Cell Phones and Cancer: No Clear Connection

Of the 100 million American cellular phone subscribers, some use their wireless phone only in a crisis — to call a friend or 911. They put their rap sessions on hold until arriving home, where phoning a friend costs no cents per minute.

For other wireless phone owners, it could be the fear of brain cancer, not an unwieldy wireless bill, that keeps them from using their cell phones for leisure chats.

Convinced that a nine-year cell phone habit led to his brain cancer, neurologist Chris Newman, M.D., has filed an $800 million lawsuit in Baltimore against his cell phone's maker and several other telecommunications companies. His suit comes five years after the dismissal, for lack of evidence, of a lawsuit filed in Florida by David Reynard, who alleged that a cell phone was responsible for his wife's fatal brain cancer.

In Newman's case, his lawyer has said, "it's really not a question at all" whether the cancer is cell phone-related. The evidence, she says: Newman's own doctors made the connection between his long-time cell phone use and his tumor, which is positioned in "the exact anatomical location where the radiation from the cell phone emitted into his skull."

Newman has been front and center in a renewed public focus over the last few months on whether the fear of brain cancer from wireless phones is well-founded or folly. For his part, epidemiologist Sam Milham, M.D., recently expressed a breakaway scientific viewpoint when he told the television audience of CNN's Larry King Live show that there is "plenty of reason for concern" about cell phones causing brain cancer.

Hold the phone. Is there really cause for concern? Do steps need to be taken, as Milham told Larry King, to avoid a brain cancer epidemic among the millions of cell phone users in this country and around the world?

No, current scientific evidence does not show any negative health effects from the low levels of electromagnetic energy emitted by mobile phones, says the Food and Drug Administration. But some recent studies suggest a possible link between mobile phones and cancer and warrant follow-up, the agency says, to determine with more certainty whether cell phones are safe.

"We don't see a risk looking at currently available data," says David Feigal, M.D., director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "But we need more definite answers about the biological effects of cell phone radiation, and about the more complicated question of whether mobile phones might cause even a small increase in the risk of developing cancer."