In May, 2011, the World Health Organization announced thatcell phone use is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Even if the increased riskis tiny, the thinking goes, exposure to cell phones and their radiation is socommon worldwide that we ought to be super careful.
Other authorities seem much less concerned. They point outthat many good studies do not support such a risk, and that our basicunderstanding of biology and radiation predicts that no such risk exists.
Why is there such a discrepancy? Why can’t these scientistsseem to agree on anything?
What people want to hear is a definite answer: “Cell phonesdo not cause cancer.” But it’s very, very difficult to prove a negative. It’seasy to say “Cell phones don’t cause cancer within a few years of use”—that’sbeen established. Likewise, it’s easy and truthful to say “Cell phones don’tincrease your risk of cancer by very much.” But cancer can take years ordecades to develop, and studies covering 5 or 10 or even 15 years of life couldpossibly miss an association that develops after 25 years.
The largest, longest study undertaken so far was recentlypublished in October, 2011. Danish researchers studied health and cell phoneuse records on about 360,000 people over 18 years, and did not find anyincreased risk of brain cancers. However, even a huge study like this haslimitations: children weren’t looked at specifically, and risks that firstappear after 18 years would not have been captured.
Thus, the state of the science now: we know that in moststudies there is not an increased risk of any cancer, at least over a span ofless than 10-15 years. If there is an increased risk, it must be very small,and it must be something that could only be observed over many years. And ifthere is a risk, it must be though some kind of new mechanism that has neverbeen observed before.
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