A new study appears to show an association between the exposure to cell phone radiation and tumors of the brain and heart in rats. The results add fuel to a controversy that has been burning for decades as cell phones have become ubiquitous in society. Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D. says there is no scientific consensus of a possible link between cell phones and cancer:

The possible connection between cellphones and cancer is controversial. Many years’ worth of studies on cellphones and cancer have yielded conflicting results. Currently, there’s no consensus about the degree of cancer risk — if any — posed by cellphone use.

The primary concern with cellphones and cancer seems to be the development of brain tumors associated with cellphone use. Some research suggests a slight increase in the rate of brain tumors since the 1970s, but cellphones weren’t in use during the 1970s. Instead, the subtle increases are more likely related to other factors — such as increased access to medical care and improvements in diagnostic imaging.


Carina Storrs puts this in perspective:

In 2011, the World Health Organization classified the kind of low-energy radiation that cell phones emit as “possibly carcinogenic” because of a link between cell phone use and a type of malignant brain tumor called glioma and a benign brain tumor called acoustic neuroma.

Both types of brain tumors are rare. About 5 in 10,000 adults are diagnosed with glioma in the United States every year, whereas about 10 in a million people develop acoustic neuromas every year.

Although the WHO classification sounds ominous, it puts cell phones on the same level of cancer risk as caffeine and pickled vegetables. The position of numerous health organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is even more measured, stating that current evidence is not conclusive and more research is needed.


Dr. Moynihan reviewed what was known before this new study was released last week by the National Toxicology Program, which links the radiofrequency radiation from cell phones to certain tumors affecting the brain and heart muscle in rats:

  • In one study that followed more than 420,000 cellphone users over a 20-year period, researchers found no evidence of a link between cellphones and brain tumors.
  • Another study found an association between cellphones and cancer of the salivary glands. However, only a small number of study participants had malignant tumors.
  • Another study suggested a possible increased risk of glioma — a specific type of brain tumor — for the heaviest cellphone users, but no increase in brain tumor risk overall.


Professor Emily Oster also examined the previous studies and, after evaluating the statistical data, concluded:

In the end, it is simply extremely unlikely that there is any link between cellphones and brain tumors. We can, perhaps, put this debate to rest and focus on the actual danger of cellphones: using them while driving.


In the new study, lab rats were exposed to the same radiofrequency radiation that cell phones emit for 9 hours a day, beginning in utero and continuing for 2 years. Melissa Jenco says the American Academy of Pediatrics felt compelled to respond to the study:

In light of the findings, the Academy continues to reinforce its recommendation that parents should limit use of cell phones by children and teens.

“They’re not toys. They have radiation that is emitted from them and the more we can keep it off the body and use (the phone) in other ways, it will be safer,” said Jennifer A. Lowry, M.D., FAACT, FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on Environmental Health Executive Committee…

In Pediatric Environmental Health, 3rd Edition, the Academy recommends “exposures can be reduced by encouraging children to use text messaging when possible, make only short and essential calls on cellular phones, use hands free kits and wired headsets and maintain the cellular phone an inch or more away from the head.” The book also warns against talking on the phone or texting while driving.


We can all agree on that final point: cell phones combined with driving are clearly associated with premature morbidity and mortality.


The American Cancer Society has a thorough review of the literature surrounding the controversy here. Consumer Reports also looks at the issue in light of this new study here.


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