2001-11-03 / Columnists

Health and Harmony

By Dr. Nancy Gahles

By Dr. Nancy Gahles

The new law against hand held cell phones goes into effect next month.  It may have some health benefits other than saving lives from inattentive driving.  Some studies suggest a link between cell phones and cancer.  One Swedish study published last year found a link between long-term use of the older analog cell phones and brain cancer.  Research in rats has shown a link between cell phone radiation and potentially cancer causing DNA damage.  The counterclaim is that cell phones are safe.  The largest study to date, published last February in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, surveyed 420,000 cell phone users from 1982 and 1995 and concluded there was no evidence of a brain cancer link.  Two smaller studies, published last December in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, came to similar conclusions.

Cancer experts feel that cell phones are safe for short-term use, but note that more studies are needed.  We do not have studies using cell phones beyond 10 or 15 years.  And just what is "short term use".  I'm sure that any teenager's definition would differ from yours or mine.  Does it mean a few minutes each day or intermittent conversations of varying length infrequently?

That's the problem.  We really don't know the effects on the developing brain, as in young people or the long-term effects at all.  The analog phones in the Swedish study do emit more radiation than today's digital ones.  And as for laboratory studies, results are much different in a rat than in a human.

Some experts are more cautious.

 "Brain tumors grow slowly and may not be detected for more than a decade", warns Henry Lai, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Let's let common sense rule.  Until we have some long-term definitive studies, err on the side of caution. Use hands free headsets, which may minimize exposure to radiation.  There are advertisements for radiation free wires.  Check with your cell phone distributor for the latest news.  Keep your phone away from your body when you're not using it.  Use it judiciously; for emergencies or to check in at home.  Be safe, be happy, be healthy.

May the Blessings Be!

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