Government research shows link between cell phone radiation and tumors in rats

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But it's radiofrequency radiation, which is much lower energy than the ionizing radiation you'd get from an X-ray, or, say, nuclear fallout.

The issue of cellphone radiation's impact on human health is one that has been hotly debated for years.

An unusual pattern of cardiomyopathy, a sign of an enlarged and damaged heart, was seen in both male and female rats, the study found.

There was another finding that also doesn't translate: rats exposed to phone-like radiation live on average longer than rats that live "cell phone free". Further, although these were large and well-conducted animal studies, the relative rarity of the tumors showing an increase in incidence means that it may be hard to demonstrate significant increases in incidence which may be seen in the very much larger numbers of humans exposed to radiofrequency radiation. We have reviewed the 2016 interim NTP results and are now reviewing the full set of data from the NTP draft final report.

While the Federal Communication Commission limits how much radiofrequency radiation can come out of your cellphone, the Food and Drug Administration can have a say about whether those limits are safe.

A display of cellphones during a Federal Trade Commission mobile tracking demo in Washington in February 2014
A display of cellphones during a Federal Trade Commission mobile tracking demo in Washington in February 2014

The study by the National Toxicology Program is believed to be the most comprehensive assessment of the health effects of such radiation on rats and mice and involved 3,000 test animals.

Following the release of the NTP study, the FDA Director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Jeffrey Shuren, issued a statement expressing confidence that the current regulations around cellphone radiation are sufficient to protect the health of their users. While the United States has transitioned to 4G, 4G-LTE and 5G networks in recent years, the 2G and 3G frequencies are still used in voice calls and texting. The animals' entire bodies were exposed to RF for up to two years (just about their whole lifespan) for nine hours a day, at levels much higher than people typically ever receive from mobile phones. About 6 percent of the rats exposed to the highest level of radiation studied developed schwannomas in their hearts, whereas there was no evidence of schwannomas in a group of rats that were not exposed to radiation, according to John Bucher, a senior scientist at the NTP.

And even with these unusually high levels of exposure, the links to cancer were still "mostly equivocal, or ambiguous", according to the FDA's statement. At the time, they noted the overall tumor incidence was low, even though increased in the exposed versus control groups.

So, what do these results in rodents mean for people?

The findings don't suggest that USA regulations on cellphone radiation need to be tightened, said Jeffrey Shuren, director of FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health in Silver Spring, Maryland, in a statement. Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, said that the new evidence should not alarm wireless phone users. "I think this is the first clear evidence showing that these sorts of radiofrequency fields increase risks for all kinds of cancer", he says, noting that malignant schwannomas have been detected in previous human studies of cellphone risk.

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