Phone Home: Are Cellular Phones Jeopardizing Our Health?
By Lorna Vanderhaeghe

Like millions of on-the-go Canadians, I wonder if using my cell phone is increasing my risk of cancer. Each time I raise this wireless-communication wonder to my ear, I question what effects the electromagnetic waves emitting from the device may have on my body.

The cellular phone industry continues to assure consumers that cellular phones are completely safe. However, after an Oct. 20, 2000, broadcast of ABC's 20/20, during which a link was made between cell phone use and health risks, I'm beginning to have my doubts. During the program, George Carlo, Ph.D., head of the U.S. cell phone industry's $25 million research program, stated that although industry officials claim there are thousands of studies proving wireless phones safe, no studies have been performed that are directly relevant.

What is relevant is that we are the first generation to direct low-intensity microwave radiation to our heads for what is often many minutes, many times per day. Although cellular phones must meet government radiation safety limits, some popular cell phones that 20/20 tested exceeded the safe radiation limit, depending on the length of the call being made and what direction the antenna was pointed.

According to reports from the Canadian Cancer Institute, no adequate research exists to confirm that radiation from cellular phones puts users at risk of cancer, particularly brain cancer, though several large studies are underway. In a report published in The Lancet (2000, vol. 356), Kenneth J. Rothman, Ph.D., a professor of Epidemiology at Boston University and founding editor of the Journal of Epidemiology, agrees that the bulk of evidence pointing to an association between cancer and cell phone use is weak. Yet Rothman reports that many cellular phone users who contracted brain cancer developed tumors on the side of the head where the phone was positioned during use.

Colin Blakemore, Ph.D., a widely respected expert on brain development at the University of Oxford, also takes a cautious approach. "Radio frequency radiation below the recommended guidelines has a demonstrable effect on cells and tissues," he says. "This suggests that a precautionary approach is warranted."

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the specific absorption rate (SAR) of human exposure to radio frequency emissions in North America has been set at 1.6 watts per kilogram. The SAR value corresponds to the relevant amount of radio frequency energy absorbed into the head of a wireless handset user.

Proving a connection between cellular phones and cancer may be difficult because research may continue to turn up conflicting evidence. While we await science's stamp of approval, take your own precautionary measures. Use your cell phone only when necessary. Shut it off when not in use. Be sure not to carry it in a pocket near your heart, the reproductive organs or the lymph nodes in the groin area. And if your phone or your ear becomes hot while you're having a conversation, hang up as soon as possible; delicate skin and tissues around the ear may become damaged.

Lorna Vanderhaeghe, co-author of The Immune System Cure (Prentice Hall Canada), has been writing on alternative medicine for more than 20 years.