Workers Health & Safety Centre

U.S. researchers release landmark study on cell phones and cancer

Visual shows cell phone radiation emanating from phone and penetrating worker's head
The U.S. National Toxicology Program has released partial results of a new animal study which finds cell phone radiation poses an increased risk for certain cancers.
The $25 million study, the most expensive in the NTP’s history, may be a turning point in a decades-old debate about the possible link between cell phones and cancer. As reported by Microwave News, the study may also set a new standard for research on the topic. Until now, the research produced conflicting results and often failed to assess long-term health effects like cancer.

Increased risk of brain and heart tumours

Communication devices such as cell phones operate on radiofrequency (RF) energy, a type of non-ionizing radiation, consisting of electric and magnetic fields. Worker and public exposure to RF radiation can also include wireless internet (WiFi), broadcast towers, MRI machines, radar guns, and heating equipment such as induction heaters and microwave ovens.
Exposure to RF radiation can result in the heating of tissue, the “thermal” effect, which can cause damage in humans. Much of the current research and existing exposure levels are designed to address this health risk.
The comprehensive NTP animal study, underway for 10 years, not only controls for the thermal effect but assesses longer term exposure. Researchers exposed rats and mice to two types of cell phone radiation at three different exposure levels, in 10-minute on and off increments, for nine hours a day from birth to two years of age. While no effect was observed among the mice, the exposed male rats experienced higher rates of two types of cancer, glioma (a type of brain cancer) and a rare malignant schwannoma of the heart. None of the unexposed rats developed either cancer. 
Importantly, the authors note, the increased incidence of brain and heart tumors, “are of a type similar to tumors observed in some epidemiology (human) studies of cell phone use.” The NTP research supports earlier work by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In 2011, IARC evaluated and classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans based upon evidence of increased risk for glioma linked to cell phone use.

Regulating the hazard

The complete NTP study will be available by the end of 2017 however these partial results have significant implications for worker and public health. The findings will be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, both of which regulate cell phone radiation exposure in the U.S.
The new data could also result in changes to Canadian guidelines. Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 (Limits of Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy in the Frequency Range from 3 kHz to 300 GHz) sets out human exposure limits to RF radiation. The Ontario Ministry of Labour adopts and uses this guideline.
Last year, as part of a regular review of Safety Code 6, a federal government standing committee report warned about the health impacts of wireless technology and argued for more protective exposure guideline.
Other related resources:  
WHSC offers a range of training programs , including one on EMF’s and Dirty Electricity, and resources to help workplace parties understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to workplace hazards. Many of these resources also offer essential insight into the information and tools needed to eliminate or reduce harmful workplace and environmental exposures.
To learn more:
Call:   1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak with a training services representative