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EmptyNest's avatar

How do cell phones cause brain cancer or tumors?

Asked by EmptyNest (2028 points ) November 30th, 2011

Ok, so there have been questions on Fluther about whether or not cell phones cause these problems. I want to know HOW they do it. Can anyone tell me?

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17 Answers

cockswain's avatar

They don’t, so there isn’t a way to say how. Basically there is insufficient electromagnetic radiation emitted to screw up your DNA. The radiation would have to be much stronger to do that. That’s what I’ve been led to conclude from reading up on it.

dabbler's avatar

If in fact they do (despite current lack of proof, and the genuine fact that the power levels in phones are ‘non-ionizing’ – statistically at least – so as @cockswain notes they shouldn’t cause any damage) I would expect it has something to do with the similarity in frequency to those that resonate with water molecules.

The typical frequencies of cell phones (around 2.4 Ghz) are about the same as those produced by a microwave oven to shake up the water molecules in food to heat the food up – but at orders of magnitude less power.

We use them for cell phones too because they go short distances pretty effectively under the conditions we use the phones.

wundayatta's avatar

It would be difficult to tell you how it happens if it doesn’t happen. Don’t put the cart before the horse. The first thing is to figure out whether cell phones cause tumors. Only then does it make sense to speculate on the mechanism at work there.

bkcunningham's avatar

From the National Cancer Institute: Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, which can be absorbed by tissues closest to where the phone is held.

The amount of radiofrequency energy a cell phone user is exposed to depends on the technology of the phone, the distance between the phone’s antenna and the user, the extent and type of use, and the user’s distance from cell phone towers.

Studies thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain, nerves, or other tissues of the head or neck. More research is needed because cell phone technology and how people use cell phones have been changing rapidly.

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones

JLeslie's avatar

This fairly recent article shows there is reason for concern.

I saw a report about 6 months ago where experts said previous studies were very inadequate, the research was testing phone use significantly less than what is done on average by cell phone users, and new studies demonstrated there could be a link between cell phones and cancer. All the scientists I saw interviewed said they take precautions to not keep their phones by their ear while talking. I wish I could find a clip. I can’t remember if I saw it on 60 Minutes or another show? Maybe Oprah? Not sure.

XxBOOMxX's avatar

There are two schools of thought.
Both only go to the second grade.
Every thing you will read on this subject is theory.
My first two sentenced are not theory, but a failed attempt at dry humor. :-)~

gorillapaws's avatar

With the explosion of cell phone use over the past 20-or-so years, if there was a direct link to brain tumors wouldn’t we be seeing a similar explosion in the rates of head/neck/brain cancers? Because we haven’t seen a massive increase in these cancers, I’m inclined to believe they are safe until convincing evidence proves otherwise.

XxBOOMxX's avatar

Do cell phones cause cancer, OR,
because a lot of people that have cancer, now have cell phones?
After reading my response a couple of times, something still looks aloof.

Sent from my rooted DroidX!

woodcutter's avatar

There is probably more to worry about with spine and neck problems with how many people squish the phones between their shoulders and ears. That can’t be helpful. And stupid things people do while using them such as driving. Probable more data available on phone behavior.

Nullo's avatar

IIRC, the argument went something like this:

Radiation causes cancer.
Cell phones emit radiation.
Therefore, cell phones cause cancer.

What doesn’t get pointed out is that ‘radiation’ is actually a pretty generic term. Your favorite radio station is emitting scads of radiation 24/7. And it’s harmless, because of the characteristics of the variety that they’re using.

cockswain's avatar

Another way to look at it is to picture a sine wave. A microwave and a cell phone emit electromagnetic radiation of the same frequency, yet different amplitudes. The greater the amplitude for the same frequency, the more energy carried by the wave. The amplitude of the wave emitted by the microwave is much, much greater than that of the cell phone. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it would require far more energy i.e. much greater amplitude than a cell phone emits to start knocking electrons around in your DNA.

dabbler's avatar

@cockswain That’s sound theory, and statistically correct.
But the big view leaves out the edge cases where the miniscule cell phone signal encounters molecules in the body that are in the moment oriented just-so and are at just that spot in their energy/vibration that the cell signal pushes the molecule over a threshold to a damaged state.

Agreed that the probabilities for damage are tiny but the conditions are possible in those minuscule number of cases. Over time there could be sufficient accumulation of events like that that result in noticeable damage.

cockswain's avatar

I agree with you. But I’m willing to gamble on those tiny odds weighted against the convenience of cell phone use.

What sort of mechanism do you envision to cause this? The EM interfering with an electron in an outer shell as it is forming a bond, during a lower energy state? Perhaps creating a free radical or something?

dabbler's avatar

That sounds plausible, basically some statistically possible cases where superpositions of the tiny cellphone signals with reflections (maybe off the skull?) plus some normal metabolic process at a critical activation state… combined may kick over to produce an undesirable result, either free-radical or damaged genetic material.

It really is a tiny set of probabilities overlapping, and if you use your cell phone for short urgent communications (I sure haven’t given up my cell phone) then your personal case is not so vulnerable. Folks who spend a LOT of time on the cellphone are going to be statistically more vulnerable to experiencing such edge-case damage and having bad effects accumulate
(Ted Kennedy was said to have spent a LOT of time on cell phones for years as soon as they were available, including early years when the signals were stronger analog cell signals. He got a very rare kind of brain cancer just inside the head, coincidentally(?) where you’d hold a phone).

XxBOOMxX's avatar

This post reminds me of the witch skit in monty python and the holy grail.
“She turned me into a gnute once”!

I got better…

RocketGuy's avatar

I like @XxBOOMxX ‘s answer: maybe more people with cancer have cellphones now.

dabbler's avatar

We’d hope the “study” has normalized the data to consider that a regular amount of the sample population would have the cancer they have anyway for other reasons.
But good point. Any conclusion should not be based on just a bigger number of cellphone users who have cancer. There’s a bigger number of cellphone users who don’t too.

I also Like @XxBOOMxX answer about 2nd grade, in that we really don’t have a lot of data. And the data we do have is statistically inconclusive.
And who knows, If Ted Kennedy held a teddie bear or a blankie or a boombox next to his head that often for that long he might have got the same ailment.

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