I WRITE to put to rest many of the unsubstantiated claims about mobile phones in relation to our health that many Papua New Guineans believe.
The current international consensus is that mobile phones do not cause cancer or promote the accelerated growth of existing tumours.
Mobile phones communicate with base stations (towers) by using radiofrequency (RF) radiation. If the RF radiation is high enough, it has a thermal effect, raising the body temperature.
Radiation is a combination of electrical and magnetic energy that travels through space at the speed of light, but this particular form of radiation is just too low in energy to break chemical bonds in the DNA, a prerequisite for most mutations.
Radiation is classified into two broad groups:
- Ionising radiation, which is capable of causing changes in atoms or molecules in the body that can result in tissue damage such as cancer; and
- Non-ionising radiation, which doesn’t cause these changes, but can prompt molecules to vibrate. This can lead to rises in temperature, as well as other effects.
Because RF radiation is a form of non-ionising radiation, it cannot cause cancer. There is no other known biological way that RF radiation can be carcinogenic.
“Current scientific evidence doesn’t indicate any adverse health outcomes associated with exposure to radio frequency energy from cell phones,” according to United States Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Peper Long in a comment made about a year ago. Also, keeping your mobile phone in your front pocket does not lower your sperm count in the event that it vibrates.
Although there have been some studies to suggest otherwise, James M. Hotaling, MD, MS, an expert in male fertility and andrology at University of Utah Health, cautions against jumping to that conclusion.
“I’ve never seen conclusive data that would lead me to advise a patient against carrying a cellphone in his pocket,” Hotaling says, noting several possible flaws to previous studies looking at the link between male fertility and mobile phone exposure.
For instance, participants are typically selected from a fertility clinic, which introduces a selection bias.
He also points out that “sperm count varies all the time, meaning from hour to hour, day to day, month to month”.
To truly achieve a representative sample, men’s sperm quality would need to be monitored for a long time.