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Children Face Higher Health Risk From Cell Phones

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"They indicate that certain types of tumors, at least as reported, may have increased in incidence, including the most malignant brain tumors and perhaps hearing nerve tumors," he tells Medscape Medical News. But he says there are issues with some of the data, and that many of the reports are anecdotal. Also, it’s unclear whether the perceived increase in tumors may be due to better diagnoses at earlier stages, he says.

The potential health risks related to cell phone use, especially brain tumors, have remained a hot-button issue. Studies have been inconsistent and results have been conflicting. There is no consensus about the degree of cancer risk posed by cell phone use, if any at all.

Take-Home Messages About Safe Use

Wireless devices are now part of everyday life, "but they can be used in a manner that is safe enough," Morgan says.

Morgan and his colleagues have made some recommendations.

The first is that "distance is your friend." He says holding a cell phone 15 cm (about 6 inches) from your ear "provides a 10,000-fold reduction in risk."

Unless a cell phone is turned off, it is always radiating. When not in use, it should not be kept on the body. The best place for a cell phone is somewhere like a purse, bag, or backpack.

Devices should be kept away from a pregnant woman's abdomen, and a mother should not use a cell phone while nursing, Morgan says. "And baby monitors should not be placed in an infant's crib."

Children and teens need to know how to use these devices safely. Cell phones should not be allowed in a child's bedroom at night, he says. "The Pew Research Center has reported that 75% of preteens and early teens sleep all night with their cell phone under their pillow."

"Boys should not keep a cell phone in their front pants pockets," he says. There is a potential harm to sperm, although no studies of young boys have determined whether or not early exposure to MWR has any effect on sperm after puberty, he says.

"And girls should not place their cell phone in their bras," he says. This recommendation was based on a case study of four young women with a history of putting cell phones in their bras, and who developed breast cancer -- two at the age of 21.

Because the risk snowballs, and more radiation is absorbed with more hours of use, children should be taught to use their wireless phone as little as possible, Morgan says. Landlines, Skype, and computer phone services (when connected to the Internet with a cable) don't give off radiation, and parents should encourage their kids to use those.

Finally, Wi-Fi routers in the home should be placed away from where people, particularly children, spend the most time.

The authors note that some studies have shown an increased risk for brain cancer with cell phone use, although some of these data have been disputed. In recent years, glioblastoma (a type of brain tumor) rates have increased in Denmark and the United States, and brain cancer incidence has increased in Australia, according to data drawn from cancer registries. The average time between exposure to a carcinogen and the diagnosis of a resulting solid tumor is 3 or more decades, so it will likely be several decades before tumors induced by childhood MWR exposure are diagnosed, they write.

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