Three simple tips for cell phone safety

Do cell phones contribute to brain cancer? I get asked this question a lot.

And the truth is, the jury is still out on this one.

I can tell you that I keep my phone well away from my body when using it. But not because I know something everyone else doesn’t. Unfortunately, there’s still no right or wrong answer yet about whether there is a problem, much less how to address it. And when all the cards are finally on the table, I have a feeling the conclusion still won’t be so cut and dried.

So far, we have nearly 30 population studies that have examined the link between cell phones and head cancers (namely, of the brain and salivary glands). It’s enough that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) felt compelled to label the phones “possible” carcinogens five years ago.

And based on what we do know — mostly from the results of lab research dealing with cell cultures and animal models — the IARC champions the idea of cell phones as a potential “co-carcinogen.” Five of these studies showed that this type of radiation contributed to cancer development in combination with exposure to known cancer-causing chemicals.

In other words, perhaps cell phones don’t trigger brain cancer. They just help it to grow faster than it otherwise might.

This isn’t exactly a reassuring theory. But it would help explain why the link between cell phones and brain cancer is so unpredictable. (Let’s face it, the incidence of brain cancer in the population is pretty low compared to the use of cell phones. Now, whether that changes in the coming years, only time will tell.)

Recent results from rat research performed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program reveal similar inconsistencies. Like the fact that, so far, male rats exposed to cell phone radiation seem to be affected by a low rate of brain and heart cancer. But not female rats. (This is compared to unexposed controls, which experienced no brain cancer at all.)

The bottom line? We simply need more research. But on humans, at least, these types of controlled experiments are all but impossible.

For one thing, how many people would willingly enroll in a study where they have to be exposed to known carcinogens?

Then there’s also the problem of finding someone, anyone, who doesn’t use a cell phone these days. Sure, you might be able to find pockets of people — among the elderly, maybe the Amish. But not enough to serve as reliably matched controls.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck having to make do with what we’ve got — and make decisions about how to protect ourselves based on that admittedly incomplete picture.

Is it enough for me to tell you to ditch your cell phone? No. And that wouldn’t be practical anyway. Even for me, these little devices have become an indispensable part of daily life.

But I can give you a few critical tips.

  • Use hands-free devices whenever possible.
  • Always keep your cell phone away from your head — not to mention your chest and your genital area. (Away from your person whenever possible is best.)
  • And whatever you do, don’t sleep with you cell phone right next to you. Power it down and give your body a break.

Until we know more, you’re better safe than sorry. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run… my phone is ringing.