As long as there have been cellphones, it seems there have been concerns that radiation from the devices might cause cancer or other health problems.
The prevailing position in the U.S. is that there is no conclusive evidence one way or the other. But the New York Times began 2016 with a report showing officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged “caution” when using mobile phones, only to back away from that advice.
The Times interviewed a number of present and former CDC officials about the agency's guidelines issued in June 2014 that concluded “we recommend caution in cellphone use.” The report said that within weeks the CDC reversed course and deleted that recommendation from its website.
A step they were not prepared for
“Although the initial CDC changes, which were released in June 2014, had been three years in the making, officials quickly realized they had taken a step they were not prepared for,” The Times reported. “Health officials and advocates began asking if the new language represented a policy change. One state official raised the question of potential liabilities for allowing cellphones in schools.”
The Mayo Clinic notes that any purported link between cellphones and cancer is controversial. It says years of studies on cellphones and cancer have yielded conflicting results.
“Currently, there's no consensus about the degree of cancer risk — if any — posed by cellphone use,” the clinic says.
Specifically, concern about cellphones and cancer hinges on the development of brain tumors, and whether they might be associated with cellphone use. Some research suggests a slight increase in the rate of brain tumors since the 1970s, when cellphones were not in use. On the other hand, better access to medical care and improvements in diagnostic imaging have have led to the increased diagnosis.
What the American Cancer Society says
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has also weighed-in on the subject. It notes that radiation from a device's radiofrequency (RF) waves can be harmful, depending on their strength and time of exposure. It says other things that can affect RF exposure include include whether or not someone is using hands-free mode, the distance at path to the nearest cell tower, and the amount of cell traffic in the area.
But the ACS agrees that evidence of a cellphone-cancer link falls short. It says lab tests suggest the RF waves given off by cell phones don’t have enough energy to damage DNA directly or to heat body tissues.
“Because of this, many scientists believe that cell phones aren’t able to cause cancer,” ACS said. “Most studies done in the lab have supported this theory, finding that RF waves do not cause DNA damage.”
But outside the United States, scientists are not quite so equivocal. As we reported in 2011, international researchers, meeting in Turkey, released what they called “stunning proof” of a cellphone health risk.
The researchers said the findings confirmed that pulsed digital signals from cell phones disrupt DNA, impair brain function and lower sperm count.