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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Senators Want Research on Cell Phones, Cancer

Lawmakers Seek Answers to Possible Health Hazards for Cell Phone Users
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 phone use.

"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 connection.

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 makers.

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.

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