A closer look at the link between cell phones and brain tumors

A closer look at the link between cell phones and brain tumors

Not to brag or anything, but I tend to be a step or two (or three) ahead of the rest of my colleagues in this doctoring business. It often happens that what people are calling me "crazy" for saying one year, turns out to be "sage" and "learned" the following year. This time the case in point is the potential health danger of cell phones.

On a recent episode of CNN"s Larry King Live, three neurosurgeons publicly stated that they never hold their cell phones to their ears. One of these surgeons, Dr. Keith Black of Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, explained, "I think the safe practice is to use an earpiece to keep the microwave antenna away from your brain."

This is just one of the recent events that's prompted a reexamination of the now largely dismissed link between cell phone use and tumors. The other is Senator Edward Kennedy's recent diagnosis with the type of glioma tumor that's been suspected to be caused by cell phone use. Still, most have long ago dismissed the cell phone/cancer link - even the American Cancer Society.

But keep in mind that the studies that influenced the medical thinking are somewhat old by medical standards. Even the FDA recognizes that those studies only focused on a period of use of three years. At the time, cell phone use was still just on the increase, and the technology used was different.

Since then, cell phones have (to the chagrin of those like myself who value polite society) infiltrated nearly every facet of American life. With more than 3 billion people now using cell phones, it's about time people are looking into their safety.

At one time, I bought into the idea that the cell phone/cancer link was little more that urban legend. But then in 2005 I came across some European research linking a decade or more of cell phone use to as much as a 4 percent increase in the likelihood of developing permanent, brain-damaging tumors of the auditory nerve. This report confirmed the findings of a 2002 Finnish study that linked the type of radiation emitted by cell phones to adverse effects on brain tissue.

I'm especially concerned about the endless hours that kids in the early (and pre-teen!) years spend using the phones, because their brains and bodies are still in the developmental stages.

"More and more kids are using cell phones," said Dr. Paul J. Rosch, a professor of medicine at New York Medical College. "They may be much more affected. Their brains are growing rapidly, and their skulls are thinner."

The obvious safe bet would be to use one of the wireless Bluetooth headsets and to keep the radiation-emitting cell phone somewhere else, preferably away from your body. Of course, at this point no one knows what side effects there could be to having a Bluetooth transmitter stuck in your ear all day, either.

If we find out a decade or so down the road that prolonged cell phone use IS major health issue, literally half of the world's population will be affected - and that could be a devastating public health crisis.

If you ask me, it's more prudent to take precautions than to adopt a "wait-and-see" attitude. And the best way to do that is to simply cut down on your cell phone use. No prescription necessary.