Hold The Cellphone — That Cancer Study Isn’t What You Think

It didn't prove cellphones are deadly, but maybe take some precautions.
Ok, this image is meant to scare to you.
Ok, this image is meant to scare to you.
Digital Vision via Getty Images

Look, the government has not found that your cellphone gives you cancer, as many headlines on Friday would have you believe.

A two-year, $25 million study conducted by the National Toxicology Program found an increase in brain tumors among male rats that were constantly exposed to the same radiation that's emitted from mobile phones.

Some news outlets have gone into panic mode, implying that this proves a causal relationship between cellphone radiation and cancer in humans. That's not the case, so please breathe out.

But ... the study offers plenty of reason to take precautions.

Researchers at the National Toxicology Program, a federal interagency effort, found that a small percentage of male rats (2 to 3 percent) that were chronically exposed to radio-frequency radiation wound up with rare cancerous tumor formations in their hearts and brains. "Chronically exposed" meant nine hours a day, seven days a week, for two years. Fewer lesions were found in female rats.

Although we can't say yet that those results would be the same among humans, the fact that radio-frequency radiation has been linked to tumor growth at all turns some of the U.S. government's long-held beliefs about cellphones upside-down. The Food and Drug Administration website, for instance, reassured us on a page last updated in 2015 that there was "no evidence linking cell phone use with the risk of brain tumors."

"What's important about this study is that previously we had government officials saying that cell radiation cannot have a biological impact except through the heating of tissue," Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumer Reports, told The Huffington Post. "This study shows that’s just not true."

To put it another way, the days of just not worrying at all are over. As Scientific American points out, 90 percent of Americans use cellphones regularly.

“Does this mean you should stop using cell? No. But we need to wake up from this notion that there is no biological effect.”

- Michael Hansen of Consumer Reports

The researchers at the National Toxicology Program sounded the alarm: "Given the widespread global usage of mobile communications among users of all ages, even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure to RFR [radio-frequency radiation] could have broad implications for public health."

The latest study is also groundbreaking in that previous studies haven't found evidence of tumor formation in any animal after similar radiation tests. This is the longest and most comprehensive such study to date, Scientific American reports.

While it may be too soon to panic, the findings certainly warrant a lot more research, and quickly.

"Does this mean you should stop using cell? No. But we need to wake up from this notion that there is no biological effect from this radiation," Hansen said. "That notion is gone now."

If you're like us and you're a little nervous, you can take precautions. Hansen said that exposure to the radiation drops off significantly with distance, so try to use hands-free devices or video calls, and don't carry your phone in your pocket or your bra.

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