There’s been a lot of suggestions, from both scientific research and news coverage, as to the effects of the increase of cell phone usage. Although there’s no definitive scientific evidence to confirm that cell phones cause cancer, researchers have expressed concerns over the long term effects of the radio-frequency (RF) energy they produce. Reports have implied that they could lead to an increased risk of a range of health problems, including tumours, memory, sleep and learning problems and decreased sperm counts. But should we be concerned?

What’s does the evidence say?

There’s been conflicting reports as to whether RF energy poses a threat to public health. A study from the National Cancer Institute claims that it doesn’t cause as much DNA damage as suspected, as it’s nowhere near the same level of radiation produced by x-rays or the sun. Although The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF energy as “possibly carcinogenic”, scientists argue that this is insufficient evidence, and that if cell phones caused cancer we would have seen a spike in the number of diagnoses, which hasn’t happened.

The majority of studies conducted haven’t shown any increase in the prevalence of cancer due to the use of cell phones. One study looked at over 5000 patients with brain tumours across 13 countries, and found no link between RF energy and brain cancer. Another looked at 800,000 women, and again, found no evidence of any association between cell phones and increased cancer risks. Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, commented that “I’m not going to stop using my mobile phone in the light of this.”

Should we be concerned?

Whilst the evidence suggests that the public should not be concerns, guidelines have been released to help the public to “decrease their exposure to the radio frequency energy emitted from cell phones.” These guidelines recommend that those who want to reduce their exposure to radiation can take some preventative measures. These include keeping their phone away from their body, reducing the amount of video and audio files streamed or downloaded, removing headsets when not in use and avoiding products that claim to block radio frequency energy.

The guidelines also claim that, as science is constantly evolving, it’s always possible that small risks could exist which are yet to be identified. It’s also thought that some of these guidelines might be beneficial in other ways, for example, research has shown that having access to cell phones at night can lead to less sleep, and other studies have shown that they can reduce productivity. These guidelines are only suggestions, and although there may be benefits to limiting the use of cell phones, there’s currently not enough evidence to suggest that the threat of radiation is not enough to increase the risk of cancer.

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