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Tweet & Text to Prevent Cancer

By on June 9, 2011

You’ve heard of this cell phone and cancer link for awhile and like me, you probably didn’t know what to think. Research seems to always be contradicting itself, right? Coffee has health benefits but can cause cancer. Jogging is great exercise but a power walk is better for your joints. Well, here we go again.

A panel convened by the World Health Organization has concluded that cell phones are “possibly carcinogenic,’’ putting them in the same category as certain dry cleaning chemicals and pesticides, as a potential threat to human health. WOW! Your mobile phone can have as much health risk as a pesticide. So what does this mean? And why now?

It appears the agency’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, joins a small but growing group of experts about the health effects of low levels of radiation emitted by cell phones. The panel, which consisted of 31 scientists from 14 countries, was led by Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Southern California and a member of President Obama’s National Cancer Advisory Board.

The group didn’t conduct any new research but reviewed existing studies that focused on the health effects of radio frequency magnetic fields, which are emitted by cell phones.

Dr. Samet said the panel’s decision to classify cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic” was based largely on epidemiological data showing an increased risk among heavy cell phone users of a rare type of brain tumor called a glioma.

Last year, a 13-country study called Interphone, the largest and longest study of the link between cell phone use and brain tumors, found no overall increased risk, but reported that participants with the highest level of cell phone use had a 40 percent higher risk of glioma.  Gliomas are relatively rare and thus individual risk remains minimal.

Most major medical groups, including the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, have said the existing data on cell phones and health has been reassuring. For years, concerns about the health effects of cell phones have been largely dismissed because the radio frequency waves emitted from the devices are believed to be benign. Cell phones emit nonionizing radiation, waves of energy that are too weak to break chemical bonds or to set off the DNA damage known to cause cancers.

This year, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on research from the National Institutes of Health, which found that less than an hour of cell phone use can speed up brain activity in the area closest to the phone antenna. The study was among the first and largest to document that the weak radio frequency signals from cell phones have a measurable effect on the brain. The research also offers a potential, albeit hypothetical, explanation for how low levels of nonionizing radiation could cause harm without breaking chemical bonds, possibly by triggering the formation of free radicals or an inflammatory response in the brain.

“We looked carefully at the physical phenomena by which exposure to such fields might perturb biological systems and lead to cancers,” said Dr. Samet. But he said the result was inconclusive, adding, “We found some threads of evidence about how cancer might occur but have to acknowledge gaps and uncertainties.”

The panel made no comment on how large or small a risk cell phone radiation may pose to human health. “Our task was not to quantify risk,’’ said Dr. Samet.  A representative did note that using a hands-free headset during a conversation or communicating via text message would be options for lowering radio frequency exposure. So invest in a headset and consider adjusting your talk time on the phone. Tweeting and texting can also be an alternative. Just don’t do these things while driving. Now you know.

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