A prominent US cancer institute has posted a notice on its website urging cell phone users to take precautions when using cell phones because advice from an international panel of experts says cell phones have not been around long enough for scientists to be sure about their safety.

The announcement comes from the Center for Environmental Oncology (CEO), part of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and says that following the advice of an international panel of experts, comprising cancer experts from Europe and the US:

“Electromagnetic fields generated by cell phones should be considered a potential human health risk.”

Not enough time has elapsed for us to be sure of the biological consequences of cell phone and cordless phone technology, said the CEO, and until then, people should be careful.

The CEO said that recent studies “which include subjects with a history of cell phone usage for a duration of at least 10 years, show a possible association between certain benign tumors (acoustic neuromas) and some brain cancers on the side the device is used”.

Research that estimates the penetration of electromagnetic radiation from cell phones based on age, shows that children are considerably more vulnerable than adults, said the CEO, explaining that the frequency bands used by cell phones (from 800 to 2200 MHz), even below the power threshold required by most safety standards, causes “an increase in the permeability of the blood-brain barrier and an increased synthesis of stress proteins”.

Neither the expert panel nor the CEO suggests people should stop using cell phones, which they refer to as “a remarkable invention and a breakthrough of great social importance”. One of the experts, a brain cancer survivor, Dr David Servan-Schreiber, continues to use his cell phone.

The message therefore, is that users should take precautionary measures, and especially those who have cancer already.

The CEO suggested this 10-point list of precautions:

  1. Children should only use cell phones for emergencies. Organs that are still growing are likely to be the most sensitive to electromagnetic fields.
  2. When using your cell phone, keep it away from the body as much as you can. Compared to holding it next to your head, the amplitude of the electromagnetic field drops to 25 per cent at two inches (5 cm) distance and to 2 per cent at three feet (about 1 metre).
  3. Use speakerphone, or a wireless Bluetooth headset, as much as possible. These have less than 1 per cent of the emission of a normal cell phone. A hands-free ear piece may also reduce exposure.
  4. Using your cell phone in public, crowded places, like a bus, means others are passively exposed to your phone’s electromagnetic fields, so avoid using it in these places.
  5. Keep your phone away from your body as much as possible – don’t carry it on your body. Don’t keep it near your body at night (eg under a pillow or on a bedside table), especially if you are pregnant. Put it in “flight” mode, which stops electromagnetic emissions (you can still other functions such as the alarm in this mode).
  6. If you have to carry it on your body, keep the keypad toward you and the back of the phone pointing away from you so more of the transmitted electromagnetic field moves away from you rather than toward you.
  7. For long conversations use a landline with a corded phone, not a cell phone or a cordless phone, since both use similar electromagnetic emitting technology.
  8. Alternate right and left ear when using your cell phone, to spread the exposure. Wait until the person you are calling answers before placing the phone next to your ear. In other words, do everything you can to cut your exposure time with the phone close to your body.
  9. Avoid using your phone when travelling at speed, such as on a train, or when the signal is weak. The phone will be trying to connect to a new relay antenna, and uses higher power to do this.
  10. Text rather than call, as much as you can. This limits exposure in two ways: less time on the phone and the phone is further away from your body.
  11. Choose a phone with the lowest possible Specific Absorption Rate (SAR, a measure of the strength of the magnetic field absorbed by the body). Use the keyword phrase “sar ratings cell phones” to search on the Internet.

There has been a somewhat sceptical reaction to the CEO announcement in the press today, with many reports saying there is a considerable body of research that has found no risk to health from cell phone usage.

The National Cancer Institute website says that studies have so far failed to show a link between brain tumours and cell phone use.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says on its website that:

“The available scientific evidence does not show that any health problems are associated with using wireless phones. There is no proof, however, that wireless phones are absolutely safe. “

In research, there is a saying “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, which perhaps urges us all to consider this news carefully and make up our own minds.

Click here to read the full CEO announcement “The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones”.

Click here for “Cell Phone Facts, Questions and Answers”, from the FDA

Source: University of Pittsburgh, Agencies.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD