Cancer Cells & Cell Phones

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by Siobhan Downes | 25/07/2011

What’s the hang up on cell phones? Could they be the next cigarettes? Siobhan Downes investigates the World Health Organisation’s recent statement that radiation from your cell phone could cause cancer.

It’s the icon of the wireless age: the cell phone. We have been dubbed the ‘thumb generation’ because of our deep obsession with them. They have replaced the landline and become our lifelines. But they are also the subjects of TV3’s latest Inside New Zealand documentary: “Is Your Cell Phone Killing You?” At first the idea is almost laughable. I think of Drew Barrymore and her fellow troupe of ill-fated victims in the Scream movies, who are killed when they answer their phones. But this issue has nothing to do with the threat of a creepy, knife-wielding murderer in a facemask on the other end of the line. According to recent research, it’s the phones themselves that could be the killers.

On May 31 this year, the World Health Organisation announced that cell phones ‘might’ increase users’ risk of developing cancer. According to the press release, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the WHO, has classified the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields that cell phones produce as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans.’ The press release stated that with an estimated five billion cell phone subscriptions globally, there has been ‘mounting concern’ about the health effects of cell phone use.

Although the report may seem like nothing to phone home about, it is the first time the Organisation has publicly made the connection between cell phones and cancer. But the connection is not new. It is one that has been fiercely disputed by scientists, health officials, and members of the cell phone industry since the 1990s. The link was most famously initiated in 1992, when a man named David Reynard appeared on the Larry King Live show, claiming that cell phone radiation had caused his wife’s death from brain cancer. An x-ray showed that the shape and location of the tumour closely resembled an outline of where the woman had normally held her cell phone to her ear. Reynard sued the cell phone manufacturer and carrier, and it became the first ever case to link cell phone radiation with cancer. The case generated massive publicity, and sparked widespread hysteria over cell phone safety.

As a result, the cell phone industry had no choice but to launch an investigation into the potential health effects of cell phone use. American medical scientist Dr. George Carlo was appointed to head the investigation, which spanned from 1993 to 1996.

The research was plagued with problems from the start – mainly due to the fact that the industry and the researchers had completely different motivations. While the industry wanted to prove that cell phones were completely safe for public use, the researchers under Carlo had no such bias, and were objectively looking for any health effects that may result from cell phone use. So when Dr. Carlo found that cell phone radiation caused DNA damage, and interfered with cardiac pacemakers, the industry immediately attempted to play down the findings. Carlo has since become a prominent cell phone ‘sceptic’, and set out to independently publicise what the industry would not – including claims that cell phones were never tested for safety before entering the market, as they were originally intended for use by the Department of Defence.

It’s this potential for bias that is the premise for Inside New Zealand’s documentary, which explores how our own telecommunications industry is dealing with the allegations that cell phones could be a health issue. A recurrent question the documentary asks is just how objective is the information that is out there? A voiceover says ominously, ‘according to the telecommunications industry, millions of dollars of research shows we have nothing to fear.’ A graph on the documentary then exposes that only 25% of industry-funded research shows adverse health effects of cell phone use, while 75% of independently funded studies reveal adverse effects. It is made clear that the industry must have had some impact on the results.

But Dr. David Black, who is interviewed as an expert on the subject of electromagnetic safety, and is a firm opponent of the idea that cell phones could have negative health effects on the population, maintains that he has never been influenced by the industry. He does admit to the camera, however, that the New Zealand cell phone industry frequently employs him – ‘probably because they like what I’m going to say.’

Even without the influence of the industry, there are mixed messages being sent out as to whether cell phones could cause cancer, messages which are dividing the scientific community. The largest ever study on the subject that claimed to be completely independent was conducted between 2000 and 2006, known as the INTERPHONE project. According to The Economist, it involved 13 countries, 50 scientists and 14,000 people, and cost 30 million dollars. Its purpose was to determine, once and for all, whether there was a link between cell phones and brain cancer. Yet even after all that time, money and expertise, the study remained inconclusive. Some results of the study showed that regular cell phone use might actually offer protection against some brain cancers. Other results showed that those who spent the greatest amount of time on their cell phones had a 40% increased risk of developing a brain tumour. Clearly the studies are flawed, so are we getting hysterical over nothing?

It all depends on how much weight can be given to the WHO’s definition of ‘possibly carcinogenic’. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the classifications exist to identify environmental factors that can increase the risk of human cancer. The categories range from Group 1 (carcinogenic to humans), to Group 4 (probably not carcinogenic to humans). Cynics have been quick to point out that, cell phones have been placed in the category that contains ‘tame’ substances such as coffee and pickled vegetables. But others note that the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust are also present in that same category.

Despite the outpouring of conflicting information, already many local and national bodies are taking precautionary measures. San Francisco made headlines last year when they became the first city in the United States to initiate a law that directly addressed the cell phone radiation issue. Known as the ‘Right To Know’ law, it forced all cell phone retailers to provide clear information about each phone’s radiation emissions and their potential negative effects. This action followed the lead of several European nations, who have been recommending to their citizens ways of reducing cell phone radiation exposure, such as using hands-free devices, and texting instead of making calls.

It’s these kinds of precautions that New Zealand’s Green Party is also pushing for. MP Sue Kedgley said in a recent press release that she would like to see warnings displayed on cell phones, including labels that show how much radiation the phone is emitting and the health risks of their use. Currently this information is less than transparent. Vodafone and Telecom mobile safety fact sheets that can be downloaded from each company’s website tend to downplay the issue. The Vodafone fact sheet only details base station safety information, sourcing a World Health Organisation statement from 2006. At that time, the WHO had concluded that ‘current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences.’ Telecom quotes the same outdated statement, in their own safety document – ‘Let’s talk about mobile phone sites’. Neither refers to the possibility that the phones themselves could be the danger. According to Kedgley, it’s the same sort of denial the tobacco industry has displayed in the past. ‘Imagine if we’d wisened up to the risks of smoking cigarettes earlier. Many lives would have been saved.’

Could cell phones be the next cigarettes? Putting the potential health effects of cell phones aside, there are some surprising behavioural similarities between the two. As early as 1999, James Stewart, then a student at the University of Edinburgh, was considering the connection between the sociology of cigarette and cell phone use. His examples are telling. At the peak of their popularity, cigarettes were once seen as symbols of glamour and wealth – think Audrey Hepburn and her iconic cigarette holder in the 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The present-day equivalent could be the iPhone, with its sleek advertising and shameless celebrity endorsement. Stewart also notes similarities in the way we socially use each product – like cigarettes, cell phones have become something we constantly fiddle with, use when we’re trying not to look out of place, when we are nervous or bored. There are also various social codes surrounding their use – they are banned in certain areas, and considered antisocial in others.

Only further research and more time will tell if cell phones could be our generation’s fatal mistake. But it seems, like cigarettes, that we’re already too addicted. Even if the World Health Organisation’s worst fears are realised, would we actually be able to hang up our phones for good? Unlikely, according to one blogger, who perhaps represents what most of us are thinking when he says – ‘The World Health Organisation will have to pry my iPhone from my cold dead hands.’

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By rachel On 07 Jun 2011
Have you ever worry that the thing you spend hours holding near to your head may be damaging your brain? Well, the evidence is starting to pour in, and it’s not pretty. So there is a question that why isn’t anyone in America doing anything about it?
A few days before, I have met an investment banker who was diagnosed with a brain tumor five years ago. He is the managing director of a top firm. I have meet him with help of my firend. He was agreed to talk with me if I will not use his name. Therefor I will call him Mark. He has told me that the tumor has been located just behind his right ear and this tumor was not immediately very dangerous and survival rate is about seventy percent. He was 35 years old when he diagnosis and immediately he think that it was the result of his intense cell-phone usage. He said that He was using cell phone since 1990, back when they were the Gordon-Gekko-on-the-beach kind of phone.” When Mark asked his neurosurgeon, who was on the staff of a big medical center in Britain, about the possibility of a cell-phone-induced tumor, the doctor told him that in fact he was seeing more and more of such cases in which young, relatively healthy businessmen who had long used their phones obsessively.

He said that he think that the industry had discredited studies showing there is a risk from cell phones. “I got a thinking that he was pissed off,” Mark said said to me. One of Mark’s colleagues had been already died from brain cancer,And day by daythey are getting more reports he encountered of young finance guys developing tumors, the more certain he felt that it wasn’t a coincidence. Mark said that “I know 4 or 5 peoples who are working at my firm who got tumors”.

It is very dificult to talk on the dangers of cell-phone radiation without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. This is genarlly common in the United States, where non-industry-funded studies are rare, In unitied states legislation protecting the wireless industry from legal challenges has long been in place, and where our lives have been more integrated with wireless technology that it is very difficult to say that it might be a problem.
Cell phone, in fact has more and more effect at the rest of the world. Consider, for example, the following headlines that have appeared in highly reputable international newspapers and journals over the past many years. From summer 2006, in a well reputeted newspaer “ ARE WE TELEPHONING OURSELVES TO DEATH? That fall, in the Danish newspaper: MOBILE PHONES AFFECT THE BRAIN’S METABOLISM.In December 2007, In France newspaper “ ISRAELI STUDY SAYS REGULAR MOBILE USE INCREASES TUMOUR RISK”. January 2008, in London newspaper worte, “ MOBILE PHONE RADIATION WRECKS YOUR SLEEP” . September 2008, in Australia’s Newspaper “ SCIENTISTS WARN OF MOBILE PHONE CANCER RISK”.

Although the scientific debate is heated and far from resolved, there are several reports, generally out of Europe’s premier research institutions, of cell-phone and PDA use being linked to “brain aging,” brain damage, early-onset Alz¬heimer’s, senility, DNA damage, and even sperm die-offs. In September 2007, the European Union’s environmental watchdog, the European Environment Agency, warned that cell-phone technology “might lead to a health disaster similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking, and lead in petrol.”

Perhaps most worrying, though, are the beginning results of the multinational Interphone study sponsored by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in Lyon, France. Scientists from 13 countries took part in the study, the United States conspicuously not among them. According to Interphone researchers reported in 2008 that after ten years of cell phone use, there is a chance of getting a brain tumor, specially on the side of the head where you use the phone, goes up as much as 40 percent for adults. Interphone researchers in Israel came to know that cell phones may cause tumors of the parotid gland , and an self-governing study in Sweden previous year concluded that people who started using a cell phone before the age of 20 years were five times as likely to develop a brain tumor.

According to one more Interphone study reported a nearly 300% increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a tumor of the acoustic nerve.
As more results of the Interphone study are coming out, I asked David Smith, who has a doctorate in environmental policy from MIT and in 1981 founded an investigative newsletter. He recommended that much of the comfort of our modern lives depends on not caring, we are refusing to recognize the dangers of microwave radiation. “We love our cell phones very much. The example that there’s no danger here is part of a worldview that had to be put into place,” he said

After reading from above we can say that the radiation from cell phones and wireless transmitters affects the human brain, and to get some sense of why the concerns raised in so many studies outside the U.S. are not being seriously raised here, it’s necessary to go back fifty years, long before the advent of the cell phone, to the research of a young neuroscientist named Allan Frey. In fact the studies shows that cell phone can cause problems for health. And it nessessary that we have to find a solution for this problem.

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