A lot of people are getting pretty scared about the health consequences of using cellphones. Over the years, there have been many scientific studies showing some sort of link between cellphone use and brain cancer. But plenty of other studies have said there's no connection. Most people don't know what to believe.
Now there's a new scientific article out that claims to have found definitive proof of a connection between the radiation from your phone and some very negative health problems, including headaches, fatigue, skin irritation, and yes, even cancer. I'll explain the science behind the study in-depth, but here's the bottom line: if you're worried about your phone affecting your health, it doesn't hurt to limit your use and to keep your phone away from your head by using hands-free accessories.
In fact, that's exactly the recommendation made by the scientist who headed up this new research in a quote to the New York Daily News. His name is Dr. Igor Yakymenko, and he's a researcher at The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. He recently published these findings in a scientific journal called "Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine."
The type of study he and his team conducted is called a "meta-analysis." Basically, the researchers gathered the results of 100 scientific studies on the effects of low-level radiofrequency radiation on living cells. Radiofrequency radiation is the type emitted by most cellphones. It's also the same kind found in your microwave, only 1,000 times weaker.
It's important to remember that radiofrequency radiation isn't the same kind you would find in a nuclear power plant or an atomic bomb. That's ionizing radiation, which is strong enough to rip electrons away from their nucleus. Non-ionizing radiation, the kind we're talking about here, isn't nearly that strong.
When Dr. Yakymenko studied these 100 studies, he found that 93 of them showed that extended exposure to radiofrequency radiation caused oxidative stress in living cells. He concludes that the stress those cells undergo could explain a variety of health problems, from skin irritation to cancer.
If this study is corroborated and confirmed, it marks a big change in scientific thinking. Until now, there's never been shown to be a cause-and-effect relationship between low level radiofrequency radiation and cancer. We've known that thermal radiation - the type emitted by cellphones - can cause changes in cells, but never the type of DNA damage to cause a mutation which would lead to cancer. This could be a major shift.
Dr. Yakymenko told the New York Daily News that talking on your phone for 20 minutes a day, for five years, increases your risk of brain cancer by three times. Even, so, the risk of you getting brain cancer for any reason is still very small; there are only 6.4 incidences for every 100,000 adults in America. That's 0.0064% odds.
On top of that, there are several issues with meta-analysis that make it less reliable than other types of studies. The biggest one has to do with publication bias. Research proves that scientific studies with negative results are actually less likely to be published than studies with positive results. In this case, results that show radiofrequency radiation has inconclusive effects on oxidative stress may not be published as frequently as positive studies like the ones in Dr. Yakymenko's analysis. That would heavily skew his results toward a correlation as well.
Also, not all studies are created equally. Some methods are more reliable than others. Sometimes meta-analysis gives equal merit to bad studies as good studies, when it should be only collecting from the most meaningful research.
It's called "best evidence synthesis." But even when best evidence synthesis is used, it may not cast a broad enough net for meaningful results.
Whew! That's a lot of science. One of the biggest things, however, that Dr. Yakymenko's paper doesn't explain is the fact that there isn't a meaningful increase in brain cancer since the beginning of cellphones.
It's really hard to create an accurate study without a control group. In this situation, it would be a very large group of very similar people, none of whom would be allowed to use a cellphone for decades. If they experienced cancer at a significantly lower rate than the rest of us, we'd know whether our phones were causing harm to our bodies. Unfortunately, almost everyone has been using a cellphone for a long time now.
On the other hand, that very problem gives us an easy way to figure out whether cellphones are really causing cancer. If they do, we would expect to see a really significant increase in the number of brain tumor diagnoses since the '90s when cellphones first started gaining widespread usage. But we don't.
Brain tumor diagnoses over the last 30 years are almost completely flat. As cellphones became more common, brain tumors didn't become more common. They stayed the same.
At this point we don't have enough information to say either "cellphones cause cancer" OR "cellphones don't cause cancer." The best we can say is that cellphones may contribute to your risk for cancer, as do thousands of other factors. If you're the kind of person that says "better safe than sorry," you should definitely cut down on your use and also keep your phone away from your head.