Cell phones have become an integral part of our daily lives. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that there are over 4.6 billion cell phone subscriptions worldwide. This has sparked a public health concern, and much debate about cell phones and whether or not they are a risk for brain cancer. Numerous studies have been conducted, yielding different results.

Cell phones communicate by transmitting RF (radiofrequency) waves through cell towers. RF waves are located on the electromagnetic spectrum between FM radio waves and microwaves. RF waves are electromagnetic fields that produce a form of non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation cannot directly damage DNA because it doesn’t break the chemical bonds in DNA.

However, when RF energy interacts with the body, it causes tissue heating. Numerous studies have been done that show most of the heat produced is absorbed by the skin, leaving organs such as the brain at minimal risk to tissue heating. Handsets only transmit radio-requency waves when turned on. The World Health Organization also recommends using a hands-free device or text messaging which keeps the handset farther from the body and your more vulnerable organs.

Studies have also been conducted on cell phones and their relation to salivary gland tumors, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and testicular cancer. Some studies point to an increased risk while others are inconclusive. Other studies show an actual decline in certain types of brain cancers. For example, in one study conducted in the United States, all demographic groups studied showed a decline in brain cancer except for the group of 20-29 year old females. This particular group showed an increase in frontal lobe cancers. Most hypotheses expect brain cancers to increase in the temporal or parietal lobe regions where the brain is closest to the ear (where a cell phone is held). The data collected in this study does not support claims that brain cancer is linked to cell phone usage.

Two other major studies have been conducted; the Interphone Study and a study conducted by the World Health Organization. Both studies were extensive. The Interphone Study found that there was no increased risk of developing meningioma or glioma with regular cell phone use. Data collected by the World Health Organization study suggests an
in glioma and acoustic neuroma related to cell phone use. Both of these were large studies, yet the studies yield opposing data. According to a CNN report, the World Health Organization has now classified mobile phone use in the same “carcinogenic hazard” category as lead and chloroform.

Another theory that has been studied is the effect of radiofrequency on the blood-brain barrier. Animal studies have been conducted on this relation and the data suggests that radiofrequency from cell phones may disrupt the blood-brain barrier and allow leakage of carcinogens into the brain. So although the radiofrequency does not cause the cancer directly, it can possibly have an indirect affect.

There is one thing that most of these studies have in common: the relationship between cell phone usage and brain cancer requires further investigation. Cell phones simply have not been used long enough to show definite trends in brain cancer.

For now, it is prudent to limit cell phone use when possible and to follow suggestions recommended by the World Health Organization, namely using hands-free and text messaging.