Billions of people all around the world use mobile or cell phones, but there is still a debate raging over the possible health risks of mobile phone radiation. Numerous scientific studies have been conducted into the effects of mobile phones on cells, animals and humans. No conclusive evidence of any ill effects has been found.
Mobile phones work by transmitting radio waves through a network of masts or base stations. The radiation that is produced by mobile phones is a type of electromagnetic radiation known as microwave radiation. All wireless devices also produce electromagnetic radiation similar to that emitted by mobile phones. The levels of radiation produced by all of these devices and phones is regulated as a precaution against any possible adverse effects.
Mobile phones only emit radiation when they are turned on, and the strength of the radiation decreases rapidly with distance from the phone. This means that the amount of radiation that is experienced a foot away from the phone is much less than that is present right next to the phone. The use of headsets and other mobile phone accessories could alter the effects of mobile phone radiation on the body, although whether the radiation is increased or decreased depends upon the exact type and model that is being used.
Concern over the possible effects of mobile phones on human health has focused on two main aspects of the radiation they produce: the microwave radiation itself, and the thermal effects of mobile phone radiation.
Some of the radiation that is produced by a mobile phone held next to the ear is absorbed by the body. This has led to speculation that mobile phone use could lead to an increased risk of cancer, particularly brain tumors and cancers of the head and ears. Many scientific studies have been conducted in order to look for such a link between mobile phone use and cancer. No conclusive evidence of such a link was found and most of the studies found no evidence whatsoever of an increased cancer risk. The incidence of brain tumors has not significantly increased in the UK, USA, or Scandinavia since the 1980s, when mobile phones were first introduced.
The INTERPHONE project, a long-term study of cancer and mobile phone usage over a period of approximately ten years that was overseen by the WHO (World Health Organization) did not find a link between mobile phone radiation and cancer. The study suggested that more research might be necessary into the effects of very high usage since this had become more common since the study began. There was some evidence of a higher cancer rate in the heaviest users of mobile phones in the study, although the effect was not significant and therefore no conclusions could be drawn from it. It may simply have been the effects of bias or chance.
The long-term effects of mobile phone radiation on human health are becoming clearer as the technology ages. Many people have now been using mobile phones for years, although the effects of longer, lifetime usage are still unknown. It is possible to make some judgments about the long-term effect on humans from studies that have been conducted on animals. These have found no increase in the risk of developing cancer due to exposure to mobile phone radiation, but some people still worry that the true effects on humans will not be known for another twenty or thirty years. The INTERPHONE project has helped to reveal more about the effects of long-term mobile phone use, but there is still no evidence of what more than fifteen years of use can do to the body. Some cancers can take longer than this to develop, and so there is, therefore, a chance that a link between mobile phone radiation and cancer may be found in the future.
If such a link does exist, however, then it would change our understanding of how the microwave radiation produced by mobile phones can interact with the body since there is no known method through which it could cause cancer. Unlike X rays and gamma radiation (radioactive radiation), microwaves cannot cause ionization or breakage chemical bonds in the body. Microwaves cannot damage DNA. There is no known mechanism through which the radiation produced by mobile phones could cause cancer.
Another effect of microwave radiation from mobile phones that has been studied is the thermal effect. In the same way that a microwave oven heats food, the microwave radiation produced by a mobile phone can raise the temperature of the body. Mobile phones can cause a slight increase in the temperature of the part of the body adjacent to them, mainly near the surface. However, this effect is less than that experienced when the head is exposed to direct sunlight and is, therefore, unlikely to cause any problems.
Children may be more susceptible to any harmful effects of mobile phone radiation, due to their smaller size and rapidly growing tissue. Beginning to use a mobile phone at an earlier age also increases the lifetime exposure to mobile phone radiation, and could therefore increase the risks. No studies of the long-term effects of mobile phone use by children have been conducted.
Mobile phone masts or base stations constantly emit the same sort of radiation as mobile phones. The radiation is very strong next to the antenna, but cannot travel very far. The radiation most people experience from mobile phone masts is, therefore, usually weaker than that to which they would be exposed while using a mobile phone. Studies have been conducted into the possible effects of mobile phone base stations, with mixed results. There is no conclusive evidence of any adverse effects.
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