Empirical evidence connecting cellphone use and cancer has been the subject of a fierce debate in recent years between researchers and operators of the telecommunications industry, including federal regulators.
The National Cancer Institute, taking a middle ground in the debate, said that "Studies thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain, nerves, or other tissues of the head or neck. More research is needed because cell phone technology and how people use cell phones have been changing rapidly."
But, according to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, researchers at a conference at the University of Southern Maine on Monday (October 17), have claimed that the connection between cellphones and certain types of cancer is becoming increasingly clear. The researchers have called on governments to take measures to protect people from the cancer risk involved in use of cellphone, smart meters and radio broadcast towers.
Bangor Daily News reports that researchers at the conference said cellphone use today is like smoking decades ago. According to the Bangor Daily News, one of the researchers, Dr. David Carpenter, head of Institute for Health and Environment at the University of Albany, said:
"There’s enough science to suggest the activity can cause cancer, but not enough political will to implement measures to reduce exposure...We’re setting ourselves up for an epidemic of cancers in the future that should be preventable based on the knowledge we have now."
Dr. David Carpenter says evidence of connection between cancer and cellphone use is increasing in spite of denial by the telecommunications industry:
"If you use a cell phone and hold it to your head, the cancers you see elevated are brain cancer, tumors of the auditory nerve, tumors of the parotid gland, the salivary gland and the cheek right by the ear."
Dr. Carpenter also said that the concern is not only about cellphones. He says there is growing evidence that people who live close to radio towers are at increased risk of cancer:
"If your whole body is exposed, as is the case in people that live near towers — there are studies with AM radio towers in Rome or in Korea — then the cancer that one sees most prominently is leukemia."
Dr. Carpenter says the growing mass of evidence that radio frequency fields expose people to increased risk of cancer explains why the World Health Organization (WHO) recently identified cellphones and radio towers as class 2B carcinogens:
"That's a classification that means the evidence isn't all there but there's reason to be concerned...There have been several other very major advances recently — the study that came from the National Institutes of Health demonstrating directly that a cell phone held to the head, when it was active, it resulted in changes in glucose utilization in the brain. So yes, the evidence is getting strong with time."
Dr. Carpenter's statement was in reference to a recent WHO announcement that radiation from cell phones may possibly cause cancer. Medscape Medical News recently reported that the WHO announcement was based on,
"...an extensive review of studies on cell phone safety by a working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries, who have been meeting regularly to evaluate the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. They reviewed exposure data, studies of cancer in humans and experimental animal models, and other relevant data."
One of the participants at the Maine conference, Stuart Cobb of Portland, who recently recovered from a type of brain tumor called a glioma, is convinced that his illness was caused by years of daily use of cellphone. According to Cobb:
"I have had one for an awful long time — ever since I was 19 — and I had averaged between 3 to 6 hours per day on it, which is pretty heavy...I am 100 percent convinced it was from RF radiation. As humans we just weren't meant to have transmitters bolted to our heads for long periods of time."
Medscape Medical News reports that one of the strongest evidence supporting Cobb's conviction that there may be link between brain tumors and cellphone use comes from a series of studies at the Department of Oncology, Orebo Medical Center in Sweden. The studies showed that the risk of brain tumors increases with number of hours of use and that younger users suffer a greater risk. Other studies have, however, given results inconsistent with the results of the Swedish study, leading some authorities to conclude that "additional research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn."
Medscape Medical News reports another line of research evidence that cellphone use may cause cancer: Researchers have shown that use of cellphone "for as little as 50 minutes at a time appears to affect brain glucose metabolism in the region closest to the phone's antenna."
According to Medscape Medical News:
"Investigators used positron emission tomography (PET) during cell phone use in the on and then off positions and found that although whole-brain metabolism was not affected, metabolism was increased in the orbitofrontal cortex and the temporal pole areas of the brain while the cell phone was on, areas that are close to where phone's antenna meets the head."
The author of the study Nora D. Volkow, of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Maryland, said,
"We do not know what the clinical significance of this finding is, both with respect to potential therapeutic effect of this type of technology but also potential negative consequences from cell phone exposure."
But she strongly recommends "in the interim" hands-free devices or speaker-phone mode to avoid direct contact of the telephone with the head. According to Volkow,
"Previous work suggests that if the phone is a foot or more away it is very unlikely to have any effects...So there are some very easy solutions that don't cost anything for those who want to play it safe."