Cellphone users across Canada are asking questions - and calls for more studies are growing - after a leading international cancer group said this week that the use of the mobile devices may be linked to cancer.
After reviewing the research, a panel gathered by the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that the radio-frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cellphones are possibly carcinogenic, the same classification given to some pesticides and occupational exposure from dry cleaning or firefighting.
Most experts agree there is no need for people to be overalarmed and say it's far from clear whether cellphones cause cancer. But for consumers who are concerned about potential safety risks, there are several effective measures to reduce exposure:
• Don't talk. Text: One of the most effective ways to avoid exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic waves from cellphones is to avoid speaking on them. Phones emit higher amounts of radiation when a call is being made. Antennas, the source of radio waves, are typically embedded in cellphones, so placing the antenna next to the head means greater exposure to radiation. The most comprehensive study on cellphones, published last year, found that heavy cellphone users (those who talked on them at least 30 minutes a day) faced the most risks. Keep calls short. Or, better yet, text instead.
• Keep cellphones away from the body: Even keeping a cellphone an inch away from the head can significantly reduce the amount of radiation a person will absorb. Although there is no consensus on the best place to store phones, experts generally suggest keeping it away from the body at all times.
• Check your phone: Cellphones are unique and emit varying levels of electromagnetic radiation, some higher than others. The U.S.-based Environmental Working Group has published a list of cellphones and the levels to help consumers figure out which ones may pose fewer risks.
• Go hands-free: Using a headset or talking on speaker phone can drastically reduce the amount of radiation a person absorbs while using cellphones. The American Cancer Society says radiation absorbed using Bluetooth earpieces is extremely low and a small fraction of the amount absorbed using cellphones. Cordless earpieces emit no radio waves. But some experts also note that placing the phone close to the body while using an earpiece may not be advisable because the body could absorb radiation in those areas, which may pose a potential risk.
• Avoid using cellphones in weak-signal areas: Cellphones emit the most radiation when they have a weak signal because the phone is working harder to get a signal to the tower. Experts advise staying off the phone until the signal is stronger.
• Protect children: Many experts say children should have very limited use of cellphones because their brains are still developing and can absorb more radiation or be susceptible to risks.