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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 476-477

Cellular phones: To talk or not to talk

Department of Radiation Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication19-Jan-2012

Correspondence Address:
Anusheel Munshi
Radiation Oncology, 120, Tata Memorial Hospital, Parel, Mumbai-400012, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0973-1482.92025

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 > Abstract 

Cellular phone use has exponentially increased in recent years. There have been some reports of an association of use of these phones with brain tumours. This article gives a summary view of the possible effects related to cellular phone use. It further discusses if we need to observe precautions while using these devices.

Keywords: Cellular, phones, tumours

How to cite this article:
Munshi A. Cellular phones: To talk or not to talk. J Can Res Ther 2011;7:476-7

How to cite this URL:
Munshi A. Cellular phones: To talk or not to talk. J Can Res Ther [serial online] 2011 [cited 2022 Aug 16];7:476-7. Available from: https://www.cancerjournal.net/text.asp?2011/7/4/476/92025

Centuries ago, we advanced from pigeons to postal services as a more modern means to communicate. Since then, communication has made quantum leaps, buoyed by the successes in physics and technology. From crude telephone sets to modern landline, cordless phones and finally cellular phones, the advance has been steady and steep. Mobile phones first came to use in the early 1990s for professional work-related reasons, and henceforth have attained tremendous growth, becoming able symbols for consumer status and needs. At present, nearly 5 billion people worldwide own cellular phones. India herself can boast of 800 million cellular phone users. [1]

Nearly two decades ago, a Florida man sued a cell phone company alleging that it was his wife's cell phone use that led to brain tumor. [2] Lay press and media joined in, devoting considerable time, attention and space to this and subsequent reports. This concern coupled with the mushrooming spread of cellular phones led the scientific community and health organizations to reanalyze the underlying technology and assess its possible adverse effects on human beings. [3],[4] In focus were brain tumors, parotid neoplasms and acoustic neuromas, primarily as a result of the physical vicinity of the cell phones to these structures.

Technically speaking, mobile phones emit electromagnetic radiation (radiofrequency, RF) that is essentially non-ionizing. (frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHZ). [4],[5],[6] The specific absorption rate (SAR) measures the energy dose that subjects exposed to RF absorb and is expressed in power (watts) by tissue mass (kilograms){W/ kg}. [7],[8] Effects of this dose deposition by use of cellular phones, however, take long to manifest. In some cases, this duration may be 10 years or more.

It is to be noted that cell phones are often held tightly against the head. Electromagnetic radiation is governed by an interesting law known as the inverse square law. This essentially means that if we increase distance from the source by a factor of 2, the exposure gets reduced by 1/4 th . It is for this reason, that distance from the device is a critical factor which decides the exposure received from a particular device. It is for the same reason that, if indeed a true risk exists, children would be at particular risk because their skulls are thinner. Also the cumulative lifetime exposure of children to cell phones would likely be greater than the exposure of current adults.

Most of the studies with cell phones have been case control studies. [9],[10],[11] Patients with brain tumors (glioma, meningioma, acoustic neuromas etc), parotid tumor and others were considered as the cases who were asked about their cell phone use in various manners (posted questionnaires, direct interviews, cell phone company records). The use of cell phones in these cases was compared to a control group in the same environment (patients operated for other conditions in the same hospital). The studies then reported the odds ratio of risk associated with cell phone use. Based on these studies, meta-analyses too have been reported and suggest no significant adverse effects in the initial years after cell phone use. There is a suggestion of possible significant effects after 10 years but the number of subjects with >10 year of cell phone use has not been robust and hence the need to wait for more mature data. [10],[11]

A report of the Interphone study group published the outcomes of an interview-based, case-control study with 2708 glioma and 2409 meningioma cases and matched controls. [12] The study was conducted in 13 countries using a common protocol. The result of the study suggested that no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but the authors suggested that biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The latter are an intrinsic component of the case control studies used to assess the health effects of cell phones. The report concluded that the possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones would require further investigation. Cell phone technology too is rapidly advancing and it is claimed that the electromagnetic exposure is progressively less with newer phones. [13]

Recently, the World health organization (WHO) set up an expert panel to evaluate the effect of cell phones on the human body. On May 31, 2011 the expert panel said that cell phones might possibly cause side effects. [14] The International Agency for research on Cancer (IARC) panel found cell phones to be "possibly carcinogenic," and stated that heavy cell phone use might or might not cause glioma. It is to be noted that the present panel report does not report any new finding of a study. Rather it is the expert opinion of eminent leaders in scientific thought, based on the current literature.

For those of us who feel concerned about the issue, it may be appropriate to observe the following precautions. 1) Use the cell phone whenever it is really needed. For most routine work and casual talks, use the regular landline connection. 2) Discourage children from excessive use of cell phones. 3) Whenever possible, use a wired ear piece connected to the cell phone. 4) Avoid cell phone use when the signal is weak. 5) Consider alternating between left and right ear while talking on cell phone. 6) Use texting (SMS) instead of calling when possible. [2],[15]

To summarize, it may be some time before we know if the friendly gizmos in our hands have the ability to cause aggressive tumors. For the time being, you have the free choice - to talk or not to talk.

 > References Top

1.Hoskote SS, Kapdi M, Joshi SR. An epidemiological review of mobile telephones and cancer. J Assoc Physicians India 2008;56:980-4.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Munshi A, Jalali R. Cellular phones and their hazards: the current evidence. Natl Med J India 2002;15:275-7.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Advisory Group on Non-ionizing Radiation. Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields: Report of an independent Advisory Group on Non-ionizing Radiation. NRPB 2003;14:1-177.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Heynick LN, Johnston SA, Mason PA. Radio frequency electromagnetic fields: cancer, mutagenesis, and genotoxicity. Bioelectromagnetics 2003;6:S74-100.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Chang SK, Choi JS, Gil HW, Yang JO, Lee EY, Jeon YS, et al. Genotoxicity evaluation of electromagnetic fields generated by 835-MHz mobile phone frequency band. Eur J Cancer Prev 2005;14:175-9.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Hardell L, Sage C. Biological effects from electromagnetic field exposure and public exposure standards. Biomed Pharmacother 2008;62:104-9.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.CENELEC European standard ′Basic standard for the measurement of Specific Absorption Rate related to human exposure to electromagnetic fields from mobile phones (300 MHz-3 GHz)′ European Committee for Electro technical Standardization (CENELEC), (Brussels) CENELEC 2001 EN50361.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP). Biological Effects and Exposure Criteria for Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, NCRP 1986 Report No. 86, Section 17.4.5. Bethesda, Maryland 20814.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Hardell L, Carlberg M, Söderqvist F, Mild KH, Morgan LL. Long-term use of cellular phones and brain tumours: Increased risk associated with use for > or =10 years. Occup Environ Med 2007;64:626-32.   Back to cited text no. 9
10.Stang A, Schmidt-Pokrzywniak A, Kuss O. Arbitrary results of a meta-analysis on cancer risks among mobile phone users. J Clin Oncol 2010;28:e121.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Dreyfuss JH. Mixed results on link between cellular telephones and cancer. CA Cancer J Clin 2010;60:5-6.   Back to cited text no. 11
12.INTERPHONE Study Group.Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study. Int J Epidemiol 2010;39:675-94.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Pope L, Silva P, Almeyda R. Phone applications for the modern day otolaryngologist. Clin Otolaryngol 2010;35:350-4.   Back to cited text no. 13
14.Available from: http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf [Last accessed on 2011 Aug 2].  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Badar A. Mobile phone use... it is time to take precautions. J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad 2001;13:1-3.  Back to cited text no. 15


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