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The use of mobile devices has increased exponentially since the introduction of smartphones. With mobile phone subscriptions hitting close to 7 billion globally,  our exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) is higher than ever. This has raised concerns regarding the effect of RF-EMF on humans, particularly their risk for cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF-EMF as possibly carcinogenic, because of a higher risk for gliomas, a type of brain cancer.  While these statistics indicate possible dangers RF-EMF, fully understanding how it affects a person’s health needs further research and study.
Daily Exposure to RF-EMF
Radiofrequency is emitted by all hand-held electronic devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. In occupations where people work with broadcast antennas, cellular towers, and medical equipment, the exposure to RF-EMF is higher. The RF energy from these devices appears to affect some people more than others. Because the body sends information through the nervous system by sending electrical impulses to the brain, it can be surmised that RF-EMF has an effect on human cells and tissue, no matter how small. 
Dindic, et. al.’s review published in 2013 detailed how RF-EMF could potentially damage cells. While the National Cancer Institute states that RF-EMF only heats cells, not damage DNA (which is need for carcinogenesis),  Dindic, et. al. begs to differ. According to their review, cells that are exposed to RF-EMF experience high levels of oxidative stress. Because of this, free radicals become present in the blood, one of which is peroxynitrite, a very aggressive free radical that is able to break single-strand DNA – which can ultimately cause cancer. 
Three-fold Increase in Cancer Risk
One of the most troubling recent studies explaining the risk of RF-EMF was published in the latter half of 2014 by Hardell and Carlberg.  They analyzed the long-term effects of mobile and cordless phone use on the risk for gliomas. They based their study on previous research by the IARC in 2011, where RF-EMF was classified as possible carcinogenic.  Since the IARC study only covered a short latency period of 10 years, Hardell and Carlberg extended their study to include a 25-year latency period.
The study used two case-control studies, with patient diagnoses made between 1997-2003 and 2007-2009 in six Swedish oncology centers. The respondents were aged 20 to 80 years and 18-75 years for each group. Diagnosed patients were mailed questionnaires, which assess their exposure. Hardell and Carlberg’s results were conclusive – use of mobile and cordless phones were directly associated with increased risk for glioma, with the risk increasing as the latency period and cumulative use of the devices increased. In fact, the group with greater than 25 years of mobile and cordless phone use had a three-fold increased risk compared to users with less than 12 months exposure to same devices.
While the study has directly associated cell phone use to cancer risk, the risk, in actuality, is very small. When put into perspective – Sweden is one of the countries with the lowest annual mortality rates for cancer (less than 150 per 100,000 population in 2010).  The rates for brain cancer are even smaller. With the risk at roughly 0.15 percent, even when tripled, it is still quite small. Still, the results of the study are significant enough to shed light on how dangerous RF-EMF can be.
Inconsistency Between Different Studies
Despite the IARCs formal endorsement of RF-EMF as possibly carcinogenic, the premise is still widely debated in the scientific community because of inconsistent findings among different studies. A Danish study in 2011 by Frei, et. al.  revealed no increased risk for tumors with mobile phone use. However, Frei, et. al. used data based on mobile subscription instead of actual usage which ultimately affected their results. A US-based program in 2012  tracked cancer incidence in the country and found that there was no significant increase despite the increase in mobile phone and electric gadget use between 1987 and 2007. Because of these studies, the National Cancer Institute concluded that there isn’t strong evidence to prove the causational relationship between RF-EMF and cancer  – this implies that more research has to be done to further build on that premise.
However, Hardell and Carlberg’s study is not the only one linking RF-EMF with cancer. A study in 2004 revealed that mobile phone use of at least 10 years increased the risk of acquiring acoustic neuroma.  Another study in 2009 revealed a positive association between mobile phone use and the development of parotid gland tumors.  In 2013, Bhat, Kumar, and Gupta analyzed published studies on mobile phone use and cancer risk, concluding that long term, low intensity exposure to radiation from mobile devices could potentially lead to tumor formation. 
Hardell and Carlberg published a further study in 2014 which focused on the effects of mobile phone use on people previously diagnosed with gliomas – and the results weren’t good. The study analyzed more than 1500 glioma patients and revealed decreased survival rates with long-term mobile phone use. As the latency period of use increased, so did the hazard ratio for patients diagnosed with a stage IV glioblastoma. Highest HR was noted in patients who started using mobile phones before 20 years of age. 
Four Simple Tips For What You Can Do
It goes without saying that communication is very important in today’s fast-moving world. It’s extremely difficult to live completely disconnected from the modern world and the hardships that this might impose often outweigh the risks associated with modern life. Here are a few common sense tips for risk reduction:
1) Limit cell phone use, especially long calls.
2) Keep a greater physical distance between the device and your head when on the phone. For example use speakerphone or an “air tube” headset. Also, it’s better if possible to have the phone turned up louder and held further away from your head during regular calling. Even an inch further away may be helpful as the RF is the strongest right next to the device.
3) Rather than keeping the phone in a pocket when not on a call, keep your phone in a bag or in another location not attached to your person. Smartphones are transmitting and receiving data even when you are not making a call.
4) Consider limiting children’s access to mobile devices to scenarios where they would be valuable for increased safety. Long-term use appears to present the greatest risk.
 World Health Organization (2014). Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones. https://who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/
 International Agency for Research on Cancer (2011). IARC Classified Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields As Possibly Carcinogenic To Humans. https://iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf
 Baan, R., et. al. (2011). Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency of electromagnetic fields. https://thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(11)70147-4/fulltext
 National Cancer Institute (2013). Cell Phones and Cancer Risk. https://cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes-prevention/risk-factors/radiation/cell-phones-fact-sheet
 Dindic, B., et. al. (2013). Cytogenetic Damages Induced by Chronic Exposure to Microwave Non-ionizing Radiofrequency Fields. https://publisher.medfak.ni.ac.rs/2013-html/4-broj/Boris%20Djindjic-Citogenetic.pdf
 Hardell, L. & Carlberg, M. (2014). Mobile phone and cordless phone use and the risk for glioma – Analysis of pooled case-control studies in Sweden, 1997-2003 and 2007-2009. https://pathophysiologyjournal.com/article/S0928-4680(14)00064-9/abstract
 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Health at a Glance: Europe 2012. https://oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/9789264183896-en/01/05/index.html?itemId=/content/chapter/9789264183896-8-en
 Frei, P., et. al. (2011). Use of mobile phones and risk of brain tumors: update on Danish cohort study. https://bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d6387
 Little, M., et. al. (2012) Mobile phone and glioma risk: comparison of epidemiological study results with incidence trends in the United States. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22403263
 Lonn, S., et. al. (2004). Mobile Phone Use and the Risk of Acoustic Neuroma. https://journals.lww.com/epidem/Abstract/2004/11000/Mobile_Phone_Use_and_the_Risk_of_Acoustic_Neuroma.3.aspx
 Sadetzki, S., et. al. (2007). Cellular Phone Use and Risk of Benign and Malignant Parotid Gland Tumors – A Nationwide Case-Control Study. https://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/167/4/457.short
 Bhat, M., Kumar, V. & Gupta, G. (2013). Exposure of Electromagnetic Radiation from Mobile Phone Communication Systems for Long Time Provokes Cancer Growth. https://journalijar.com/uploads/2013-09-03_142833_123.pdf
 Hardell, L. & Carlberg, M. (2014). Decreased survival of glioma patients with Astrocytoma Grave IV Associated with Long-Term Use of Mobile and Cordless Phones. https://mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/10/10790
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