Cellphone-cancer debate

The controversy about the increased risk of brain cancer and other health concerns among avid users of cellular phone is upon us once again. The Internet is flooded with claims and counterclaims, and some misinformation.

In this column in May 2000, we wrote about the “possible” adverse health effects of the frequent and prolonged use of cellular phone. Following are excerpts from that article, which are still current technical/medical information:

Is the use of cellular phone safe?

So far, it seems to be. While there are some concerns that the use of cellular phones might be harmful to the users, the final word has not been said yet. There are medical investigations currently going on to find out if there are any health risks associated with the use of cellular phones.

What is the current theory?

It is postulated, but not scientifically confirmed, that the frequent and extended use of a cellular phone (where the phone is right at the user’s cheek, the earpiece smack against the ear) might be associated with increased incidence of brain cancer. As I have stated, this has not be proven yet. Clinical studies are underway around the world.

How could the cellular phone “cause” harm?

The cellular phone antenna is the “probable culprit” in this unconfirmed medical suspicion. It is theorized that the antenna, which receives electromagnetic waves (EMW) or signals, transmits the same EMW to the brain of the person using the cellular phone (since the unit is in close proximity to the brain), and that these EMW might explain the suspected increase in the incidence of brain cancer among chronic users. Whether this observation is valid or not, we still do not know for sure, but it is only prudent for cellular phone users to take some precautions.

Is one cellular phone worse than the other?

The ones which are with dual band (1800 MHz) are said to be worse than the regular ones with only 900 MHz. Obviously, there are other factors, like length of exposure and proximity of the cellular phone to the brain, etc.

What other illness can cellular phone use cause?

The other condition often mentioned is leukemia. Again, we would like to emphasize that we do not have scientific data to support this suspicion at this time.

Are microwave ovens safe?

The normal use of microwave ovens is safe, provided the protective shield is not broken. However, we caution users not to bring their face near the oven door while the oven is on, because the microwaves can harm the eyes by causing premature cataracts. A leaking microwave oven can also affect (inhibit) cardiac pacemakers.

How about television sets?

Since television sets or computer monitors also emit some electromagnetic radiation, it is advisable not to go too close to the TV or monitor. The fact that medical science does not have any evidence that these EMW are harmful does not mean they are totally safe. It is best to be cautious and view the television at least 5 feet away from you.

Does cellular phone use cause infertility?

There is no factual basis for this concern. We do not have any reason to believe that infertility or impotence can be caused by the use of cellular phones, or having one in a holster by the hip or in a purse.

A renewed warning

Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, released a warning earlier last year to his own faculty and staff, advising them to “limit cell phone use because of the possible risk of cancer,” in spite of the lack of evidence and absence of any alarm from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The UPCI researcher based his concern and stated that science might take some time to provide the public with a definitive conclusion.  He admonishes everyone to take the proper precaution now.

“Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later,” Herberman said.

In the advisory he sent to about 3,000 faculty and staff, he also suggested that “children should use cell phones only for emergencies because their brains are still developing.”

What is the public to do?

Since there are serious medical concerns raised about the safety of the frequent use of the cellular phone in spite of numerous initial studies that showed, in particular, that there “is no increased risk of brain cancer among cell phone users,” the public finds itself in the middle of this medical debate, while waiting for the final confirmatory studies.

There is no question that the cell phone is one of the most wonderful devices man has ever invented and one that is most vital in today’s world, in business as well as for family and personal use. It is here to stay, like all the other electronic gadgets that make life easier, more comfortable, more secure, more efficient, and more productive for the majority of the people around the globe.

While the medical controversy rages on, it is prudent for everyone using a cell phone to use the common sense approach to the situation at hand.

If we suspected our tap water to be contaminated, what would we do? We would surely boil it properly or use bottled water, instead. In other words, we would take the necessary precaution on the basis of the suspicion, even before a pending bacterial culture analysis is obtained, even without a definite proof as yet. It’s better to be safe than sorry later.

Some precautionary measures we can take are: (1) Limit our use of the cell phone to necessary calls only, and as briefly as possible; (2) Use text messaging, instead, especially for children; and, (2) For all calls, use hands-free devices. And, if you want to meet God sooner, text and drive!

Let us enjoy our cell phone safely and wisely. It is a fabulous friend.

***

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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Dr. Philip S. Chua
Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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