Love them or hate them mobile phones are an invaluable tool which have progressed from status symbol to everyday essential in less than two decades. The technology behind this revolution is microwave radiation. Apart from radar and ovens, microwaves are used in mobile phones, DECT cordless phones, Bluetooth technology and wireless internet. The increased use of mobile phones has raised the question of safety – can holding microwaves against the head cause brain tumours? The 13 country INTERPHONE study hoped to answer this question. The results released earlier this year showed that there was a slightly increased risk of some types of tumours for people in the highest call time category and longest years of use. Due to the time that the study was conducted (2002-2004) less than 10% of cases had used a mobile phone for 10 years or more and a heavy phone user in the study (30 mins per week) is not considered a heavy user today. Children and young adults were not part of the study either.
Children’s brains keep developing until about age 25 and children’s skulls are thinner than adults so a mobile phone irradiates twice the area of a child’s brain as an adult’s. Safe mobile phone use guidelines for children were released in 2009 by STUK – the Finnish radiation and nuclear authority and in May 2010 by the Australian government:
•Use SMS rather than voice as it keeps the microwaves away from the child’s brain.
•Minimise children’s number of calls and duration.
•Use hands free (not a Bluetooth earpiece) where possible and keep the phone at least few centimetres away from the body.
•Do not use mobile phones in weak fields (in a car, train, tunnel, basement, large distance from mobile tower – when the signal is weak stronger microwaves are used to make the call).
This sounds like good advice for adults as well. Because radiation reduces dramatically with distance, holding a phone even 2 cm away from the body makes a significant difference. For this reason men should think of taking phones out of their pockets and wear them in a belt pouch or manbag. There is no doubt that the use of mobile phones has increased personal safety and security. Understanding how to use the phone safely allows us to get the best of both worlds.