What effects do mobile phones have on people’s health?
During recent years, the use of mobile phones has increased substantially and has been paralleled by a growing concern about the effects on health attributed to exposure to the electromagnetic fields produced by them and their base stations. Demonstrating that radiation causes adverse effects on health would signal a widespread public health problem.
Mobile phones have been in extensive use for a relatively short period of time, and their technology has progressively changed, from analogue to digital systems. Mobile phones and base stations emit radio frequency or microwave radiation. Exposure to such a radiation could affect health directly. The use of mobile phones also results in indirect effects, such as car accidents and interference with health equipment.
Experimental research on the effects of radio-frequency radiation is very broad and heterogeneous. It includes both studies of cell cultures and tissues (in vitro) and of laboratory animals (in vivo), as well as of people (volunteers). On one hand, these studies focus on functional changes in the brain and the resulting effects on cognition, and (to some extent) well-being – that is, the influence of exposure to radiation on the head. On the other hand, these studies focus on the possibility of a relationship between mobile phone use and carcinogenic processes, reproduction and development, the cardiovascular system and longevity – that is, exposure of the whole body. These studies found very small and reversible biological and physiological effects that do not necessary lead to diseases or injuries. Also, the research findings on the changes at the molecular level associated with the development of cancer are inconsistent and contradictory.
Epidemiological studies in general populations, such as communities, concentrate on a possible causal relationship between mobile phone use and the occurrence of brain tumours, acoustic neuromas, tumours of the salivary glands, and leukaemia and lymphomas. Although weak and inconclusive, most of the evidence available does not suggest that there are adverse effects on health attributable to long-term exposure to radio-frequency and microwave radiation from mobile phones. However, recent studies have reported an increased risk of acoustic neuroma and some brain tumours in people who use an analogue mobile phone for more than 10 years. Also, no data is available on the reproduction of these effects when digital mobile phones are used. Finally, there is good evidence that the use of mobile phones while driving translates into a substantially increased risk of an accidental collision.
For the majority of tumours studied so far, a long latency period might exist, and the finding of any link to the use of mobile phones is complex. Consequently, most of the published research cannot elucidate the risk of long-term effects. If there is a risk, the current evidence suggests it is small.
Since there are still gaps in knowledge, continued research and better health risk analyses are needed. Moreover, without scientifically recognized adverse effects on health, it is not possible to produce evidence-based recommendations.
Therefore, a precautionary approach to the use of this communication technology should be adopted until more scientific evidence on its effects on health becomes available. Such an approach includes restricting exposure (according to existing guidelines and the European Union (EU) Directive) and providing the public with information and options.