GUEST OPINION: New study shows cell phones cook your brain

By on March 19, 2013

A recent study from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is sending shockwaves around the world. Kettering radiation physicist David Gultekin, working with Bell Labs electrical engineer Lothar Moeller, reported this month that normal working cell phones can create tiny hotspots within living brain tissue. But safety standards for the world’s more than six billion cell phones today assume that weak radiation from phones cannot possibly produce any heat. This finding in one of the world’s top science journals, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates this assumption is wrong.

Neurosurgeons can operate on people who are awake because the brain cannot feel heat or pain. Hence, we do not feel our brains as they are warmed by cell phone radiation. This new study used highly sophisticated Nuclear Magnetic Resonance technology applied to living cow brain in the lab and found that the brain does in fact get hot when exposed to a few minutes of a normal microwave producing cell phone. Scientists generally agree that heating the brain should be avoided as this can lead to nervous system damage, hearing loss and possibly cancer.

This new study is one of many produced in the past year around the world that provides evidence for taking simple precautions in using cell phones. The most important being to avoid pressing your cell phone against your ear (use speaker phone whenever possible), and avoid storing your cell phone close to your body.

Like all smart phone manufacturers today, Apple now provides guidance to iPhone users that phones are tested and should be used at a minimum distance of 10 mm. Blackberry urges its users to keep phones an inch from the body. Based on these and other developments, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents of young children to take special care in using phones and other wireless devices. Israel, France and Finland are among those nations urging that cell phones be used with headsets. Belgium and Turkey have followed France’s example, banning sales and advertising of phones for young children.

Additional studies published by Hugh Taylor, Yale University chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology, in the leading scientific journal Scientific Reports, show that prenatally exposed mice develop damaged brain structures and serious learning and behavioral problems.

The fact that all studies do not report evidence of harm has led some to dismiss positive results. But a team from the University of Colorado led by National Academy of Engineering Fellow Frank Barnes and his collaborator, Lucas Portelli, provide a stunning and creative explanation for the lack of consistent results. The Coloradans found that measured real laboratory exposures to electromagnetic fields can vary more than 100 times within the same lab because of exposures to common metal devices like fans. Unless scientists take steps to shield against these uncontrolled exposures, studies that are supposed to replicate other experiments do no such thing.


Contest to raise cell phone safety awareness among youth

To promote community awareness of safer phone practices, Environmental Health Trust announces the launch of its third annual Art, Technology and Science contest with Teton County schools. Until April 20, entries that explain why and how to use phones more safely can be submitted online to [email protected] Entries may include poems, songs, videos of two minutes or less, posters, bumper stickers, cartoons, or other traditional or unusual methods to communicate the need to practice safe phone use. Winners will receive both monetary and special Jackson Hole-related prizes that will be announced in the coming weeks through the contest’s Facebook page, JH Cool School’s Ad Contest 2013. The contest is receiving support by the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole and other donors.

A number of community figures vehemently support raising awareness about this issue.

Local physician Dr. Mark Menolascino is a scientific advisor to EHT.

“EHT’s campaign engages all of our students and allows them to work with local experts who understand the problem and promote simple solutions,” he said. Menolascino advises that, “If you must distract your youngster with a phone or place it on your body, please download what you want and before handing it to any child put it on airplane mode.”  Menolascino’s clinic in the Wilson Medical Building provides safety cards that contain some simple advice, as do Teton Orthopedics and Teton Dermatology.

In September 2012, Jackson Mayor Mark Barron issued a proclamation declaring October cell phone awareness month. “With the work that EHT has provided our community, we are exploring creative and informative ways that tie science, technology and art together to let our community know that, just like cars, phones must be used safely and wisely,” Barron explained.

Last year’s winners and a list of materials that can be used are on the JH Cool Schools Ad Contest 2013 Facebook page.

About Devra Davis, Ph.D.


  1. Dignan

    March 20, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Heat. “Cook your brain”? Please. This took about a minute to find from the very Sloane-Kettering.

    “According to recent studies, cell phone use and the nonionizing radiation these phones emit are not risk factors for developing a brain tumor.”

  2. Devra Davis PhD MPH FACE

    March 20, 2013 at 11:43 am

    This are a number of new studies Showing that cell phone radiation has effects on rapidly growing cells. These studies are consistent with other work that was reviewed by an expert committee of the international agency for research on cancer of the World Health Organization in 2011. That can be determined that cell phone radiation is a “possible human Crystodigin – the same category held by the lead DDT and engine exhaust. And theres a growing body of evidence to support that evaluation. But much more important than the long term impact on the relatively rare disease of brain cancer are concerns raised by Yale & other studies on rapidly growing nervous ststems. Microwave cell phone radiation affects developing brain in ways that have not been well studied. This Is why the American Academy of pediatrics has written to the head of the Federal Communications Commission urging that standards be changed to take into account the fact that there are growing numbers of young children using phone and phones were never tested for the use by younger children and women. Read the fine print warnings that come w all smart phones & don’t rely with outdated websites to protect your family

  3. Devra Davis PhD MPH FACE

    March 20, 2013 at 11:45 am

    This are a number of new studies Showing that cell phone radiation has effects on rapidly growing cells. These studies are consistent with other work that was reviewed by an expert committee of the international agency for research on cancer of the World Health Organization in 2011. That can be determined that cell phone radiation is a “possible human Carcinogen– the same category held by the lead DDT and engine exhaust. And theres a growing body of evidence to support that evaluation. But much more important than the long term impact on the relatively rare disease of brain cancer are concerns raised by Yale & other studies on rapidly growing nervous ststems. Microwave cell phone radiation affects developing brain in ways that have not been well studied. This Is why the American Academy of pediatrics has written to the head of the Federal Communications Commission urging that standards be changed to take into account the fact that there are growing numbers of young children using phone and phones were never tested for the use by younger children and women. Read the fine print warnings that come w all smart phones & don’t rely with outdated websites to protect your family

  4. Dignan

    March 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Your cite is from 2011. Hardly recent, and therefore we must have all missed the “shockwaves.” Hyperbole engine, engage! “Microwave cell phone radiation affects developing brain in ways that have not been well studied” does not equal harmful or “brain cooking.”

  5. Camilla Rees

    March 20, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    It is rather appalling to hear Memorial Sloan Kettering–an elite cancer institute–stating that there is no link between cell phones and brain cancer! An organization like this should be better up on the research. For example, how is it that they don’t know the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified RF from cell phones as a Class 2 B ‘Possible Carcinogen’ in 2011? It is important that everyone understand that Memorial Sloan Kettering’s chairman of the Board of Managers and Board of Overseers, Douglas A. Warner, is also on the Board of Motorola. I would call this a very serious conflict of interest given the voluminous amount of science showing associations between radiofrequency radiation from cell phones and wireless devices and many, many types of cancer. For example, Glioma (brain cancer), Acoustic Neuroma, Meningioma, Salivary Gland cancer, Eye Cancer, Testicular Cancer and Leukemia are all linked with long term cell phone use. And evidence in cell studies shows a possible association with breast cancer. For a summary of the science, please read the recent BioInitiative report–an extensive distillation of the global science on this topic recently updated at the end of 2012. BioInitiative (dot) org. The independent, non-industry-affiliated science speaks clearly of the risks.

  6. Dignan

    March 20, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    American Cancer Society:

    “In general, these studies have yielded similar results:

    •In most studies patients with brain tumors do not report more cell phone use overall than the controls. This finding is true when all brain tumors are considered as a group, or when specific types of tumors are considered.
    •Most studies do not show a “dose-response relationship,” which would be a tendency for the risk of brain tumors to be higher with increasing cell phone use. This would be expected if cell phone use caused brain tumors.
    •Most studies do not show that brain tumors occur more often on the side of the head where people hold their cell phones. This might also be expected if cell phone use caused brain tumors.
    •A few studies have found a possible link. For example, several studies published by the same research group in Sweden have reported an increased risk of tumors on the side of the head where the cell phone was held, particularly with 10 or more years of use. It is hard to know what to make of these findings because studies by other researchers have not had the same results, and there is no overall increase in brain tumors in Sweden during the years that correspond to these reports.”

    I.E., No causality.

  7. Rachael Levitz MPH

    March 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    The new study that was referred to in the Oped piece was published in October 26, 2012 so in fact it is a new finding.

    The WHO’s classification of cellphone radiation as a class 2B carcinogen means that currently there is limited research on the carcinogenicity of cellphone radiation and that more research must be conducted to fully understand if cellphone radiation is a human carcinogen. To have a contaminant be put into this category there is either a) limited evidence in both human and animal models or b) sufficient evidence in animal models but limited evidence in human models. It is naive to believe that a contaminant placed in this category equals that it is not harmful to humans at all. As an example, DDT was once placed in this category(class 2B carcinogen) and when enough evidence was gathered it became a banned pesticide. I sure would like to be ahead of the curve when it come to cellphone radiation.

    Most cellphones come with fine print warnings buried in the user’s manual. Take a look at your warning. Most cellphone companies state in these warnings that a cellphone should be kept a specific distance from the body so as not to exceed the exposure guidelines set by the Federal Communications Commission

  8. Dignan

    March 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    My bag of peanuts has a warning that says don’t eat the shells.

  9. 22

    March 22, 2013 at 11:22 am

    I just did an extensive peer-reviewed study that found Cell Phone talking causes cancer instantly when used in public and driving. So please do yourself a favor and talk at home. Same goes for texting while driving, strong link to finger cancer…but only when your driving.

  10. Marsha White

    March 22, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    This is terrifying! The American public should be outraged. The FCC needs to buckle down, set up a scientific review of recent research and protect American citizens… or we will all be just blanking out on the couch eating our bags of peanuts. Standards should be set to protect human health and especially our children’s health. Enough of this nonsense.

  11. Marsha White

    March 22, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Dear Dignan, Here is a recent study just for you as you wanted recent..
    2.45 GHz Microwave Irradiation-Induced Oxidative Stress Affects Implantation or Pregnancy in Mice, Mus musculus.

    Main outcome of study (according to author)
    In the exposed group, an unequal/asymmetrical distribution of embryos in the two uterine horns and reduced inter-embryo spaces were observed as compared to the control group. Additionally, no pups were born in the exposed group while a normal number of pups was born in the sham exposed group.
    It was found that the hemoglobin content as well as the number of erythrocytes and leukocytes and the the neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio increased significantly in the exposed group compared to the sham exposed one.
    In the comet assay, the brain cells of exposed mice showed a significant increase in the tail moment, in the tail DNA amount and the tail length when compared to control brain cells, i.e. a DNA damage was found in the exposed group.
    In the exposed group, a significant decrease in total nitrite and nitrate concentrations was observed in the plasma when compared to the control group.
    The levels of estradiol and progesterone in the plasma were increased in the exposed group in comparison to the sham exposed group, but only the value for estradiol was statistically significant.
    A significant elevated level of reactive oxygen species in the kidney, liver and ovary was observed in the exposed group as compared to the control group.
    Regarding the antioxidant enzyme activities, the activities of the superoxide dismutase, the catalase and the glutathione peroxidase were significantly decreased in the kidney, liver and ovary of the exposed animals in comparison to the sham exposed ones.
    The authors conclude that an exposure to low level microwaves (2.45 GHz) could affect the implantation or pregnancy in mice through oxidative stress.

  12. Devra Davis

    April 2, 2013 at 7:01 am

    This American Cancer Society notice has not been updated in several years. The review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer was conducted in 2011 and concluded at that time that cellphone and other wireless radiation is a “possible human carcinogen,” a category that includes lead, DDT, engine exhaust, some unusually pickled vegetables. All of these other suspect carcinogens are subject to regulation around the world. The fact that websites are not always up to date does not provide any comfort here.

    The Mayo Clinic website provides more precautionary advice consistent with EHT: “Still, a series of recent studies can’t tell the entire story. It often takes many years between the use of a new cancer-causing agent — such as tobacco — and the observation of an increase in cancer rates. At this point, it’s possible that too little time has passed to detect an increase in cancer rates directly attributable to cellphone use.

    The bottom line? For now, no one knows if cellphones are capable of causing cancer. Although long-term studies are ongoing, to date there’s no convincing evidence that cellphone use increases the risk of cancer. If you’re concerned about the possible link between cellphones and cancer, consider limiting your use of cellphones — or use a speaker or hands-free device that places the cellphone antenna, which is typically in the cellphone itself, away from your head.”


  13. czehfus

    May 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Read Cellular Telephone, Russian Roulette by Robert C. Kane, Motorola researcher. They loved his research until it found hotspots in the brain. Another point is that 2011 is hardly ancient. AND older studies does not mean obsolete. Look at Zory R. Glaser U.S. government compiled list from 1970 for non-thermal effects. OVER 1800 studies THEN. At Magda Havas site.

  14. czehfus

    May 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    One more minor thing is if naysayers are right the public is A-Okay. If even a 50 percent chance that you are wrong, and you are risking lives, health and the future of DNA. What gives the wireless industry that right?

  15. czehfus

    May 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    The problem with radiofrequency radiation is that it is not peanuts. You can eat yr peanuts and the shells if you like, but I don’t have to eat them with you. Not so with RF. YOUR use of RF devices forces others to partake of the radiation. It is worse that tobacco smoke in that there is no place to hide.

  16. czehfus

    May 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Dear Ms. Davis,
    Your work and writing are helpful to clarifying the science. Yet, how can one so intelligent stand up for this pervasive, involuntary second-hand radiofrequency radiation of people who choose not to “partake” in wireless? Telling people to use a speaker for smartphone does not protect anyone if indeed RF has multiple effects at very low levels, which depend upon the individual’s genetics, health, age, etc. Please think of tobacco smoke being pumped into my home against my will 24/7. That describes wireless to a t. Respectfully yours, cz

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