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Fact or Fiction?: Cell Phones Can Cause Brain Cancer

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Date Submitted:
12/06/2012 09:29 PM
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This summer, Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, sent a memo to staffers warning them to limit their cell phone use and to use hands-free sets in the wake of "growing evidence that we should reduce exposure" to cell phone radiation. Among the possible consequences: an increased risk of brain cancer.

Five months later, a top official at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) told a congressional panel that published scientific data indicates cell phones are safe.

So what's the deal? Do cell phones cause cancer—or not?

It depends on whom you ask: Herberman, Robert Hoover, director of NCI's Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, and other health officials recently clashed during a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy held to determine whether mobile phones are safe.

"Long term and frequent use of cell phones which receive and emit radio frequency may be associated with an increased risk of brain tumors," Herberman told lawmakers. "I find the old adage 'better to be safe than sorry' to be very apt to this situation."

Hoover, on the other hand, insisted that the pervasive technology was safe, testifying that "its effect on the body appears to be insufficient to cause genetic damage."

The debate became so heated at one point that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D–Ohio), who called the hearing, snapped at Hoover for interrupting David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, State University of New York, as he argued there was enough evidence to warrant more scrutiny and a government warning of potential damage.

Cell phones use non-ionizing radiation, which differs from the ionizing radiation of x-rays and radioactive material in that it does not have enough energy to knock around—or ionize—electrons or particles in atoms. Cell phone radiation falls into the same band of nonionizing radio frequency as microwaves used to heat or cook food. But Jorn...
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