Mobile phones and your health
While international research has failed to find conclusive evidence that mobile phones can damage your long- or short-term health, a question mark still lingers over the potential health hazards they pose.
Words: Melanie Hearse
The concern about health risks relating to mobile-phone use stems from the possibility that devices that emit radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) could cause cancer, says Randal Markey, Communications Manager at the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).
The obvious focus, he says, is on the brain, eyes and ears, which come into close physical contact with mobile phones. “Research has been targeted to study if there is a possible link between mobile phone use and a range of cancers, including brain tumours, tumours of the acoustic nerve and tumours of the parotid gland, which is the salivary gland situated at the base of the ear,” says Markey.
So, what does the research say?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a number of studies have been performed over the past two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk – to date, no adverse health effects have been established1.
Dr Andrew Penman, former CEO of Cancer Council NSW, has publicly commented on such research, saying mobile phones have been widely used in Australia for more than 20 years now, and there has been no associated increase in brain cancer cases here or overseas2.
He quotes US research that likewise found that while mobile phone use increased substantially in that country from 1992 to 2008 (from nearly zero to almost 100 percent of the population), US trends in the incidence of glioma – a type of tumour that starts in the brain or spine – remained generally constant3.
Safety standards for mobile phones
To further allay fears, Markey points out that measures have been taken to reduce the potential danger.
“Mobile phones operate at low power levels and adjust their output to operate at the minimum power level necessary to work effectively,” he explains. “All mobile phone models sold in Australia are designed, built and tested to meet strict science-based safety standards, which include the added precaution of a safety margin to ensure they can be used safely by the general public.”
National and international health agencies, including WHO, recognise such safety standards, saying they provide ample protection for all members of the community – including children, whose thinner skulls and developing brains would make them much more vulnerable to potential damage1.
Mobile phone use precautions
If people are still concerned, Markey suggests they try reducing their exposure to mobile phone radio signals by limiting the number and length of calls or by using hands-free devices.
\Using phones in areas that offer good reception whenever possible also decreases exposure, as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power.
For now, while the long-term risks are still not completely known, small steps like these may preserve peace of mind each time we pick up the phone.
- World Health Organization, ‘Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones’ Fact sheet N°193, June 2011, who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/
- Cancer Council NSW, ‘Brain cancer mobile phone panic should be put on hold’, cancercouncil.com.au/55695/news-media/latest-news-news-media/media-releases-news-room-news-media/brain-cancer-mobile-phone-panic-should-be-put-on-hold/?pp=15491
- BMJ, ‘Mobile phone use and glioma risk: comparison of epidemiological study results with incidence trends in the United States’, 2012 344:e1147, bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e1147
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.