COMMENTARY | Because the average college student seems to have Krazy Glued her cellphone to her hand, one subject I have received several research papers on from my University of the Sciences students is the possible link of cellphone use to cancer. These industrious students have almost all come to a “who knows” conclusion about the matter after reviewing the minimal sources needed for their assignments. The basic reason for this is that the etiology of a cancer is, in itself, almost impossible to determine.
(For the record, the most impressive cellphone paper I’ve received came from a student reviewing the wider danger of cellphones, including the danger of explosion if a battery in the phone is overcharged. This actually happens, and when it does, sometimes blowing out an eardrum, it’s hard to blame anything besides the phone.)
Recent “reassuring” studies by the American Cancer Society, the FDA, the FCC, and the National Cancer Institute, however, haven’t stopped an arm of the World Health from declaring Tuesday that cellphone use is “possibly carcinogenic” for humans.
Key to this discussion is the type of radiation emitted by cell phones, a non-ionizing type thought to be too weak to break chemical bonds in the brain or cause DNA damage associated with cancer. While the WHO declaration was based on no new studies, it seems to lean heavily on data released earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That study, headed by Nora D. Volkow, involved PET scans showing a 7 percent increase in brain activity in brain areas nearest an activated cell phone’s antenna.
Classifying cellphones as “possibly carcinogenic” puts them in the same category as DDT, gasoline-engine exhaust, and coffee. (A somewhat lengthy print article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer also notes that lead, various industrial chemicals, and pickled vegetables fall into this category.)
So, it seems to be the WHO has found a new and alarming way to say, “Hey, we don’t know.” However, Donald Berry, a biostatistics professor at the University of Texas, has said, “This is not something I worry about and it will not in any way change how I use my cellphone.” His AP interview was given via cellphone. Coming very close to Russel Howard’s song “Everything Causes Cancer,” Berry said, “Anything is a possible carcinogen.”
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