MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When an arm of the World Health Organization put cell phones on its list of possible carcinogens, it’s hard to not take notice. Frankly, since the first brick cell phones showed up more than twenty years ago, there have been questions about whether those phones could cause cancer. So, how dangerous are they, really?
“The studies are simply not of adequate scientific quality, to allow people like me who really want to know the answer, to know the answer,” said Dr. John Tursheim, Medical Director of Neuro-Oncology at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
As for cell phones going on the list: “It’s not a definite, it’s not even a probable, it’s a possible,” said Tursheim, joining 240 other items. Some are scary, like the pesticide DDT, others include coffee and pickled vegetables.
It’s “a number of things that are probably not, the idea is: let’s look at it further,” said Tursheim.
Cell phones give off non-ionizing radiation. It doesn’t damage DNA or break chemical bonds like the ionizing radiation that comes from X-Rays or the sun.
“These cell phones are simply not high power devices, they’re simply low power,” Tursheim said.
“I certainly don’t think there’s definitive evidence in one direction or the other,” said Dr. Eric Nussbaum, the medical director of vascular neurosurgery at the National Brain Aneurysm Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital. “The big problem is that many people develop brain tumors. Almost everyone uses cell phones. Starting to connect cell phone usage or any other environmental topic is really difficult.”
Scientists have had a hard time finding any evidence that people with brain tumors used cell phones with more regularity than people without tumors.
One study did find that using a cell phone sped up brain activity for hours in the part of the brain closest to the phone.
“That suggests it could have an adverse effect, it could have no effect, it could have a beneficial effect. We just don’t know what it means,” said Nussbaum.
For those who want to be absolutely safe, using a Bluetooth adapter or an earpiece will work, even if you keep your phone in your pocket.
“Most of the tissues (in that area) aren’t that sensitive,” said Turhseim. “This is really a brain thing, if it’s anything.”