The question of whether cell phones cause brain cancer has been definitively settled, doctors and scientists from around the country warned recently at a pediatric conference in Baltimore.
"The weight of the evidence is clear: cell phones do cause brain cancer," said Dr. Devras Davis, president of the Environmental Health Trust.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of cell phone radiation, even in the womb, the experts warned. That's why pregnant women should also limit their cell phone use.
"Keep the phone away from the abdomen — especially toward the end of pregnancy," Davis said.
Oxidative damage leads to cancer
Cell phones emit a type of radiation known as radiofrequency radiation (RFR), which is also used to transmit wireless internet signals. This is different from ionizing radiation (such as from X-rays), which is known to cause DNA damage and cancer. Until recently, many health experts insisted that RFR was simply too low energy to cause the kind of cell damage that causes cancer – even as the studies linking RFR exposure and cancer continued to pile up.
In 2010, the landmark international Interphone study found that ten years or more of cell phone use was associated with a 40 percent higher risk of brain tumors, a 300 percent higher risk of acoustic nerve tumors, and also an increased risk of parotid gland tumors. The risk of brain tumors was 400 percent higher among those who began using phones before age 20. Strikingly, the methodology of this industry-funded study was widely criticized for data analysis techniques designed to show lower risk – suggesting that the true risk is much higher.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified RFR as a possible carcinogen.
Then, in 2015, a study in Electromagnetic Biology & Medicine provided part of the answer as to how RFR might lead to cancer. A review of prior research into the biological effects of RFR exposure showed that the levels of radiation absorbed through normal cell phone or wireless internet use produce oxidative stress, a condition in which the body's antioxidant capability is overwhelmed, and free radicals start to build up in the body.
Free radicals cause oxidative damage to cells and DNA, and have been strongly linked to cancer, heart disease, dementia and other health conditions.
Children at higher risk
Children are especially vulnerable to the health risks of cell phones, attendees at the Baltimore conference warned. According to Davis, their brains absorb twice as much radiation as adult brains do, given the same exposure.
This could explain studies showing that a pregnant woman's cell phone use can affect her unborn child.
"There's a correlation between cell phone use in pregnancy and behavioral problems in their children," said Dr. Hugh Taylor of the Yale School of Medicine.
Children are also harmed by the disrupting effects that cell phones have on human social relationships, warned clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair.
"These devices are really stressing and straining our family relationships because the average mom or dad will check their phones 60 to 110 times a day," she said.
In fact, numerous studies have shown that parents regularly ignore their children to look at their phones instead, and that this is correlated with a higher level of behavioral disturbance in their children. And the children are aware of being ignored: In one international study, a third of children said that their parents spend as much or more time on their mobile devices as they do with them; a similar number said they felt unimportant when their parents were distracted from them by a device; and more than half said their parents check their devices too often.
Parental overuse of mobile devices makes children more likely to develop technology addictions, which in turn is linked with cognitive, emotional and social problems.
"So we're getting like a triple, quadruple whammy between the biological effect, the psychological effects and the brain waves effects," said pediatric neurologist Dr. Martha Herbert.
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