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It’s a safe bet that everyone reading this article has a cell phone. It’s also a pretty safe bet that most of you have heard about the potential dangers of using a cell phone.
For years there have been articles about brain cancer being linked to cell phones, culminating recently when the World Health Organization published a press release that made the rounds a few months ago.
The part of that press release that has been cited the most says:
“The WHO…has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma…associated with wireless phone use.”
What people kept quoting is “possibly carcinogenic,” and it’s true—that sounds scary. Let’s examine it further. I should warn you, we’re now examining the entire six-page press release, where we’ll find information that none of the eight-figure-budgeted giants like CNN and Fox have bothered to report on.
In the “results” section of the report (the important one), WHO clarifies, “The evidence was…limited among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate…for other types of cancers.” You can read the long definitions for yourself if you want, but the strongest type of evidence—“limited”—means that “a causal interpretation is considered…to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.”
In short: maybe, maybe not.
The next aspect that some have pointed out is that Group 2B is the same category as lead and gasoline. Naturally the morning talk shows have taken that to mean that using your phone is the health equivalent of drinking a gasoline slushy with lead sprinkles.
Yes, those things are dangerous, but when you think about lead, the next phrase to spring to mind is probably “lead poisoning,” not “lead cancer.” Lead poisons you. Granted, it might eventually give you cancer, but that’s not your main concern when it’s causing seizures and comas instead.
Gasoline is a similar story. It’s not dangerous because it’s a carcinogen. It’s dangerous because it will literally dissolve your digestive and respiratory tracts. Cancer isn’t a factor when we’re talking about something that’ll poison you to death in a matter of hours.
Nickel, coffee and pickles are also in the Class 2B category with gasoline and lead. Those news outlets didn’t pick lead and gasoline because everyone would recognize them. They picked them because they’re scary. In reality, cell phones are roughly as likely to give you cancer as pickles are. No one’s writing letters to congress to ask for stricter regulations on pickles.
By now you’re probably wondering, how I can be so certain when even the WHO doesn’t seem to be? It all comes back to how cell phones work.
Cell phones communicate using electromagnetic radiation, which comes in the form of photons, or little packets of energy. For a photon to be able to cause cancer, it has to have enough energy to break the chemical bonds in DNA so that when that cell multiplies, it won’t replicate correctly. That’s called ionizing radiation.
The energy level of a photon is often measured in terms of its wavelength, where shorter wavelengths have more energy and are thus more dangerous. Gamma rays are the most dangerous kind of EMR with a wavelength of around a femtometer, or a trillionth of a millimeter.
UV rays, the weakest form of ionizing radiation, have wavelengths around ten nanometers, or a hundred-millionth of a meter. That’s already ten million times weaker than gamma rays, but the news gets better. The wavelength that cell phones operate in is 11 to 14 inches.
Think about the numbers there. The energy of a photon barely strong enough to break a chemical bond is about 1.5 billion times as strong as the ones from your phone. It’s not as though your phone can almost hurt you. It’s not even close.
There’s one final nail to be put in this coffin. For cell phones to be causing brain cancer, no matter the mechanism, and one thing has to be true. Brain cancer rates have to be going up. We know cell phone usage is rising, so if the incidence of brain cancer is not also rising, then the two cannot be connected. Agreed?
Handily enough, people keep track of things like brain cancer. Between 1990 and 2010, cell phone usage went from 12 million to over 4.6 billion.But when researchers looked at the incidence of brain cancer during that time, here’s what they found.
“Given the widespread use and nearly two decades elapsing since mobile phones were introduced, an association should have produced a noticeable increase in the incidence of brain cancer by now. Trends in rates of newly diagnosed brain cancer cases between 1998 and 2007 were examined. There were no time trends in overall incidence of brain cancers for either gender, or any specific age group.”
So that’s it then. The people who try to argue that there’s a danger are no better off than a man trying to sue Easy-Bake because their oven burned his house down when his house is not burned down.
That means all this paranoia and hype from the media needs to stop. Cell phones can’t be making cancer worse if cancer isn’t getting worse. You can’t blame someone for causing something if the thing you’re blaming them for hasn’t happened. Check and mate.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Angus Bohanon at Angus.email@example.com