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Neuroscience For Kids

Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer?
October 29, 2011
By Sutapa Ray, Ph.D., Neuroscience for Kids Guest Writer

With all the talking and texting we do on cell phones, we could be in a lot of trouble if cell phone use caused cancer! Cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation (like microwaves) when we use them. Because we hold cell phones close to our ear when we talk, scientists worry that they may damage our brain. Scientists are also concerned that this damage may increase our chances of developing brain cancer. Normal cells in our body can become cancerous if they are exposed to high levels of radiation because radiation can damage the DNA in our cells and cause mutations. That is why in May, 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared cell phones to be "possibly cancer causing."

But that's not all -- scientist also know that the blood brain barrier that controls what goes in to the brain from our blood can be damaged by microwaves and radiation. Whether the electromagnetic radiation from phones is powerful enough to open the blood brain barrier has not been tested. If the blood brain barrier is opened by cell phone use, then it may cause a lot of harm.

Scientists wanted to find out whether using cell phones does indeed result in brain cancer. To find out, researchers in Denmark studied a large group of cell phone users (almost 360,000 adults) over a period of 18 years to see how many developed brain cancer. They also followed another group of people who did not use cell phones during that time. The scientists compared the number of people in each group who developed brain cancer.

At the end of the study, the scientists found that the number of people who developed brain cancer was similar in both groups. This means that for most people, using a cell phone over a long period of time is not associated with developing brain cancer. These results should make us all feel much better!

Another group of scientists, however, discovered that kids absorb twice as much as much radiation from cell phones than adults because they have thinner skulls. Researchers found that children absorbed twice the cell phone radiation to their heads than adults and up to three times more radiation in their brain's hippocampus and hypothalamus. They also found greater radiation absorption in children's eyes, and as much as 10 times more in children's bone marrow than in adults. So, kids still need to be careful and limit their use of cell phones as much as possible to avoid this danger.

References and more information:

  1. Frei, P., Poulsen, A.H., Johansen, C., Olsen, J.H., Steding-Jessen, M. and Schuz, J. Use of mobile phones and risk of brain tumours: update of Danish cohort study. BMJ, 2011; 343 (oct19 4): d6387 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d6387
  2. Gandhi, O.P., Morgan, L.L., de Salles, A.A., Han, Y.Y., Herberman, R.B. and Davis, D.L. Exposure Limits: The underestimation of absorbed cell phone radiation, especially in children. Electromagn Biol Med. 2011 Oct 14. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID:21999884

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