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Cell Phones and Cancer? We Went Back to Dr. Oz's Advice
This was the result of an extensive review by an advisory panel to the WHO of existing studies on the health effects of radio frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones. The panel concluded their analysis by placing cell phones in the same category as DDT, lead and dry-cleaning chemicals. The decision was based largely on data showing an increased risk among heavy cell phone users of a rare type of brain tumor called a glioma, said the chairman of the panel, Dr. Jonathan Samet, during a press conference (we didn't attend, but The New York Times did). One of those studies, mentioned in the panel's press release, "showed a 40 percent increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10-year period)."
It's unsettling to hear "cell phone" in the same sentence as "carcinogenic," which is one of the scariest words in the English language—even when tempered by "possibly," which is, ahem, quite possibly one of the vaguest and most nonenlightening terms in a doctor's vocabulary. The reactions to news like this tend to fall into two general categories: paranoia and skepticism. The first involves getting rid of a cell phone as quickly as one disposed of other suspicious substances (like underarm deodorant and soy); the second leads to amping up cell phone usage to an absurd degree to prove those nervous Nellies over at the WHO wrong.
We're trying to find the stainless steel lining in this radiation scare: Perhaps the WHO's uncertainty will lead to research that will offer up important answers and allow us to make more informed decisions. After all, most of the biggest studies on cell phone use and cancer have so far been inconclusive. When asked how people should react to the new ruling, Dr. Oz recently told a Seattle radio station, "It doesn't mean we have to panic. It just means that we have to rethink the way we use cell phones." We refer you again to his cell phone cheat sheet, which includes smart, simple ways that you can limit your exposure to radiation.
While the idea of limiting cell phone use initially seems inconvenient, it may also have some indirect mental health benefits. Way before I became aware of the potential health threats of cell phones, my sister helped me understand how they impact relationships. Consider my sister's cell phone rule: Ever since she got her first Motorola 10 years ago, she's had a policy of turning it off when she's spending time with someone she cares about, and she considers it to be the height of rudeness if you dare pick up yours during a conversation. I used to think that this No Phone While Talking Rule was a little extreme (I need to know when my Zappos orders have shipped!), but I do appreciate being the focus of my sister's attention whenever we spent time together. Her behavior also heightened my awareness of friends who can't put their phone away, ever, even when I'm spilling my guts to them.
The WHO ruling gives us yet another reason to reevaluate the risks—both to our long-term physical health and our current relationships—of cell phone overuse.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.