Is your cell phone trying to kill you?

Studies that link cell phone use to cancer probably aren't going to scare us into not using them, but is the risk even real? GCN Lab's Greg Crowe has some thoughts.

Over the last decade, pretty much everyone got a cell phone. And in that time, every couple of years or so, the debate is raised over whether the little buggers are trying to kill us.

Sure, anyone who dodges swerving SUVs during the morning commute knows how dangerous cell-yakking drivers can be. But what we are talking about here is the electromagnetic radiation that our cell phones emit, and whether it has potential to increase certain health risks. A widely-cited 2008 study links cancers of the parotid gland (one of the salivary glands, located right behind the ear somewhere) to cell-phone use.

You’d think that would settle it, but no. Many claim that this study is only so much panic-mongering, and that the results are skewed to show a correlation. So we go on using our cell phones, trying not to think about the possible consequences. Then more and more studies come out suggesting a connection between use of cell phones and various maladies, and you have to wonder – is my cell phone killing me?

We could take the argument of some proponents of other potentially life-threatening items, rephrasing the question to, "Is my cell phone killing me faster that anything else out there is killing me?" I mean, if we are all going to be hit by a bus tomorrow (that would be an interesting news day to be sure), why bother? But those who want to bother might ask themselves what they could do to minimize their risk.

Well, the first thing we could do is not use our cell phones so much. I know, right? What are we, a bunch of Amish Luddites? (Boy, that has got to be boring, being an Amish Luddite. Not much smashing of technology to do, really.) But most studies say that going from constant use to occasional use can drop our cancer odds down to those of a cell phone non-user, if such a person even exists anymore.

The next thing is to avoid using your cell phone in situations where it might need to increase its output of radiation. For instance, when you are in a building, a car, or far away from the nearest cell tower, your phone has to kick into high-radiation mode in order to boost the signal. OK, this might be somewhat doable. If we’re in a building, we should be able to use a land line at least some of the time. And if we are in our car, we probably shouldn’t be using our cell phones anyway, right?

Some experts also recommend texting instead of regular phone conversations. This makes sense, since when you text you are holding the phone out some distance away from your face, as opposed to right up against the side of your head. Of course, texting is more dangerous for other reasons in certain situations. And some text exchanges can go on for days that would have taken five minutes talking on the phone. I’m sure we’ve all been there.

I guess it boils down to whether we care enough about health risks to put down our precious cell phones once in a while. The answer to that is like the results of most scientific studies – time will tell.