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Cell phone and the brain: A bad connection?

Just like a kitchen microwave, cell phones use electromagnetic energy for power. And, just like a kitchen microwave, they cook things.

If a person talks on a cell phone for 20 minutes, the brain’s temperature rises two degrees, according to cancer-health.org.

When The Miami Hurricane surveyed 20 UM students, 16 of them said they talk on a cell phone for more than one hour a day.

“I usually talk on the phone for an hour to an hour and a half a day, but some days, two or three hours,” Ibrahim Zafir, a sophomore, said. “My mom believes there is something bad about using cell phones, so she talks on the speaker phone. I talk on the speaker when I get tired of holding the phone.”

Microwaves are very short waves of electromagnetic energy that travel at the speed of light to transmit cell phone signals. The microwave energy of a cell phone can warm the side of the head where the auditory nerve, or the nerve that sends sound information to the brain, is located.

According to the 2002 International Journal of Radiation Biology, tumors of the auditory nerve were three times more frequent in individuals who had used cell phones for more than a decade.

This is because tumors, and brain cancer, do not develop right away. Tumors can take decades to detect, said Joseph Bowman, occupational health researcher at the National Institute for Occupational Health in Cincinnati.

“When we looked at people who used cell phones for 10 or more years, if a person used the phone on the right side [of their head]there was more risk of having a brain tumor on that side,” said Bowman, who participates in the Interphone study, which is aimed at cancer research and involves 13 other countries. “So far, there are no cancer risks for people who use cell phones for 10 years or less.”

Calculations shown on cancer-health.org determined that if an individual talks on a cell phone for one hour a day, everyday for 10 years, it amounts to 10,950 watts of radiation exposure to the brain. Ten-thousand watts of radiation is 10 times more powerful than microwave ovens; it’s “as if you would put your head in a microwave oven, you can imagine what would happen to you,” cancer-health.org says.

Although some students may not choose hours of cell phone conversation, other students can’t ignore constant phone calls.

“I use a Bluetooth, but probably not as frequently as I should,” said Student Government president Danny Carvajal, who said he receives about 40 to 50 phone calls everyday. “I try to make phone calls from a land line as much as possible, especially if the calls are not long distance.”

Recently, the federal government put money towards a study about how cell phone radiation affects rodents, Bowman said. But he also noted that in order to find conclusive evidence, studies need to be done on human beings.

Previous studies on human beings have only recorded information from people who talk on cell phones for less than 30 minutes once a week – a far cry from the average use by a college student.

For a long time, the public did not know the risks of cigarette smoking. Research changed that, and it’s now common knowledge that tobacco use is the leading cause of lung cancer.

When asked if there is a possibility, as the years go by and exposure to cell phones by human beings increases, that a large number of brain cancer cases will arise, Motorola representative Kristine Mulford, declined to comment.

In the meantime, while further cell phone research is being conducted, hands-free devices can be used to lessen exposure to radiation.

“If people are concerned, they can reduce their exposure by using an earpiece,” Bowman said. The wire form is best, he added, because the radiation is lost through distance.

Chelsea Kate Isaacs may be contacted at chelsea@miami.edu.

February 4, 2008

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.