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Brain Tumor Risk
Brain Tumor Risk and Cell Phones

Cell Phone Use and the Brain
Before I go any further, let’s take a look at how cell phones may affect the brain.

Cell phones emit radio frequency energy through their antennas as signals are sent to cell towers. Although these “non-ionizing” waves are in the lower frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, the concern comes from the fact that cell phones are held directly against the head, and their energy waves – low-level as they are – may penetrate the skull and change the molecular structure of brain tissue over time.

Even Bluetooth and other wireless technology must emit low-frequency radio waves to make the connections between phone and tower.

Many middle-aged and older people have used cell phones for only a short part of their lives, if at all. However, today’s younger adults and children probably use cell phones exclusively, forgoing traditional landlines. These younger generations are looking at an entire lifetime of possible exposure.

As the National Cancer Institute points out in its fact sheet on cell phone risk, “the interval between exposure to a carcinogen and the clinical onset of a tumor may be many years or decades.” In addition, some brain tumors, such as acoustic neuromas (benign brain tumors affecting the nerves to the ears), tend to grow slowly.

The Latest Research
Complete findings from the largest research project undertaken to date – the INTERPHONE study, which is coordinated by an agency of the World Health Organization and includes 13 countries – are not yet published.

A few of the countries have published partial findings. Some studies found no link between use of cell phones and brain tumor risk. But data from the United Kingdom and the participating Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) found an increased risk of glioma (malignant brain tumors) and acoustic neuroma occurring on the side of the head where the cell phone was held, among those who had used cell phones for 10 years or more.

As a Preventive Measure
The fact is, right now we can’t say for sure if there is a relationship between cell phone use and brain tumor risk. But while the jury is still out, there are precautions you can take to reduce whatever risk may exist.

One relatively simple step to decrease exposure – for adults and children alike – is using a wired – NOT wireless – headset. This moves the source of radio waves away from the brain.

I use a wired earpiece, and I encourage my patients to do the same.

Another recommendation is for parents to limit their children’s cell phone usage. Since we know that children’s brains are still developing and may be more susceptible than adults’ brains to tumor formation, this is a prudent preventative measure.

We may have irrefutable evidence regarding the safety of cell phones within the next ten years. If there turns out to be no link between cell phones and the development of brain tumors, using a wired earpiece will have been a minor inconvenience. But if a correlation is confirmed, any inconvenience will have been a very worthwhile precaution.


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