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More Static About Cell Phone Safety

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While the findings of those studies have yet to be explained or duplicated, they caught the attention of the U.K.'s National Radiological Protection Board. "That sort of thing has made us say, 'hold on,'" Michael Clark, the board's scientific spokesman, tells WebMD. "Until we know why these things are happening, a precautionary approach should be adopted for children."

Whether children absorb more radiation than adults has been disputed, Clark says. "Some say the skull might be slightly thinner, but because their head is smaller, they may absorb less of the microwaves. It's not as simple as that ... We are saying that because there is not a known effect, there should be precautions." Still, the board concluded there was no evidence that cell phone use causes cancer or Alzheimer's disease.

Cell phone industry spokeswoman Jo-Anne Basile agrees. She spoke with WebMD in May, before the new guidelines were issued. "In the vast majority of scientific studies on cell phones, no adverse health effects were reported," she tells WebMD. Basile is vice president of external and industry relations for the CTIA.

Admitting that the cell phone studies "raise some issues," Basile tells WebMD that "there continues to be ongoing research looking at those results." She says that the National Cancer Institute has been conducting a study for the last few years.

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.

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 have been shown to cause damage linked with cancer. "[X-rays] can alter your genetic makeup, and that's not a good thing. But radio signals [such as those from cell phones] don't do that," he says.

Cell phones use extremely low energy, Fitzsimmons says. "Only high-power sources [such as 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.

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