The debate over whether cell phones can increase brain cancer risk emerged once again when the World Health Organization cautioned on May 31 that cell phones may be carcinogenic to humans. I believe the organization’s position is appropriate in view of the current research and evidence presented to date. Although I was not involved in any of the peer-reviewed studies on which the WHO based their recommendation, I’m very familiar with them and believe the organization felt the current body of information on cell phones was strong enough to make an official statement.
While it’s true that some studies have failed to confirm a link between cell phone use and brain cancer, research that looked at modern-day cell phone usage over the long term — more than 30 minutes a day over the course of 10 years or more — has shown increased risk of brain cancer. This is something that needs further investigation, particularly in light of the fact that many people today use their cell phones exclusively, forgoing the traditional landline. We need more long-term studies that accurately reflect the way people actually use their phones. We also need to know more about any long-term consequences that cell phone use may have on memory, as well as in children, whose brains are still developing when exposed to cell phone radiation.
It’s crucial to gauge long-term effects, not only because we have been using — and will continue to use — cell phones for many years, but also because any damage may take many years before it can be detected.
Until then, there are ways to reduce your risk of exposure to cell phone radiation and use cell phones safely. As I’ve recommended to all my patients, friends, and family, use a wired earpiece or the phone’s speaker function when making or taking calls. Better yet, text. The key here is to keep the handset away from the head. I have both a BlackBerry smartphone and an iPhone, and they’re usually on my desk or a table, away from my body. Read my previous posts, “The Link Between Cell Phone Use and Brain Activity” , “Study Fails to Answer Questions About Cell Phones and Cancer Risk” and “Brain Tumor Risk and Cell Phones” for more of my thoughts on this topic.
So, as of now, we still don’t know for sure if there is an association between cell phone use and brain cancer. But until we know, we should at least be aware of the risk, especially if the result might be something as devastating as a brain tumor. The World Health Organization’s recent statement is a reminder to us all of this potential risk.