Tags: cell | phone | cancer | hype

Cell Phone Cancer Scare—Real or Hype?

Monday, 13 Oct 2008 10:03 AM

By Sylvia Booth Hubbard

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In the wake of a warning about cell phones and cancer from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute coupled with continued reassurances from blue-ribbon organizations like the American Cancer Society, what are the “true” facts? Can cell phones cause cancer? Or is it hype?

The warning from the University of Pittsburg Cancer Center was sent out in the form of a memo by the center’s director, Dr. Ronald Herberman, to the center’s 3,000 faculty and staff. In it he said, “Recently I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell use to possible adverse health effects including cancer. Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use.”

Dr. Herberman’s advice is straightforward and simple:

1) Keep cell phone calls as short as possible.

2) Use text messaging when possible.

3) Use speaker phone options or headsets. (More about this below.)

4) Do not allow children to use cell phones except in case of emergency, because according to Dr. Herberman their developing organs are “the most likely to be sensitive to any possible effects of exposure.”

Although Dr. Herberman’s memo must be given great weight, it should be noted that he is probably the first director of a U.S. cancer center to send out such an advisory. It must also be noted that he based his memo at least in part on not-yet-published research.

Regardless of the safety or lack thereof of cell phones, is there any chance people are going to give them up? And how much caution is too much caution, anyway? Dr. Herberman’s memo, for instance, even advises against using cell phones in public places because it exposes other people to electromagnetic fields in a sort of second-hand smoke effect.

One of Dr. Herberman’s suggestions is to use headsets, but this piece of advice opens up yet another can of worms. The reason for using headsets is on the face of it simple—the strength of radio waves rapidly decreases at even short distances from the handset. However, some authorities, such as a respected advisor to the British government, say that radiation can travel up the wire leading from the handset to the ear bud and that a special ferrite bead must be clipped to the wire to keep radiation from reaching the head.

As if British authorities throwing their two pence in were not enough, some marketers of cell phone protective devices, in a frightening bid to dissuade people from using “ordinary” headsets, even claim that garden-variety headsets actually act as antennas which boost radiation to the head. And Blue Tooth wireless ear pieces are no better, some of the marketers say, because they transmit and receive signals at a frequency close to that of microwave ovens.

Several companies offer “air tube” headsets, which transmit sound waves through a hollow tube from a small speaker located a “safe” distance from the head. Many people, though, find it awkward to use headsets in crowded places like elevators and check-out lines, whether they’re made with air tubes or otherwise. For these people and others who always seem to have both hands full when the cell phone rings, one of the companies that offers an air tube also offers a small gold mesh shield (“WaveShield”). The company claims the shield, which is about the size of a penny and is placed over the handset’s ear piece, stops much of the radiation a cell phone produces from entering the head through the ear.

Taking into consideration the wisdom of internationally recognized medical authorities and weighing it against the advice of numerous makers of cell phone accessories, apparently the only 100 percent effective protection against the danger of cell phone usage is the same measure that protects against the danger of sexually transmitted disease: abstinence.

But no one really talks about actually giving up sex. Or their cell phone.

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