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New study links mobile phones to cancer

Using your phone for just 20 minutes a day for 5 years increases the risk of brain tumour threefold

Thrilled at acquiring the latest gizmo when you buy a cell phone? Well, it may keep you enthralled for hours, but watch out for radiation. Cell phones work by sending signals to (and receiving them from) nearby cell towers (base stations) using radiofrequency (RF) waves.

According to a new study published in UK journal, Electromagnetic Biology & Medicine, using your phone for just 20 minutes a day for five years increases the risk of one type of brain tumour threefold.

Researchers, from the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine say the data was obtained on adults who used cell phones up to 10 years. Children are much more sensitive to hazardous factors. According to them, ‘oxidative stress’ due to RF exposure could explain the link between wireless devices and cancer.

What is oxidative stress?

Chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen play an important role in cell signalling and control of internal conditions such as temperature. When their levels increase dramatically, this can cause significant damage to cell structures. This is known as oxidative stress. While such molecules are often produced in cells due to aggressive environments, they can also be provoked by ‘ordinary wireless radiation’. Oxidative stress is a damaging process thought to be closely linked to degenerative diseases.

According to the study, radiation from wireless devices such as phones and tablets could be linked to diseases of the brain such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as well. After long-term exposure, it is also linked to other minor disorders such as headache, fatigue, and skin irritation.

Over the past 15 years, several studies have suggested a link between a type of brain tumour called a glioma and intensive, long-term use of cell phones. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radiofrequency fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

What you can do

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), if you are concerned about exposure to RF emissions take the following steps:

• Use a speakerphone or hands-free device like a headset or earphone set to keep the phone away from the head and body during phone calls.

• Reduce the amount of time spent on the phone by keeping calls short and using SMS whenever convenient.

• The phone should be carried at least one inch from your body making sure the antenna is facing away from you.

• It is also advisable to use your cell phone when the signal is good since phones emit more electromagnetic radiation when the signal is weak.

• Maintain a distance of 15 mm from the device when using it. People should not sleep with an active phone next to the bedside or under the pillow.

• If you have the choice, use the landline.

• Let the call connect before you put the handset to your ear.

Three other factors that affect the amount of RF energy to which a person is exposed are:

• Being farther away from the tower requires more energy to get a good signal, as does being inside a building.

• Higher cell phone traffic may require more energy to get a good signal.

• Different phone models give off different amounts of energy.

‘SAR’ values

A cell phone’s Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is a measure of the amount of radiation (in watts) absorbed by per unit kg of your body while using the handset. The SAR varies by handset model. Always check the SAR value of a handset before purchase. For a phone to be sold in India, its maximum SAR level must be 1.6 watts per kg. The SAR value is usually mentioned on the bottom of the box in which the cell phone is packed. Or, it may be mentioned on a separate leaflet you get with new handsets.

Sources: Daily Mail, www.,,

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