FDA to revisit cellphone cancer risk. It's about time.

According to Reuters: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it will review wireless-phone safety following a recently published study that raised concerns about a heightened risk of brain cancer......
Written by David Berlind, Inactive

According to Reuters:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it will review wireless-phone safety following a recently published study that raised concerns about a heightened risk of brain cancer......The researchers at the Swedish National Institute for Working Life compared data from 2,200 cancer patients and an equal number of healthy patients. Those who heavily used wireless phones had a 240 percent increased risk of a cancerous tumor on the side of the head where they used their phone, they reported.

This, in addition to net neutrality, Digital Restrictions Management (aka C.R.A.P.), and open standards is another one of those topics that I'm super passionate about.  Especially after evidence surfaced about a year ago that the cellco industry was working hard to supress legitimate research (smacking of Big Tobacco repeating itself).  I'm not about to play chicken little by saying the sky is falling.  By most all accounts (barring the Swedish one), researchers have routinely said that a connection between cell phone usage and brain cancer can not be ruled-in, nor can it be ruled-out and that more research needs to be done.  What is clear however is that big money talks and the FDA's announcement will most surely cause the entire cell phone industry to double its ante in hopes of stopping, slowing, or keeping a lid on whatever bad news might become of this most recent development.  

Hopefully, the FDA will be totally transparent in the way it conducts its study and very willing to take input from the public on this issue (particularly researchers who know a thing or two about good testing methodologies). As a member of the the public that the FDA is trying to protect, my confidence would easily be bolstered by total transparency.

Even I've been hauled to the woodshed for a spanking on this issue by some ZDNet readers.  Short-sighted fools.  Life is the most precious gift of all.  Go find some people who are lying on their deathbeds.  I'm certain there are a few shortcuts they wish they hadn't taken.  And that's what a cell phone is.  It's a short cut.  And the jury on the short cut is unequivocally out and probably will be for the next ten years.  So, what should you do about it? I'm not saying to stop using cell phones.  But as long as the jury is out, be smart about it.  For example,  last April, I published an exhaustive piece called Getting practical about cell phones and cancer.  You should read it because of the people I interviewed for it.  But here are a couple of key bullet points:

  • Check the specific absorbtion rate (SAR) rating of a phone before you purchase it. It also might not hurt to check the SAR rating of the phone you currently own.  Check it against CNET's rank ordering of cell phones and their SAR ratings.  Don't be stupid like I was.  I fell for a deal on Amazon.com where I actually got paid cash to take a cell phone.  It turned out to be tied for first place as the most "radiant" cell phone on the market.  If you must have a phone, consider picking one from the list of least radiant phones.  As a side-note, the Verizon Wireless-provisioned Treo 700w that I'm using has a SAR rating of 1.26 (the maximum allowable SAR rating in the US is 1.6).  Some other smartphones like the BlackBerries and T-Mobile's Sidekick are listed here.
  • Cell phones have two SAR ratings.  One for your head.  The other is for your body. What does that tell you?  Keep the cell phone away from your head and your body as much as you can.  If you're kids must have a cell phone, make sure they do the same thing.  How much would  you hate yourself if your kids developed brain cancer in 20 years?  Keep the phones in a backpack or purse.  Not in your pocket (for you men out there, some studies have suggested a link between cell phone radiation and sperm cell damage).  Use devices and techniques that keep the phone away from your head as much as possible.  For example, speakerphone-mode and wired or wireless hands-free devices.  If you really need something on your ear, consider the Bluetooth headset route (requires a phone that has a Bluetooth radio in it or that can have one adapted to it).  Bluetooth headsets use radios that are way less powerful than the cell phones regular radio which has to transmit to the nearest tower.
Finally, think hard about why it is the SAR rating isn't prominently listed on the packaging of cell phones or why the FDA or some other government institution doesn't require the publication of a phone's SAR rating in big bold text whenever it's being advertised.  If phones are so safe, then such a regulation shouldn't negatively impact the interests of those who'd never prominently display that information without being told to do so.
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