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Cell Phones Linked To Cancer?
The Health Network
Journalist: Twinkle Chisholm
December 6, 1999
There is more bad news for the more than 60 million business people who use their cell phones on a daily basis. Two new studies are pointing to the possibility of tumors and memory loss caused by microwave signals coming from cell phones.

It seems that studies regarding the safety of cell phones are appearing with increased regularity. They began with the obvious issues of not paying enough attention to what’s on the road in front of you while driving. One even took the twist that using a cell phone while gassing up your auto could spark and cause an explosion. But of late, the studies have had more to do with the health effects of the technology itself than with when and where cell phones are used.

One study titled Is Your Cell Phone Killing You? appears in the December issue of PC Computing. The study deals with the possibility that brain tumors are caused by the radio frequency radiation (RFR) emitted from cell phones, since the phones are held about one-inch from the user’s brain.

The PC Computing study indicates that 47 percent of business people are aware of the possible cancer link to their cell phones. They estimate that there will be a 16 percent average drop in weekly business and personal call volume as a result. This represents a potential loss to the cell phone industry of approximately 845 million hours annually.

Another study from the University of Washington cautions that cell phones may cause memory loss. Henry Lai, a bioengineering research professor, trained 100 rats to swim to a platform in the middle of a tank of water. Powdered milk was put into the water so that the rats could not see the platform and were forced to remember where it was.

After the rats learned the route, Lai exposed half of them to microwaves similar to those emitted by cell phones. “All of the exposed rats forgot the way and swam randomly, and the unexposed rats found the platform just fine,” Lai told The Los Angeles Daily News.

The chemical acetylcholine controls both navigation and memory in rats and is also present in the brain of humans. The inability of the exposed rats to find the platform may have been due to a loss of spatial memory. “It’s the kind of memory people have when driving or walking and mapping out where they are going,” Lai says.

Nokia, a leading manufacturer of cell phones, expects to have more than 450 million subscribers worldwide by the end of 1999. They expect that number to reach 1 billion by the end of 2002, a year ahead of their previous projections. In a statement on their Web site, Nokia says that the safety of its customers is of the utmost importance.

“Accepted scientific fact does not support the allegations of possible links to harmful health effects. In fact a substantial amount of scientific research conducted all over the world over many years, demonstrates that radio signals within established safety levels emitted from mobile telephones and their base stations present no adverse effects to human health,” the statement said.

Neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the Federal Communications Commission feel that enough research has been done to reach a conclusion about the safety of cell phones.

Lai’s study will be published next month in the Journal of Bioelectromagnetics. He acknowledges that the effect of the microwaves on rats may not apply to humans, but he does urge caution. “Science is never based on a single study, but I think there should be some concern among cell phone users,” says Lai.

Until there is more hard evidence on the health issues of cell phones, convenience is likely to outweigh the worry.

Urologist Steven Gange, MD, who has two offices, sees patients at more than one hospital and likes to make use of the time he spends on the road, said, “It is such an easy means of accessibility for me to my office, the hospital and my patients.”

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