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Research finds cell phone use possible risk for cancer

However, other data suggest the opposite

Isabell Rivera OW Contributor | 10/8/2020, midnight

It’s hard to imagine living a life without a cell phone, since landlines are on the decline. Cell phones are no longer just serving the society for emergency calls, browsing the internet, or social media platforms.

These days—especially living through a pandemic—cell phones are holy. It’s like a second brain or hard drive. However, recent research suggests that too much cell phone usage can expose individuals to higher radio frequency (RF) waves and therefore increase the risk of cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, “Cell phones send signals to (and receive them from) nearby cell towers (base stations) using RF waves. This is a form of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum that falls between FM radio waves and microwaves. Like FM radio waves, microwaves, visible light, and heat, RF waves are a form of non-ionizing radiation. They don’t have enough energy to cause cancer by directly damaging the DNA (genes) inside cells.”

The American Cancer Society, the National Health Industry, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) play down the risk of cell phone radiation. They believe that more research needs to be done to prove that cell phone usage can increase the risk of cancer.

The American Cancer Society funded a research study conducted by the Yale School of Public Health. It was published in the journal “Environmental Research” and found a relationship between thyroid cancer and cell phone usage in people with genetic variations in certain genes - called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs,  pronounced “snips”). In the study, 900 individuals were researched, and it shows that those with SNPs are more likely to develop thyroid cancer than those without.

Individuals with SNPs, who use cell phones regularly, and where SNPs were found in four of the researched genes, were more likely to develop thyroid cancer. The study researched 176 genes and discovered 10 SNPs emerge to be a risk factor for thyroid cancer.

According to Dr. Yawei Zhang of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health, thyroid cancers in the United States and around the world are growing. The American Cancer Society's latest data suggested an estimate of 53,000 new thyroid cancer cases in the U.S. is responsible for 2,180 deaths. The report also states that thyroid cancer is three times more frequent in women than men, and can be diagnosed at an earlier age.

“Our study provides evidence that genetic susceptibility influences the relationship between cell phone use and thyroid cancer,” Zhang said. “More studies are needed to identify populations who are susceptible to radiofrequency radiation (RFR) and understand exposure to RFR by using different patterns of cell phones.”

However, according to Zhang, the study depended on research conducted between 2010 and 2011, at the birth of smartphones so to speak. Therefore, only a small percentage of individuals were actually using smartphones. Looking at this, it’s suggested that there is a possibility that the increased risk related to thyroid cancer falls back on earlier cell phone models. Nevertheless, cell phone technology has changed over the past nine years, which includes the way society uses cell phones in regards to texting, browsing the internet, and video/audio calls. Because of that, further research is necessary, Zhang said.

On the other hand, the World Health Organization (WHO) categorized the radiation from cell phone usage as a class 2 B and as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” 

The FDA, however, is opposed to the WHO conclusion, and states this on their website: “Based on the evaluation of the currently available information, the FDA believes that the weight of the scientific evidence does not support an increase in health risks from radiofrequency exposure from cell phone use at or below the radio frequency exposure limits set by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).”

Although research on the harm cellphones may cause has been conducted by various scientists and is supported by the Environmental Health Trust, in order for the major U.S. agencies to adopt these same beliefs, more research needs to be done.