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Cell Phones and Cancer: More Research Needed

Sep 30, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Medical professions attending a congressional hearing this week have said that a large-scale study of the long-term health effects of cell phones needs to be carried out, especially in children.  During a hearing before the House subcommittee on domestic policy, Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute discussed how cell phones affect adult and growing brains.

Herberman used model brains of an adult and a 5-year-old, each with a cell phone held to a corresponding ear to demonstrate that while cell phone radiation travels two inches into the adult brain, it reaches far beyond the center of a child’s brain. "I cannot tell this committee that cell phones are dangerous, but I certainly can't tell you they are safe," said Herberman.  Herberman recently made news with his much-publicized memo urging his 3,000 staffers to limit their and their children’s cell-phone use.  "We urgently need to do a study [to resolve this question]," he told the subcommittee, which was chaired by Representative Dennis Kucinich (Democrat-Ohio).

Herberman, along with a variety of other physicians, called on Congress to commission a massive study to determine whether heavy, long-term cell-phone use poses a health threat, particularly to children.  Cell phone use continues to increase in younger demographics; a very recent survey of over 2,000 teens by market research and consulting firm Harris Interactive (HPOL) revealed 17 million teens, or 79 percent, use cell phones, up 36% from 2005, according to CTIA, a wireless industry association.

Most prevailing research has not looked at long-term cell phone exposure and experts feel that “the standards used to determine what constitutes healthy emissions need to tightened.”  Also, three huge studies published since 2000 only looked at people using cell phones for an average of three years.  Many experts believe that cell phone use for more than what has been studied, to date, would point to increases in the risks of developing certain types of tumors and cancers. "It seems likely that brain cancers can take 10 or 15 years to develop," Herberman said.  Also, wireless exposure has not been examined by Congress for at least 15 years, according to Representative Darrell Issa (Republican-California) and large-scale studies of the health effects of cell-phone use in the U.S. since the 1990s are lacking, David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health & the Environment at the University at Albany, said at the meeting.  Other studies have provided inconsistent results, in part because outdated technology was studied.

Experts feel that in addition to more research, the U.S. must redefine what constitutes acceptable radiation emissions levels.  Today’s standards were developed by the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers; administered by the Federal Communications Commission; and implemented as far back as 1997, when most Americans did not have cell phones.  “The existing standards for public safety are inadequate to protect public health," according to a report issued in August 2007 by an international working group of researchers, including those from Columbia University and the University of Washington.  The Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) Website states, "It is generally agreed that further research is needed to determine what effects actually occur and whether they are dangerous to people."

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