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It seems like every passing day brings news that another beloved bit of food or tech increases our risk of cancer. Bacon. Sunshine. Red dye #2. Where will it end?
But today we've got some good news: Cell phones, thought by some to be irradiating our brains with cancer-causing radio waves, can probably be crossed off the list.
That’s the word from the University of Sydney, which ran a 30-year study (1982-2012) with 34,000 men and women diagnosed with brain cancer. They compared the subjects against national mobile phone usage data since 1987, and found that age-adjusted incidences of brain cancer in those aged between 20-84 were stable among women and only slightly increased for men.
The study concluded: “We found no increase in brain cancer incidence compatible with the steep increase in mobile phone use.”
The researchers go on to hypothesize that the minor rise in brain cancer rates in Australia is due to improved diagnostic procedures, rather than an actual increase in incidences.
For years, a possible link between mobile phones and cancer has been hotly debated among researchers. The International Agency for Research on Cancer—the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization—found limited evidence that cell phone radiation is a cancer-causing agent. It was enough that the agency could not rule out radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic.
The U.S. government’s National Cancer Institute establishes the cause for concern succinctly:
“Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy (radio waves), a form of non-ionizing radiation, from their antennas. Tissues nearest to the antenna can absorb this energy.”
But while exposure to ionizing radiation (such as x-rays) is known to increase the risk of cancer, the National Cancer Institute also states that studies have not found consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation—the kind present in radar, microwave ovens, and cell phones—increases cancer risk.
In recent years, various epidemiologic studies have been conducted in an effort to establish or refute the link between mobile phone use and cancer. Though a few smaller studies made a connection between the two, the three largest studies cited by the National Cancer Institute found no statistically significant increases in brain or central nervous system cancers or tumors related to increased cell phone use.
However, given that there's still plenty we don’t know about radiation and its effect on the human body, and how cell phone usage might contribute, it’s probably only prudent to limit the amount of time you spend with a phone glued to your head. This is especially true for young adults and children, whose skulls are thinner and can absorb more radiation.
Tin foil hats, anyone?