Cell Phones and Your Brain

A cancer expert's advice to restrict use of cell phones has revived the long-simmering debate over whether or not the handy gadgets raise the risk of brain cancer. You don't need to throw your mobile under the bus, but there are precautions you can take if you're concerned:

  • Keep cell phones away from your head. Use a speakerphone, headset or remote antenna. Regular headphones may be safer than Bluetooth earpieces; however, regular headphones may decrease the ability to hear outside sounds such as traffic or sirens.
  • Use your cell only for short calls. Use your landline when you can.
  • Set limits on your kids' use of cell phones.

The controversy

Dr. Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, made headlines when he advised staff to limit their cell phone use because of a possible risk of cancer. Children should use cell phones only in emergencies because their brains are still developing, he wrote. It's the first time such a warning has come from a major academic cancer research institution.

Herberman and 22 other prominent doctors, medical researchers and health officials warned in a statement, "The most recent studies, which include subjects with a history of cell phone usage during the last 10 years, show a possible association between certain benign tumors ... and some brain cancers on the side the device is used."

Cell phones operate on radio frequencies and release low levels of electromagnetic radiation. There's a theory that long-term exposure to this radiation could increase the risk of tumors, possibly by altering DNA or heating brain cells. However, the American Cancer Society says, "Cell phones wouldn't be expected to cause cancer because they don't emit ionizing radiation," which is "the type that damages DNA and is known to have the ability to cause cancer."

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