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Studies Divided Over Cancer And Mobile Phone Usage Link
Planet Ark
December 29, 2000

Even as brain tumor victims take mobile phone companies to the courts, the scientific world, despite several studies, has yet to decide whether or not there is a link between cancer and cell phone usage.

Studies so far, many funded by the wireless industry, have thrown up conflicting results, leaving the question of whether cell phones are completely safe or unsafe still hanging in the air.

The concern over mobile phones stems from the fact that when used, they emit low levels of radiofrequency (RF) energy or radiation which at high levels can cause biological damage, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The effects of low levels of such radiation, however, is still a matter of research, it says.

A few animal studies, for example, have suggested that low levels of RF could accelerate the development of cancer in laboratory animals, the FDA says. But there is uncertainty about whether results from animal studies apply to the use of mobile phones.

Most recently, a study by researchers from the American Health Foundation and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no link between cell phone usage and brain tumors.

The study, conducted on 891 people who regularly used cell phones, was partially sponsored by Wireless Technology Research LLC, a research group established by the cellular telephone industry. The study, however, did caution that more research needs to be done about the impact of long-term use.

A New England Journal of Medicine study released soon after also found no apparent data to support the theory that hand-held cellular phone use caused brain tumors and called for more studies to evaluate the risks among long-term, heavy cell phone users.

A number of laboratory tests have also been conducted to assess RF's possible effects on genetic material such as mutations, chromosomal changes, DNA strand breaks, and structural changes in blood cells' genetic material, according to the FDA Consumer magazine.

One particular test showed structural changes in genetic material after exposure to simulated cell phone radiation but experts have questioned the test's sensitivity to heating effects and whether that sensitivity could be solely responsible for the results, the magazine said.

Complicating matters further, even if mobile phones had no connection to cancer, thousands of users would develop cancer each year, given that it strikes about six in 100,000 people per year.

Identifying an effect of cell phones given such a rate requires carefully designed studies, say researchers Kenneth Foster and John Moulder in the August 2000 issue of IEEE Spectrum, the official magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Cell phone makers can reduce exposure to the radiation by tweaking handset design, up to a point, since the exposure depends greatly on the exact position of the handset with respect to the head, they add.

But moving antenna system and other circuit elements farther from the user's head might enlarge the handset, against popular consumer demand for smaller phones, they said.

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