At this point cellphones are basically part of human anatomy. Like the hand, they are vital in how we interact with our world. We use them to talk to each other, browse the internet, pay our taxes, pay our bills, send emails, pay for our groceries, they are an important tool in our daily lives. Most of us would feel naked without them, but could they be hurting us? I’m assuming probably not, but I decided to investigate.
There are actually numerous studies on the topic of cellphones causing cancer or other bodily harm. Of course, recently cellphones have become a threat of the explosive variety. In fact that particular phone may be banned on airplanes due to its harmful defect. But, the average everyday cellphone could also be a threat. For how, we turn to the American Cancer Society.
On the American Cancer Society’s website there is a brief explanation of how cellphones work and how they may be potentially harmful. Essentially, cellphones send and receive signals from cell towers using radiofrequency waves. These RF waves fall on the electromagnetic spectrum (as do microwaves, x-rays, and visible light) somewhere around radio waves and microwaves. A far cry from gamma radiation, they are not harmful enough to damage our DNA, nor do they generate enough heat to burn our tissues (which would work similarly to microwaves). None of this is cause for alarm. However, this is not was has people worried.
Most studies focus not on the potential for RF waves to harm our DNA, but rather the potential that RF could cause or aid in the growth of cancerous tumors. For example, a 2013
study tested the hypothesis that cellphone usage contributes to the development of brain cancer. This was tested with a population study of Taiwan where cellphone usage rates are higher than any other country. Researchers took data from the National Communications Commission to determine the number of cellphone users, and data from the National Cancer Registry to determine the incidence and fatality rate of malignant neoplasm (tumors) in the brain. They looked at a ten year period (2000-2009) and concluded that the high user rate had no statistically significant effect on the mortality rate and therefore accepted the null hypothesis.
A similar 2016 study looked at data from the Swedish Cancer Registry, focusing on the incidence of thyroid cancer from 1970-2013, and concluded that there was an increase in the percentage of thyroid cancer and that said increase cannot solely be accounted for by better diagnostic technology. The study itself does not allow for conclusions regarding causality, but it does postulate that exposure to ionizing radiation should be further studied.
Both of these studies mention the World Health Organization’s recent 2011 decision that radiofrequency radiation, like that found in cellphones, is possibly carcinogenic to humans. All of this information is interesting because, as we discussed in class, we are not yet sure if cellphones, or more specifically their RF waves, can cause cancer, tumors, or ill health. Cellphone exposure, like cigarettes, have not been studied, or simply existed long enough, for us to be completely sure of their long term effects on our health. The studies I found have similar parameters. They analyze similar data, one from Taiwan, one from Sweden, and come to different conclusions. Overall I found the results interesting for several reasons.
First, neither study, nor any study I could find, focus on the effects of being near microwaves. Perhaps, since they became a commonly accepted household appliance, which exposes us to similar levels of electromagnetic waves, we may have been effected in some way. Obviously, we use cellphones more often, and we don’t put our bodies up against the microwaves, but it’s still an interesting question. Second, following that train of thought, we do not spend that much time with our phones up to our heads. My phone spends most of its time in my pocket or in my hands. Why then has their not been a study done to determine if cellphones cause an increase in cervical or testicular cancer? I feel the results of these studies are inconclusive because, as the second study says, they need to do more research into the effect of this type of radiation.
My last thoughts are that I personally do not believe we currently have enough evidence to suggest that cellphone use, or any small exposure to similar wavelengths, will cause us colossal harm. Putting away your cellphone from time to time is still probably going to be beneficial regardless. Lastly, on the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light is closer to known harmful wavelengths, so why is that not possibly harmful?