Cell phones didn't really begin to happen until 1973. According to Wikipedia, during that year, a Motorola executive made an experimental phone call to Bell Labs — named after the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell (this is a shoutout, ya'll) — using a handheld device. Although some may argue that the walkie talkie and Army-supplied mobile radio phones were precursors, cell phones as we know them have only been around for 40 years.
Can you remember when they were so expensive that only 'important' people — or those who thought of themselves that way — had a cell phone? At one time, they were rare and only used in emergencies. In crowded waiting rooms or restaurants where everyone else spoke in a conversational tone, a single voice would ring out, "Hello? Who is this?" and cause everyone to stare. Over time, though, the technology was refined and prices dropped. As a result, more and more people purchased them, and now cell phones are absolutely everywhere.
But since they are no longer used rarely, but daily, isn't it time that we revisit the theme of potential harm to our health? Another way to put it is that more use and more users mean more accumulated data, so it seems natural to take a second look and see exactly what effect cell phones may have on our bodies.
A new study conducted by researchers in Israel brings not exactly conclusive evidence that cell phone use damages your health, but proof of harm nevertheless. Thinking about cell phones, these scientists had simple concerns about the possible injurious effects of "electromagnetic radiation on human tissues located close to the ear, where phones are commonly held for long periods of time." Knowing such radiation exposure could be harmful, they wanted to understand exactly what was going on there and decided to study some average users.
Who did they choose? They picked 20 subjects who had been using cell phones for an average of 12.5 years (in other words, your everyday 20-something-year-old would easily fit in the category) and a 'mean time' use of 29.6 hours per month (anywhere from eight to 100 hours per month were the number of hours logged on the phone by their study participants).
Inspiration struck when the researchers asked deaf individuals to volunteer as controls. They would be able to compare regular cell phone users with those who had absolutely never used a cell phone, not even once. Next, they simply compared the saliva of the cell phone users with that of the nonusers; saliva is one way that a doctor may test for oxidative stress, which causes cell dysfunction, damages DNA, and so may signal the start of many diseases.
In the deaf control group, the researchers found that flow, total protein, albumin, and amylase activity were decreased — an indication of higher oxidative stress among the cell phone users. The researchers concluded that cell phone use may cause oxidative stress and so cell phone use may be a risk factor for cancer.
Maybe this is not as crystal clear as saying "smoking cigarettes causes cancer," but another study finds much more certain evidence of the link between cancer and cell phones. And the results are more inclusive, as well. For this study, even the deaf would be affected by cell phone use.
Users And Non-Users Alike
A set of Brazilian researchers begin from the point of view that "pollution caused by the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) of radio frequencies generated by the telecommunication system is one of the greatest environmental problems of the twentieth century."
Their purpose in conducting a study was to verify that more cancer deaths occurred in the areas closest to the base station clusters in the Belo Horizonte municipality, Minas Gerais state, Brazil, from 1996 to 2006. "The closer you live to an antenna, the greater the contact with the electromagnetic field," said Adilza Condessa Dode, Ph.D., noting that the level of EMFs in the environment was already "high and dangerous to human health."
Using three databases, Dode and her colleagues looked at cancer deaths documented by the Health Municipal Department, base station locations as documented by ANATEL (Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações), and census and demographic city population data obtained from official archives.
Analyzing the numbers, the researchers found that approximately 856 base stations had been installed between 1996 and 2006 and in that time, 7,191 cancer deaths had been recorded within an area of 500 meters from the base station. Incidence in areas beyond that distance decreased proportionately during that same time period. More specifically, in the Central-Southern region where a larger number of base stations had accumulated, the incidence amounted to 5.83 per 1,000 people, whereas in the Barreiro region where there were fewer base stations, the researchers found the lowest incidence — about 2.05 per 1,000.
These two studies, then, suggest that radiation from cell phones — some from the phones themselves and some from the transmission stations — may be linked to cancer. It is time that we think of creative ways to protect ourselves from these emissions and so prevent the negative consequences to our health.
Sources: Hamzany Y, Feinmesser R, Ahpitzer T, et al. Is Human Saliva an Indicator of the Adverse Health Effects of Using Mobile Phones? Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2013.
Dode AC, Leão MM, Tejo Fde A, et al. Mortality by neoplasia and cellular telephone base stations in the Belo Horizonte municipality, Minas Gerais state, Brazil. The Science of the Total Environment. 2011.