The huge, worldwide increase in the use of mobile telephones over recent decades has been accompanied by increasing concern over the potential adverse health effects associated with exposure to radiation from the devices.
Concerns are based on fears that exposure to the microwaves emitted by mobile phones is damaging to human health. These concerns have lead to wide-scale research being conducted to test the effects of this exposure in studies of animals and humans. Studies have also been conducted to analyze the potential harmful effects of other wireless devices such as data communication networks.
According to the World Health Organization, the overall view held by medical and scientific communities is that the use of mobile phones is not likely to cause adverse effects such as increased cancer risk or headache.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the radiation from mobile phones as potentially carcinogenic (group 2B). For comparison, radiation classified as Group 2A is “probably carcinogenic.”
The most recent report from a UK research project – the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme – concluded that there is no evidence to support that short-term use of mobile phones is linked to any increased risk of cancer or any damaging effects on brain function.
However, it is also commonly acknowledged that the potential long-term risks associated with mobile phone use cannot yet be fully assessed, since the devices have only been used commonly for around twenty years.
Most handsets are regulated tightly by governmental agencies so that their maximum emission is kept below the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of 1.6 watts per kilogram. This SAR unit is used to measure the amount of radiofrequency the body absorbs when a mobile phone is used. According to the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, any mobile phone must have a SAR level at or below this limit if it is to be considered “safe” for use.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc