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Cell phones and cancer: Should you be worried?
June 1st, 2011
09:58 AM ET

Cell phones and cancer: Should you be worried?

By now you may have heard that cell phones are "possibly carcinogenic to humans." That's according to the World Health Organization and something some scientists have suspected for a while.  But now that it's coming from the WHO, those who have questioned the safety of cell phones have significant international support.

But why "possibly"? What is that supposed to mean? The latest judgment from the WHO sounds a little wishy-washy, and that's because of the inconclusive nature of the scientific studies on this subject.

The available research on the health effects of cell phone is retrospective. That means scientists are looking into the past at the association between people's behavior and brain health, rather than designing an experiment that will require a controlled setting. Researchers can't control retrospectively how much any individual uses a cell phone, or regulate other environmental factors that might be detrimental to brain health, or even know how far away from the head different people hold their cell phones. Remember that the amount of radiation you receive is related to distance-squared from the source, so the further away your phone is physically, the safer you would be.

In a closer-to-ideal experiment regarding cell phone use, scientists would be able to monitor exact cellphone use of particular users over a given time period under controlled conditions, and track their health as well. That would be a prospective study. They would look at particular groups of users - those with high, medium and low usage - and compare health effects. They would know who has what kind of phone, make sure that person kept the same phone during the entire duration of the experiment, and figure out a way to standardize the phone's distance from the head.

The Interphone study, the largest scientific look at the cell phone health question to date, is a retrospective study. It also is partly industry-funded, and while the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer coordinates it, several researchers who analyze the data receive money from the mobile phone industry.

In May 2010, Interphone published results indicating no connection between cancer and phones. But it defined "highest" exposure levels as using a mobile phone half an hour a day over a 10-year period. In the appendix of the study, published only online, the risk of developing a glioma brain tumor about doubles if you are using a cell phone over a 10-year period.

In general, the Interphone study has many flaws. Among them, participants self-reported how much they used their phones, and memory isn't always accurate. Also, Interphone does not include children and young adults, who could be at increased risk of brain disease from cell phone radiation. Interphone also fails to address cordless phone use. But the bottom line is that while it doesn't prove with absolute certainty that anything causes anything, it is still a reason to pause and think about your cell phone use.

Also, in February, a National Institutes of Health study found that cell phone use is associated with increased brain cell activity, although no one really knows what that means for longterm health.

As you can see, there are a lot of different factors involved here, and it's hard to know what to make of this data. CNN's own Dr. Sanjay Gupta says  he uses a wired earpiece when talking on a cell phone. If you are concerned about cell phone safety, continue to check in with CNNHealth.com and "The Chart" for the latest reporting on medical and scientific studies and keep in mind, if leading neurosurgeons are using wired ear pieces, it may be a good idea to do the same. Here are some tips for minimizing cell phone radiation.


soundoff (115 Responses)
  1. Voltairine

    "Cell phones and cancer: A real link?" This is what big business does, like they did and still do with cigarettes. Scientists start with one step and then move on to the next logical step in their search for facts. Big business doesn't give a F*** about people and if they can blow smoke and dispute everything and pretty much do whatever they can to avoid their profits being affected, particularly by us pesky people suing them for brain cancer, they will. What big business should do is be GENUINELY concerned about people and perhaps even fund all the necessary research into protecting us from their products, but they do not care about people. If we left it up to them, there would be Soylent Green factories popping-up.

    “Corporations were given the rights of immortal persons. But then special kinds of persons, persons who had no moral conscience. These are a special kind of persons, which are designed by law, to be concerned only for their stockholders. And not, say, what are sometimes called their stakeholders, like the community or the work force or whatever.”

    - Avram Noam Chomsky

    June 1, 2011 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Chris M

    I hear voices.

    June 1, 2011 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dork

    I don't know why anyone would be concerned over all this stuff....don't you know the end of the world has been reforecasted for December? I know, I know, Mr. Camping was wrong about May 21rst and all......but it was just a small miscalculation on his part....totally understandable. I'm sure he will be right this next time.

    In the meantime I put together a little poem to help cheer you up......cellphones are pretty, cellphones are witty, they might cause cancer says my kitty....the end is near..... lets drink alot of beer......and glue our cellphones to our ear. Cigarrettes make you mellow...but my teeth are kinda yellow....no chicks will talk to me when I say hello. My cellphone costs alot of money....in the 80's it got me all the honeys......oh how I would love to go back to those days. I was young and strong, stiff and long, no radiation could bring me down. Now so many cell towers are killing my flowers and my teenage kid is smarter then me. I keep on reading that my DNA is heating.....rats are dying and are brains are frying....how could the FCC let this happen to me. You can bet more towers are coming so I'll just keep running. My cellphone will ring but I will not answer....I will not let you all give me cancer. My wife's car broke down she has a flat...I'm not getting cancer... so sorry honey I can't chat....I know its really far from where you are at...... but its good excercise ...and you are getting kinda fat. I microwave my food and the radiation heats it...but I don't care I still love to eat it...somehow it is still good for me. My daughter is in trouble, she needs me on the double. She is being attacked by a guy named Don...she is calling me, calling me, but I'm not breaking my chemical bond. My son is on a boat and he is sinking...he is calling me for help....sorry....not getting cancer is what I"m thinking......I work for Verizon, I work for Sprint....cellphones are dangerous but I gotta pay the rent. Hope you enjoyed my rythem and rhyme, but the end of the world is near and its about that time. So go my friends and I hope you heard what they said...stop using your cellphone or you will soon be dead.

    June 1, 2011 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • toni wood

      loved it... you are very talented!!!!

      June 3, 2011 at 06:33 | Report abuse |
    • Cpain

      That was awesomely funny and really sad at the same time- are you a gangsta rapper? Someone likened this to cigarettes and the tobacco companies ~ Big Business has no conscience...

      June 13, 2011 at 14:22 | Report abuse |
  4. donna

    In December, 2000, the British government reversed their endorsement advising consumers to use headsets as safety devices. This occurred after they discovered cell phone wired headsets can channel more than three times the amount of radiation into the head when compared to holding a phone against the ear.

    Wireless headsets represent an even greater risk because the wire is replaced with a transmitter and receiver operating with low power at frequency levels between 900 MHz. to 2.4 GHz. Microwave ovens operate at 2.4 GHz., and the maximum frequencies for wireless products compliant with Bluetooth, 3G and 4G specifications are 2.497 GHz., 2.17 GHz. and up to 3.6 GHz., respectively.

    It would be great if you would also research Cordless phones which everyone has. ( this is the same technology and danger as cellphones, actually even worse!!!) If you had an emf listening device, (You can google emf detectors, about $60-$100), as soon as you plug in a cordless phone it is broadcasting the most powerful and damaging radiation throughout the house 24/7!!!!! This is really a silent danger for many Americans, as you cant hear it except with an emf detector, but it is still wrecking your personal energy fields. Walls do dampen it a bit, it is most damaging in the actual room and only at the base station. But when you make a call on it, it is the same as cellphones, even worse. Many children may not use cell phones regularly but how many children are on cordless phones which are the same and even worse than cellphones!!

    http://www.emf-health.com/reports-cordlessphones.htm
    http://weeksmd.com/?p=1066
    http://www.sourcehealing.org/id40.html

    Thanks for doing your research as many Americans would be grateful for info on hidden dangers of Cordless phones. Years ago with the old low frequency models they only broadcast when there was a call, but now with all new models especially dect phones they keep it switched on all the time 24/7 the minute it is plugged in!! I wonder how many people have lowered immune systems due to these cordless phones.

    I usually tell people that if they won't get rid of cordless to at least put base station where no one spends time and with walls to stop some of the excess radiation. But as soon as you are on the phone you are getting blasted!! Corded Landlines are the only safe option. There is no radiation at all from corded landlines

    June 1, 2011 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. will

    there are nne know carcinagins in chicken and most of us still eat it. honestly its not a huge deal

    June 1, 2011 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • StupidWhinyLiberal

      wyl inm sry ur styl naut no hauw too spill eftr dekaydz uf scouwl.

      June 2, 2011 at 21:18 | Report abuse |
  6. Keith Ward

    Oh God, now just about everyone will have those stupid things wrapped around their ears. Oy.

    June 1, 2011 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. 7000ghz

    Dr .Black needs to go back to school. Cell phones working at 700 mhz and .5 to 1.5 watts is not microwave. 2000 watts out of a klystron at 5000 ghz is. Worked many years in a site that made the fluorescent lights glow without turning the switch on, then I should be dead if Dr. Black thinks .5 watts is deadly!

    June 1, 2011 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pat

      Well, it is not the greatest source, but wikipedia claims that the definition of microwave is fro 300 MHz to 300 Ghz. That would include cell phones and klystrons. Also, the power .5 watts vs 2000 watts has nothing to do with whether the EM radiation is microwave or not. The long and short of it is that none of this really matters. All that really matters is whether there is a link between cell phone use and cancer, whatever the mechanism. Also, the way EM radiation interacts with ion channels, genetic processes, etc. in neurons or glial cells is likely to be highly frequency dependent. Therefore, we cannot compare your exposure at 5000GHz (outside the microwave range, BTW) to what cell phones might do.

      June 2, 2011 at 10:52 | Report abuse |
  8. rob

    I do not use my cell phone that often the longer i talk on my cell phone it starts to get hot till my ears are burning. I definitly think there is a Cancer risk accociated

    June 2, 2011 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • spoofle

      Call me crazy, but that might just be because electronics tend to get warm when they're used – try taking any battery out of a device that has just been used for a while – and through the principles of heat transfer so do the body parts that are in contact with them. Add the effect of the cell phone blocking off ventilation if it's close to the ear and you've got a hot ear. Just saying.

      June 2, 2011 at 20:33 | Report abuse |
    • Rhafid

      I think cell phones pose a peolntialty serious problem for schools. With camera phones and instant messaging, academic integrity becomes an issue. In addition, I have read about horror stories in which (usually) young ladies are photograghed in the locker room or rest room while changing clothes and then the pictures are shared with the world. In some instances, the student is emotionally traumatized and can ruin a high school career. We must do everything we can to pretect our students from this. I think our current policy of keeping cell phones turned off and in the student's locker is the safest bet for all involved and strict enforcement and consequences must maintained by the entire school.Andy Goodwin

      April 8, 2012 at 00:34 | Report abuse |
  9. Kiran

    Hmm, Iphone is listed. And we use Iphone for just about everything else than just calling, so the proximity with Iphone is higher, therefore the exposure is higher. Thats what you get for getting a good versatile phone.

    June 2, 2011 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dan

    Smart&Safe is an innovative new product designed to reduce the amount of cell phone radiation reaching the users ear. Unlike your typical in-ear headsets that use electromagnetic wiring to transmit the sound, Smart&Safe headsets use a hollow tube to carry the sound from your cell phone to your ear. This product is scientifically proven to reduce the electromagnetic radiation reaching the user’s sensitive ear and brain area by up to 98%. You can see a short youtube video demonstrating the product or visit expressbuy123.com

    June 2, 2011 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Dan

    Cure for cell phone cancer: Smart&safe!!!

    June 2, 2011 at 17:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jim E

    I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in March 2010. I was a 47 year old at the time. I had no symptoms at all and no family history. I had surgery to remove the tumor and now I wonder if this may have been the cause and if I have to worry about my tumor growing from this now!

    June 2, 2011 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • StupidWhinyLiberal

      Well, Jim. At least you made it to 48. But you and I and the rest of our generation didn't stick our heads in microwave ovens, on a large scale, until about 10 years ago. So, take the average blissfully ignorant 14-year old who spends 2 hours a day with her head inside said microwave.

      At least our tumors will develop long after we have lost our good looks. But our children will die of brain cancer when they're 30. Maybe the government should put a warning label on cellphones. Right. That releases their the liability of their funding mechanism.

      June 2, 2011 at 21:29 | Report abuse |
  13. Tony F

    I'd like to see studies done on some of the Bluetooth headsets out there. I'm curious how they would compare to cellphones out there.

    June 2, 2011 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. dreamtouch

    This site is good. Please visit here.

    June 3, 2011 at 22:56 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 3, 2011 at 22:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Terry

    Can any of you brainiacs answer, I have read the objections of many who say the type and intensity of cell phone radiation is insufficient to break chemical bonds which is true. Does anyone understand that mutations don't just happen while DNA molecules are just sitting there. During mitosis when the strands are splitting (breaking their own bonds to replicate) is when DNA is most vulnerable and why tissue types that have a higher rate of mitosis are more likely to get cancerous mutations.....so my question is this; is there any possible disturbing interaction between RS and DNA/RNA during the moments while it is in the process of splitting its own bonds?

    June 4, 2011 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sachiv

      Your concern is aennrstadduble here. Hubby should be dealing with this with his ex as its not right shes using daughters emergency phone for personel calls. No real easy solution here but if Dad doesnt want to deal with it and ex isnt running up the minutes then for your sake drop it for now. Not worth the hassle and it looks like youre losing anyway. just watch the minutes closely. good luckFlorida Paralegal with a BS degree in Social-Pyschology

      April 8, 2012 at 02:19 | Report abuse |
  17. ronald haag

    I am a 2 time rare cancer survivor my 1st cancer was 4th stage nasal cancer they gave me 6 months that was back in 2001. If you would like more info please go to my website http://www.cancersurvivor2.com and click on summery of my life. Please pass onto anyone you know who is battling cancer Thanks Ronald Haag

    I am not a conspiracy guy I just have my own beliefs & this has been on my mind for a while!
    Did you ever think maybe they already have a cure for cancer! May be these are the 5 reasons they don’t release the cure!
    1. THE PHARMMACITIAL DON’T WANT IT OUT IT WOULD PUT THEM OUT OF BUSINESS
    2. IT WOULD KILL THE ECONOMY! HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES CANCER KEEP EMPLOYED?
    3. THEY HAVE TO KEEP THE POPULATION DOWN
    4. SOCIAL SECURITY WAS MADE FOR THE AVERAGE PERSON TO LIVE T0 60. NOW PEOPLE ARE LIVING TO 100!
    5. A LOT OF THINGS CAUSE CANCER AND THE GOVERNMENT TURN AND LOOK THE OTHER WAY BECAUSE SOME BUREAUCRATS IS PAYING SOMEONE OFF!

    I worked for Motorola from 1985 to 1989. I was diagnosed in 2001 with 4th stage nasal cancer and in 2008 with 3rd stage lymphoma hip cancer!
    I worked for Motorola for 4 years. I was in charge of the cellular sites in N.J. for 3 years back when cell phones where just hitting the market. Back when you had to put a box in your trunk that pushed 100 watts because there were not enough sites around!
    Now there are site everywhere that’s why a cell phone today only pushes .5 watts.
    You think that is better! No way that just means there are so many towers up that the cell phones don't need that much power to reach a site.
    Look at the most populated areas with the most cell phone use and see how much the cancer rate has gone up.
    Combine that with the computers monitors in dense work areas. We are in so much microwaves. What do you expect microwaves cause cancer!
    I believe the cellular bureaucrats are paying people off to keep quiet! Do you blame them it is a multibillion dollar business?
    Just like the tobacco companies it will be kept quiet until years later when it is too late for so many people especially the new generation!
    Greed is what kills

    June 6, 2011 at 17:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leonardo

      Just watched the pelray of the public hearing . Three people plus Joe C who spoke in favor of it . Doesn't seem like overwhelming demand . Our Leaders have been discussing for two years , imagine if these folks would have put the same time and energy into attracting a new company or business to Chapel Hill. And from what I can tell it could cause us to be sued if someone gets a ticket . Causing more wasted time and money

      April 14, 2012 at 13:52 | Report abuse |
  18. Ashley Gorde

    Hi everyone, kind of worried about some of the things proven about cell phones being traced to cancer.I'm searching for something that will help not let that awful radiation through! Has anyone found anything

    February 9, 2012 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brittany Reave

      Ashely, Hi! Im so glad I just found this post, I have been told about a device called Cel-Factor... Its a protector of radiation coming from a cell phone I believe? Havent done much research but I certainly will! I was told they have a website!

      February 9, 2012 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
  19. Barbara

    I have done some research on the Cel-Factor devices; that were mentioned. After reading the information and research they (Cel-Factor) have provided, I strongly believe cell phones are a health risk. This being said, I also read about research and results others have done; to cross reference.
    If we recall, there was much skepticism regarding cigarettes; once believed cigarettes didn't cause lunge cancer. We now know cigarettes do cause health issues! I believe the back and forth we are seeing with cell phones and health issues; is similar to the back and forth that was seen with cigarettes.
    Cel-Factor has proven, through research and testing, that cell phones are harmful; and we need to help protect ourselves with the Cel-Factor devices, now!
    I have added a link to the research, for you to review: http://www.cel-factor.com/category/the-research

    February 9, 2012 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. elad

    wow i have the new product for this problem (radiation)

    smartnsafe.com
    its to be safe and smart

    March 12, 2012 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Raj

    Oh not a problem, just dcncosneit that phone and get her the LG Migo by verizon. It only dials four pre-programmed numbers, ( I.E. your husbands number, yours, a work number, and perhaps one of her bff\'s) in addition it will allow one emergency number. It\'s cute and I think that this will solve your dilemma CiaoVerizon.com

    April 8, 2012 at 06:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.