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“Bad Luck” Cannot Explain More Cancers in Young Adults and Teens

States advise reducing cell phone radiation

Is it just bad luck that a young man who has been using his phone for hours a day since age 8 is diagnosed with deadly brain cancer at age 23? Or that a 21-year old young woman suddenly develops multiple breast cancers directly under the antennas of the phone she had stored in her bra? Or that a 24-year-old develops rectal cancer close to his blue-jeans back pocket now stamped with his phone’s faded outline?

Reflecting growing scientific indications of damage from microwave-radiating cell phones, bills before the Massachusetts legislature could reduce the contribution that cell phone radiation to these unexplained cancers in young adults. Educating about why and how to reduce phone radiation exposures has become a critical public health concern around the world. In advanced countries like Israel, France, and Belgium, phones must be sold with headsets and information about keeping phones away from the brain and body.

What’s driving the push to reduce phone radiation exposures? The World Health Organization reports a global increase of 13% in childhood cancer incidence. In the United Kingdom, rates of the same type of malignant brain cancer increased in regular cell phone users have risen while those of other forms of brain cancer have dropped. United States rates of malignant brain tumours have now surpassed leukemia as the top cause of cancer deaths in adolescents and young adults. Growing numbers of neurosurgeons believe that part of the explanation for this surge in gliomas lies in our love affair with phones. We have to ask whether they are right: does the unprecedented use of cellphones underlie these perplexing increases?

Whether climate change or pesticide-laden foods, the role of government of late seems to be to insist on proof that damage has already occurred before taking steps to reduce exposures. This turns on its head the basic public health concept: tis far better to prevent harm than to seek to repair it. If successful, Massachusetts is poised to join Connecticut, Maryland, and California as states that officially encourage reducing microwave-radiation exposures from phones by making a standard practice of using speaker-phones and headsets, putting phones in airplane mode when in a pocket, and other precautions to distance the device from our bodies.

This precautionary advice has not flowed simply from public health experts but has often emerged after protracted bureaucratic meanderings. Thus, with the strategic prompt of a lawsuit from the University of California, the Public Health Department of the State of California released precisely that same advice to reduce microwave radiation from cell phones in 2017. In spite of increasing numbers of scientific studies, the cell phone industry has long tried to keep the health hazards of this technology a secret–even going so far as to belittle the World Health Organization in the process. But all that is changing.

The National Toxicology Program issued a final report of its $25 million study that exposed rats to low levels of radiation for two years. Exposed animals developed DNA damage and significantly more highly aggressive heart and brain cancers, specifically schwannoma of the heart and gliomas in the brain – the same types of tumors increasing in young Americans. The distinguished scientists leading the study were so surprised and concerned about these findings, they felt obligated to inform regulatory agencies about this serious public health risk. During an unprecedented peer review of the findings, an independently convened group of industry and academic scientists concluded the study showed “clear evidence of cancer.”

The real-world implications are quite simple: If you walk around with a cell phone in your pocket, tuck your phone in your bra, rest it on your lap as you listen to music or against your forehead and eyes as you watch virtual reality, your body could be absorbing 300-400% more radiation than current 20-year old regulatory limits allow. In fact, tests from the French government, released after prodding by Phonegate Alert, revealed that 9 out of 10 phones–including iPhone 5 and 250 other types– exceeded current limits by between 2 to 5 fold.

To reduce the growing burden of cancer on young Americans, we need to ensure that the Right to Know trumps the Right to Profit. Massachusetts State Senator Julian Cyr is advancing this basic right and asks that outdated cell phone test systems and official exposure standards be modernized before any more “bad luck” befalls our younger generation. Let this important revolution in public health begin.

Devra Lee Davis is an award-winning scientist and writer, Visiting Professor of Medicine at The Hebrew University and Ondokuz Mayis University, Samsun, Turkey, and President of Environmental Health Trust. www.ehtrust.org

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