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New study revives issue of whether cell phone radiation causes cancer

It’s back. The dreaded debate over the effects of cell phone radiation and cancer has returned, and if you number among the 92 percent of Americans who own a mobile device, you may want to sit down. Initial findings from a $25 million, two-and-a-half-year study by the National Toxicology Program suggest that radio-frequency (RF) radiation emitted by our cellphones can indeed cause cancer.

In conducting their research, scientists exposed male rats to two kinds of RF radiation, and found that they were “significantly more likely” to develop brain cancer than were rats that were not exposed to the radiation. In particular, exposed rats tended towards a type of brain cancer known as a glioma, as well as a higher likelihood for a rare tumor called a schwannoma of the heart. This same effect, however, was not observed in female rats.

“This is by far—far and away—the most carefully done cell phone bioassay, a biological assessment. This is a classic study that is done for trying to understand cancers in humans,” said Christopher Portier, who once served as the head of the NTP before his retirement. “There will have to be a lot of work after this to assess if it causes problems in humans, but the fact that you can do it in rats will be a big issue. It actually has me concerned, and I’m an expert.”

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Researchers determined that as rats were exposed to greater intensities of RF radiation, a greater proportion developed brain and heart cancers, which suggests a direct dose—response relationship. And curiously enough, evidence suggests that heart tumors were linked most directly to the radiation, not tumors in the brain.

Of course, this study is by no means the only work that has been conducted regarding the potential dangers of cell phone radiation, and other research has suggested no link between RF radiation and cancer. As such, scientists say, “Much work remains to be done to understand the implications of these findings, if any, for the rapidly changing use of cell phone technology today.”

So don’t go throwing away your mobile devices just yet. The jury, alas, is still out.