The director of a cancer research center in Pittsburgh issued a surprising warning to his staff yesterday, advising them to avoid using cell phones as much as possible, because of the possible risk of brain cancer. The memo was promptly leaked to the media, igniting a firestorm of debate over whether the ubiquitous devices are dangerous.
The claim from the Pittsburgh researcher, Ronald Herberman, was particularly unexpected because numerous academic studies have found no connection between cell phone use and the risk of brain tumors. But Herberman says he’s basing his alarm on early unpublished data. He says it takes too long to get answers from science and he believes people should take action now — especially when it comes to children. “Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later,” Herberman said [AP].
The focus of debate is the small amount of electromagnetic radiation that cell phones emit. Some researchers argue that chronic exposure to this radiation may raise cancer risk, perhaps by heating brain tissue or damaging DNA. Many researchers worry about children’s exposure, because their skulls are thinner and their brains are still developing [Baltimore Sun].
But so far, large-scale studies have found no evidence to support this theory. An analysis by the University of Utah this year of thousands of brain tumour patients found no increased risk as a result of [cell phone] use, but added that the effects from long-term use “awaits confirmation by future studies”…. Recent Danish and French studies also found no increased risk of cancer [BBC News]. Still, people who wish to err on the side of caution can follow simple steps to minimize their exposure to cell phones’ electromagnetic radiation, like using a wireless headset and making longer phone calls from a landline.