Mobile phones are still safe for humans, researchers say

A woman uses her cell phone in New York, Feb. 2, 2018 PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Do mobile phones cause cancer?

Despite years of research, there is still no clear answer. But two US government studies released on Friday (Feb 2), one in rats and one in mice, suggest that if there is any risk, it is small, health officials said.

Safety questions about mobile phones have drawn intense interest and debate for years as the devices have become integral to most people's lives. Even a minute risk could harm millions of people.

These two studies on the effects of the type of radiation the phones emit, conducted over 10 years and costing US$25 million (S$33 million), are considered the most extensive to date.

In male rats, the studies linked tumours in the heart to high exposure to radiation from the phones. But that problem did not occur in female rats, or any mice.

The rodents in the studies were exposed to radiation nine hours a day for two years, more than people experience even with a lot of mobile phone use, so the results cannot be applied directly to humans, said John Bucher, a senior scientist at the National Toxicology Programme, during a telephone news briefing.

The results, he said, had not led him to change his own mobile phone use or to urge his own family to do so. But he also noted that the heart tumours in rats - called malignant schwannomas - are similar to acoustic neuromas, a benign tumour in people involving the nerve that connects the ear to the brain, which some studies have linked to mobile phone use.

The US Food and Drug Administration issued a statement saying it respected the research by the toxicology programme, had reviewed many other studies on mobile phone safety, and had "not found sufficient evidence that there are adverse health effects in humans caused by exposures at or under the current radio-frequency exposure limits."

For people who worry about the risk, health officials offer common-sense advice: Spend less time on mobile phones, use a headset or speaker mode so that the phone is not pressed up against the head and avoid trying to make calls if the signal is weak.

Bucher noted that the radiation emitted increases when users are in spots where the signal is poor or sporadic and the phone has to work harder to connect.

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