Cell phones have become such a necessity… such a part of everyday living that few of us can imagine how we’d manage without them. Surprising then that news last week of a report stating that cell phone risks related to the radiation from these popular mobile devices might indeed up the risk of cancer was met by a shrug by the phone toting American public.
Though not widely available in the U.S. until the 1990s, these essential devices are no longer deemed a luxury, estimates have us talking for around 700 minutes each month, far higher than the rest of the world.
The researchers examined dozens of peer-reviewed studies published on cell phones and cancer before coming to the decision that our favorite gadget should be classified as “possibly carcinogenic”.
The team included 31 scientists from 14 nations (including the U.S.). In case you’re wondering, that same “possibly carcinogenic” classification is home to night shift work, coffee, lead and engine exhaust.
We know cell phones do give off weak radio waves, but they can’t cause the sort of changes in cells that come from the sun or other sources of radioactivity.
While the troublesome threat might have been widely dismissed by the phone dependent public, Google searches for words like “cell phone” and “cancer” were up in the week following the May 31, 2011 announcement.
Some users are planning to switch to headsets to put some distance between the phone and themselves. Using the speakerphone feature is also a good option – when you don’t need privacy. Keeping the phone itself away from your body is also the recommendation of many manufacturers.
Part of our lukewarm reaction to the news is that many people have been using their phones for several years, so if a risk exists, we’ve all been exposed already. Shoppers for cell phones are more interested in features – clear calls and ease of texting – than they are about the potential cancer risk.
We do know that these phones give off different amounts of radiation, and there are proposals out there in a few states to have retailers display the radiation ratings of phones to customers.
The radiation that comes from a cell phone is known as non-ionizing – think of it as a weak microwave oven. Over time this effect might not just bring cancers or tumors, but possibly memory problems too, especially since the memory temporal lobes are just where most people hold their cell phones.
Research just isn’t able to totally rule out an association between cancer and cell phone use. Experts insist that if a link is indeed found, it won’t be a strong one. If you’re worried, you might consider a Bluetooth headset, though these have been reducing in popularity for a while now, mainly due to the style complaints of the wearers.
Cell phone makers point out that all phones are considered safe by current science. And until May 2011, the WHO agreed with them.
The trouble is that most environmental contributors to cancer take several decades of exposure before you can truly see the consequences in patients. The European Environmental Agency is pushing for more research, speculating that cell phones risks to health could be as big a public health concern as smoking, asbestos and leaded gas.
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