Can Cell Phones Affect Your Brain?

cell phone and tumors

Photo: Deposit Photos

The proof may be in for what we’ve often wondered. There may be a link between cell phone use and tumors.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has released a new report showing there is clear evidence that male rats exposed to high levels of radio frequency radiation (RFR) like that used in 2G and 3G cell phones developed cancerous heart tumors. Admittedly, the study was conducted on rats and not humans, the results do give heavy cell phone users something to think about the next time they glue to their hand-held device to an ear.

There was also some evidence of tumors in the brain and adrenal gland of exposed male rats. For female rats, and male and female mice, the evidence was equivocal as to whether cancers observed were associated with exposure to RFR.

Reasons to Worry About Cell Phone Risk

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are three main reasons why people are concerned that cell phones (also known as “mobile” or “wireless” telephones) might have the potential to cause certain types of cancer or other health problems:

Cell phones emit radiofrequency radiation (radio waves), a form of non-ionizing radiation, from their antennas. Parts of the body nearest to the antenna can absorb this energy.

The number of cell phone users has increased rapidly. There were over 400 million cell phone subscribers in the United States in 2017, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. Globally, there are more than 5 billion cell phone users.

Over time, the number of cell phone calls per day, the length of each call, and the amount of time people use cell phones have increased. Because of changes in cell phone technology and increases in the number of base stations for transmitting wireless signals, the exposure from cell phone use—power output—has changed, mostly lowered, in many regions of the United States.

“The exposures used in the studies cannot be compared directly to the exposure that humans experience when using a cell phone,” said John Bucher, Ph.D., NTP senior scientist. “In our studies, rats and mice received radio frequency radiation across their whole bodies. By contrast, people are mostly exposed in specific local tissues close to where they hold the phone. In addition, the exposure levels and durations in our studies were greater than what people experience.”

The lowest exposure level used in the studies was equal to the maximum local tissue exposure currently allowed for cell phone users. This power level rarely occurs with typical cell phone use. The highest exposure level in the studies was four times higher than the maximum power level permitted.

“We believe that the link between radio frequency radiation and tumors in male rats is real, and the external experts agreed,” said Bucher.

The $30 million NTP studies took more than 10 years to complete and are the most comprehensive assessment, to date, of health effects in animals exposed to RFR with modulations used in 2G and 3G cell phones. 2G and 3G networks were standard when the studies were designed and are still used for phone calls and texting.

“A major strength of our studies is that we were able to control exactly how much radio frequency radiation the animals received — something that’s not possible when studying human cell phone use, which has often relied on questionnaires,” said Michael Wyde, Ph.D., lead toxicologist on the studies.

These studies did not investigate the types of RFR used for Wi-Fi or 5G networks.

“5G is an emerging technology that hasn’t really been defined yet. From what we currently understand, it likely differs dramatically from what we studied,” said Wyde.

Other Possible Cell Phone Risks

A broad range of health effects have been reported with cell phone use. Neurologic effects are of particular concern in young persons since the brain is the primary exposed organ. However, studies of memory, learning, and cognitive function have generally produced inconsistent results.

The most consistent health risk associated with cell phone use is distracted driving and vehicle accidents.

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