Cell Phones and the Brain- a Two-Sided Dilemma
Every dilemma results in at least two options. Do something or do nothing. Doing something has plenty of options, of which many people have spent lots of time coming up with and communicating to everyone else. And there is the option of doing nothing, which can be equally as taxing. According to the most recent research, cell phones cause brain cancer and treat Alzheimer’s disease. So, what is the general public supposed to do with this information? Do something to change how cell phones are used, or do nothing and live as if this dilemma never existed?
Brain tumors are collections of abnormal cells. If they are cancerous, they are usually treated by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and or surgery. Brain tumors compromise the brain by taking over the normal cells and depleting their nutritional resources for the sake of the cancer cells. Risk factors include exposure to magnetic fields, cell phones, chemicals, and head injuries. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for brain cancer (10).
Since cell phones became popular in the 1980’s, the general public has consumed themselves with worrying about the harmful effects of cell phones on the brain. More specifically, they have worried about the electromagnetic radiation waves from cell phones causing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and brain cancer. A team of Swedish scientists “found a 420 percent higher risk of brain cancer among people who had started using cellular or cordless phones as teenagers.” They also found that “older analog phones… had been found to increase cancer risk by 700 percent” (5). A more conservative estimate found by World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer in France found that the use of cell phones increased the risk of developing a brain tumor in both men and women by about 33% (8).
Because of studies like these, many experts took it upon themselves to come up with methods of defense against these disease causing cell phones. Suggestions were commonly found on the morning and evening news and in prominent newspapers and magazines. They included such advise as never letting children use cell phones, never touching the cell phone to your head, avoid carrying the cell phone on your body, and use speaker phone whenever possible to avoid electromagnetic wave exposure (1).
These suggestions and warnings caused mass panic among the general population. One person said “I don't know about credibility of the research, but it does make sense. I'll try not to use cell phone as much as I can – Nina” (3). To me, Nina’s opinion represents a vast majority of the general publics opinion. If we consider other objects that emit electromagnetic radiation, like televisions, electric blankets, and microwaves, we see a trend. Numerous studies have raised the red flag on these devices because they emit electromagnetic fields (EMFs). However, if these devices really all led to cancer, wouldn’t they all be removed from the market?
In my opinion, if the government has not stepped in after almost 30 years of public worry about cell phones causing cancer, then the issue really is not all that prevalent. Sure it would be nice to be surrounded by safe appliances, but can these studies stop us from using them? They cannot! To me, this is showing that the media is taking these studies too seriously, the general public wants to respond to the media, but the truth is that the general public cannot function without these devices.
It is apparent that cell phones causing brain cancer cannot deter the general public from using them. Although there is a 33% increased chance in developing brain cancer for cell phone users, they just cannot manage to keep them away from their heads. However, there may be good news. A recent study by Juan Sanchez-Ramos at the University of South Florida attributes EMFs from cell phones to preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is associated with the “dramatic shrinkage [of] the cortex” as well as “widespread fatty deposits in small blood vessels [and] dead and dying brain cells” (9). The peculiar behaviors associated with the disease are all products of memory loss, disorientation, and personality changes all caused by the death of brain cells. Alzheimer’s Disease damages the brain in two ways- plaques and clumps. Plaques are clusters of beta-amyloid protein, which is thought to interfere with communication between neurons or brain cells. The other source of damage comes from tangles. In a normal functioning brain, the protein tau is used to build the structure of brain cells. However, in an Alzheimer’s patient, the tau protein is distorted which causes the structures of the brain cells to become twisted or tangled. These tangles then cause the brain cells to die (2). Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, over time the plaques and tangles will cause more damage, eventually leading to death.
Unfortunately, there is no known cause or cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Some researchers believe that it may be genetic, while others are under the impression of the “use it or loose it” principle. However, researchers are sure that the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease increases significantly with age. Nearly 50% of people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s, while only 5% of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have the disease (2).
The study done at the University of South Florida found that “Microwave radiation from cell phones may protect against and even reverse Alzheimer's-like symptoms” in mice. The experiment was done on genetically modified mice that were altered to develop plaques in their brains, as do human Alzheimer’s patients. The mice were then exposed to cell phone EMFs for two hours a day. Sanchez-Ramos found that mice showing memory loss improved after the exposure, and mice exposed to the EMFs before they developed plaques retained their good memory longer than mice that were not exposed the the cell phone EMFs (7).
Because cell phones and EMF emitting devices have been the victims of almost 30 years of negative scientific propaganda, this study comes as a shock to many. However, being that the current generation cannot function without their cell phones, most take this study to be very good news. In fact, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease printed the study in their January 6, 2010 edition. The editor commented that the study was “pretty dramatic” in that not all “effects of cell phone radiation are… harmful” (7).
On the other hand, you still have those who doubt science. In response to the questions “Could cell phones cure Alzheimer’s Disease?” one blogger responded, “Could cell phones cure Alzheimer's disease? Could? What use to anyone is a could? The moon could be made of green cheese as well” (6).
In my opinion, the general public responds to science for the sake of negative controversy. In this case, I found one blog post condemning the results of this new study. However, I found no posts praising it. I believe that very few people commented on this study because it affirms that there is a benefit to their cell phone obsession and allows them to ignore the increased risk of brain cancer. However, I believe that this study will not increase the number of cell phone users because extreme cell phone use is a way of life, not something that anyone aspire to be.
For the big picture, I am confused as to what scientists want the general public to get out of their studies. If the manufacturers of cell phones have nothing to say and the government has nothing to say, then this research is put out there for the public to decipher alone. But the reality is that the public does not respond either way. Despite studies claiming cell phones cause brain cancer, the trend for number of cell phone users has steadily increased to 4.8 billion users in 2010 since the beginning of the cell phone era (4). In addition, state legislators are still working to ban driving while holding a cell phone because it is such a prevalent safety hazard – meaning the majority of the general public is not concerned with possible brain cancer. This leads me to believe that these studies go in one ear and out the other, but not just because they are from the scientific world. I believe that the advantages and disadvantages of cell phones simply negate each other. In terms of communicating science to the public, I am under the impression that the general public is very capable of understanding “cell phones cause cancer” or “cell phones treat Alzheimer’s.” Therefore, I conclude that the general public has ignored this information, and as a whole, they take the good with the bad, fallacies with truths, and continue to live as though these studies never existed.
(1)"10 Tips: Cell Phones & Limiting Radiation Exposure." KDKA. 23 July 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <http://kdka.com/seenon/cell.phones.tips.2.777727.html>.
(2)"Alzheimer's disease: Risk factors - MayoClinic.com." Mayo Clinic medical information and tools for healthy living - MayoClinic.com. 17 Jan. 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2010. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers-disease/DS00161/DSECTION=risk%2Dfactors>.
(3)Conlin, Michelle. "Cellphones Cause Brain Tumors, Says New Report by International EMF Collaborative." Business Week. Bloomberg.com, 26 Aug. 2009. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <http://www.businessweek.com/careers/managementiq/archives/2009/08/cellphones_caus.html>.
(4)EITO. "More Than 4 Billion Mobile Phone Users Worldwide." Web. 21 Feb. 2010. <http://www.eito.com/reposi/PressReleases/eito-pr-figure-20090807.jpg>.
(5)Gutierrez, David. "Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer, Scientists Warn." Infowars. 4 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <http://www.infowars.com/cell-phones-cause-brain-cancer-scientists-warn/>.
(6)Liu, David. "Could cell phones cure Alzheimer's disease?" Foodconsumer.org. 7 Jan. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2010. <http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Non-food/Lifestyle/could_cell_phones_cure_alzheimer_s_disease_0701100702.html>.
(7)Than, Ker. "Cell Phone Use May Fight Alzheimer's, Mouse Study Says." National Geographic. 6 Jan. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/01/100106-cell-phones-alzheimers-disease-mice.html>.
(8)Wenner, Melinda. "Fact or Fiction?: Cell Phones Can Cause Brain Cancer." Scientific American. 21 Nov. 2010. Web. 15 Feb. 2010. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-cell-phones-can-cause-brain-cancer#comments>.
(9)"What is Alzheimer's." Alzheimer's Association. 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. <http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp>.
(10)"What You Need To Know About- Brain Tumors." National Cancer Institute, 29 Apr. 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/brain/page4>.