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Studies Link Cell Phones to Male Infertility, Cancer

Apr 1, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Two separate cell phone studies have linked frequent use of the devices to cancer and male infertility, raising concerns that the rising use of cell phones could have a negative impact on public health.

A new study suggests men’s fertility may be decreased with cell phone usage; however, the study’s lead author—Ashok Agarwal—says data are "quite preliminary."  Cell phones emit radiofrequency electromagnetic waves and scientists have reported potential adverse effects on brain waves, the heart and endocrine system, and DNA, says Agarwal—director of the andrology lab at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation—and his co-authors in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Agarwal's team studied 361 men under age 40 being evaluated for infertility; men whose personal or family history might explain a low count or other sperm abnormalities were excluded.  The scientists further divided the patients into four groups based on how long they said they talked on a cell phone daily. Researchers then analyzed the men's semen and found a strong link between length of time spent on a cell phone and sperm count and quality.  Men who talked over four hours daily had lower counts, more poor "swimmers," and abnormally formed sperm.  Agarwal said one reason for these effects could be the heat generated by the phones; sperm production is sensitive to temperature.  Researchers did not ask about other sources of electromagnetic wave exposure, like laptop computers, or where the men usually kept the phone when they talked.  According to Agarwal, "There are hundreds of variables that can affect our conclusions."

British infertility specialist Iwan Lewis-Jones, who, like Agarwal, is conducting studies of cell phones' impact on sperm specimens said location of the phone is important and, "To get an effect, I think you've got to have the phone very close to the sperm."  In ongoing research Agarwal says, he found sperm quality decreases in specimens left sitting next to a phone in talk mode for as little as an hour.  Lewis-Jones says he isn't ready to report results from his research, in which phones in talk mode are left next to specimens.  "We are not saying that mobile phones affect fertility," he says. "All we're trying to do is see what effect they have on the sperm cell."  He said that changes seen in experiments might not occur in real life and the only way to know for certain is to randomly assign men to use a cell phone or not adding that since, “I don't know anybody who hasn't got a mobile phone now," few men would volunteer to go without one.

Meanwhile, another new study suggests that frequent cell phone use may increase the risk of cancer.  "The areas of greatest concern for us are the areas that are closet to the antenna and the antenna in most cell phones are in the handset and in the older days we had bag phones and that was down in the car and it was further removed from the body but with handhelds we always hold it up to our ear." said Doctor John Lynch of St. Bernard's Hospital.  "There are one or two studies out there that have some potential injury to humans due to radio frequency but there are several studies out there that says there's no damages so I think its really to early to say," added Lynch.


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