek more federally funded
research into the possible connection between cell phone use and cancer.
The announcement comes several days after a review released by the
Environmental Working Group found potential safety hazards connected to cell
"It is something that is worth taking a look at," says Sen. Arlen Specter,
D-Pa., a member of the Senate health appropriations subcommittee.
At issue is the radio-frequency radiation that cell phones use to
communicate with towers. The radiation causes heat energy and may also be able
to induce cancers in animals at high doses.
Most available studies have been performed in animals. Human studies are
relatively few and tend to be small in size, making them less reliable. Most of
those studies come from Europe and Israel, where cell phones have been in wide
use longer than in the U.S.
"Many other countries are doing studies involving humans," says Sen. Tom
Harkin, D-Iowa, the subcommittee's chairman.
Several studies have found an association between long-term cell phone use
and malignancies. Meanwhile, other studies have found no connection.
Cell Phone Radiation
In humans, the issue remains clouded by several factors. Few people have the
kind of persistent, decade-long exposure to cell phones held close to the ear
that researchers suspect may carry a risk for disease. Phones can vary widely
in how much energy they emit. And geography may play a role, since poor tower
signals cause cell phones to emit more energy as they search for a
Cell phone manufacturers have maintained that the available science shows no
proof that long periods of exposure to cell phone radiation lead to cancer.
"The current evidence does not demonstrate that phones cause cancer or other
adverse health effects," says Linda S. Erdreich, PhD, a researcher with
Exponent, a consulting firm that performs research on behalf of cell phone
Other researchers agreed that studies are inconclusive. But most urge
caution, warning that even tiny increases in cancer risk would have major
public health implications given the millions of cell phone users.
"There are both studies showing effect and studies showing no effect," says
Dariusz Keszcynski, PhD, a researcher with the Radiation and Nuclear Safety
Authority in Helsinki, Finland. "The statement that the use of mobile phones is
safe is premature."
In the meantime, researchers urge consumers to take steps to minimize the
potential health risks of using cell phones. Here's what they advise:
- Use a hands-free earpiece and microphone or speakerphone setting as often
- Try to curb the overall time spent talking with the phone up to your
- Bluetooth devices also emit radio-frequency radiation, though at lower
levels than most phones. When using a Bluetooth, turn it off or remove it
- Men should avoid carrying their phones in their front pockets. Some
evidence suggests radio-frequency radiation could affect sperm counts.
- Avoid talking in elevators, tunnels, or other places with weak signals.
Phones emit more energy as they search for a tower in these places.
Advocates also ask lawmakers to consider new regulations that would force
cell phone makers to disclose radiation levels on phone packaging. Cell phone
makers oppose such regulations.
"Until we know more, it's smart for consumers to buy cell phones with the
lowest emissions," says Olga V. Naidenko, PhD, senior scientist with the
Environmental Working Group. "The public has a right to know what radiation
levels they may be exposed to."