Friday, January 27, 2012

Cell Phones Cause Cancer!

Maybe.  I mean, they could, right?  The WHO (World Health Organization) said so, after all.  I mean, cancer is a pretty complicated disease, and seemingly trivial things can cause it, right?  I'm going into this blog completely blind, and we'll see where I end up.
Well, reading the WHO's article, I'm not impressed with their classification.  The idea that cell phones cause some radiation is not a new (or wrong) one, and the idea that it can cause tissue temperatures to rise makes perfect sense- that energy that isn't going into the air waves has to go somewhere, after all.  The cell phone produces radio waves, which go off into the air in search of (well, really just blindly toward) a tower, which copies them, and sends them into space, where they are redirected to another local tower, and then transmitted to the receiving phone.  The waves are emitted roughly in a half-sphere (hemisphere, I suppose) around the cell phone, and radiate outwards.  Half (or so) of the waves will hit you in the head, if you are holding the phone near it.  That much, at least, is fact (and even obvious).  In the short term, there don't seem to be any effects, but this isn't always indicative.  Cigarettes and asbestos don't have any immediate (cancerous) effects, either.  Cancer is a pretty nuanced state that cells find themselves in, it's not like a virus or other infection, and it takes years to develop, if it does at all.
Reassuringly, they ("Who?", "WHO." "Who?", "Right.") do set guidelines on how much radiation can be absorbed.  The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is an internationally recognized organization that sets various standards for the creation of electronic devices (among other things), and so items produced after 2005 are likely to be in accordance with them.  This is good, since most users (by which I mean I) change their cell-phones every two or 3 years, any recent phone is likely to maintain this standard.
On the other side, people seem to believe that the WHO went overboard in declaring cell phones potentially carcinogenic.  They say that what the WHO means is simply that it's possible that cell phones cause cancer.  It's possible that Elves are planning an invasion of the dark side of the moon with their thermal technology seized from Under Armour (only after they win the presidency, Come ON Ron Paul, Phase 1, remember?).  Of course, cancer is a bit more plausible, but let's instead look at the mechanism.
First, we need to understand cancer, and even with a medical degree, this is difficult. It's an exceptionally nuanced class of disease all its own, and it doesn't fit generalizations easily.  What is known is that it's a state that otherwise healthy cells get in, where they begin to replicate uncontrollably, creating masses of tissue, called tumors, through many and varied mutations.  They can even transport blood to the tissues, by hijacking veins to irrigate their tumor.  It would be beautiful, if it didn't kill almost everything it touched.  Not all tumors are cancerous, sometimes they are benign growths of normal, if misguided, cells, and won't kill you.
Exactly how cancer happens is somewhat of a mystery, which is not to say that it is misunderstood.  The main takeaway is that minor copying errors increase exponentially (much like evolution itself), protecting the cell from the body's built-in correction mechanisms.  Exactly how these errors occur is the mystery I speak of- by their very nature, they don't happen overnight (at least in the vast majority of cases), and can chug harmlessly along for decades until the "evolution" occurs- there's a random, precipitating event and a horrible arms race begins at the cellular level.  So the bad news is you probably already have pre-cancerous cells in your body, somewhere.  They might get killed off by the regulating systems, but they might lurk in the woods and eventually stage a coup like Communists in Czechoslovakia (I figured I'd go with that metaphor as it's unlikely to offend since they don't make Czechoslovakians anymore).
More to the point, can radiation trigger cancer? Yes.  Can cell phones? As I said above, the WHO says it's possible, but doesn't go much further than that.  I say, what't can't cause it?  With a definition so broad and triggers so delicate in their understanding, I doubt that something as benign (pun intended) as drinking purified water hasn't (or at least, couldn't) caused cancer.  While I quickly concede that cell phones are a relatively modern phenomenon, I don't think we're strangers to radiation or its ill effects, and on that basis I'm thinking no, cell phones aren't likely to cause cancer (after all, ionizing radiation doesn't cause cancer except in extreme doses), and neither are power lines or televisions or microwaves. But the final say, e.g, evidence, is still out.  Check with me in the next 20 years, there may be new developments on that front.
For now, even staying away from proven carcinogens, there's no way to avoid cancer entirely.  The best studies have shown no correlation, and cell phones are far too useful to discard on such ephemeral bits of caution.  So eat, text and be merry, for we all probably already have cancer.

No comments:

Post a Comment