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Just How Safe Are Cellular Phones?

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Admitting that the studies cited in the report "raise some issues," Basile tells WebMD that "there continues to be ongoing research looking at those results." In the next six months, she says, the National Cancer Institute plans to announce the results of an epidemiological study it has been conducting for the last few years.

A recent report by the Royal Society of Canada concluded that under normal use, there is no evidence that radiofrequency fields -- the electromagnetic waves sent out by sound devices such as cell phones -- pose a health risk. But, the report says, the existing scientific evidence is inadequate to rule out the possibility that cell phones could cause adverse health effects.

Among scientists, there's been frustration in researching cell phone safety, says Jeffrey Fitzsimmons, PhD, a radiology professor in the University of Florida's Brain Institute in Gainesville.

In studying such health issues, scientists look for patterns -- and there have been none in cell phone studies, says Fitzsimmons. "The fundamental problem in this whole field is that too many experiments have been done, and each experiment is different. People don't get the same results, so they try something else. There are lots of experiments going on, but there's very little constructive development of findings that point to something understandable."

Keep it in perspective, he advises. Statistically speaking, the risk of any type of cancer is relatively small -- even more so for rare forms of brain cancer. Risk increases as people age, and with other variables. "Cell phone risk is relatively small, compared to other health risks, like drinking heavily, smoking cigarettes, and exposing yourself to a lot of solar radiation," he says.

Exposure to radiation from cell phones isn't even an issue, according to Fitzsimmons. The type of radiation emitted by cell phones is not the same type as that from X-rays, which has been shown to cause DNA changes linked with cancer.

"There's a big difference between X-rays [ionizing radiation] and non-ionizing radiation. And that's the difference between X-rays and radiofrequency energy," he says. "X-rays can change molecular structure, can actually change your DNA. They can alter your genetic makeup, and that's not a good thing. But radio signals don't do that."

Cell phones use extremely low electromagnetic power and moderate frequencies, Fitzsimmons says. "Only high-power sources [like big electrical power transformers] present a concern."

The phones' antennae are of some concern, because they bring electromagnetic power close to your head. "But there has been no evidence that shows it causes any kind of damage," Fitzsimmons says.

For extra reassurance, he points to data on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, which have been used in health care for over a decade.

"We've done millions of scans using them," he says. "To date, there are no known negative, long-term effects over a period of 10 years. And those energy levels are much, much higher than cell phones. There could even be beneficial effects. They may stimulate growth, brain function, blood flow."

 

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