Cell phone cancer scare poses dilemma
By Mary Meehan
email@example.com,By Mary Meehan
Don't hang up just yet.
As has been widely reported, the head of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute recently issued a memo to 3,000 faculty and staff declaring that children shouldn't use cell phones unless there is an emergency because of the risk of cancer.
The researcher, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, said a yet-to-be released global study will back up his feelings. This is in spite of the fact that many large-scale studies have not shown such a link.
So, what's a responsible parent to do?
Take a breath and look at the whole picture, said Dr. Thomas Tucker, associate director of cancer prevention and control at the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky.
Yes, Tucker said, cell phones do emit radio frequency energy, a type of radiation. And, he said, people should be aware of the potential risk of exposure to any kind of radiation.
But, he said, the link to cancer and cell phones has not been scientifically proven.
And, in short, there is not enough data to say that phones are perfectly safe or perfectly harmful. Cancer researchers continue to research the potential threat.
The thing to remember, he said, is that "cancer is usually not caused by a single thing. It is caused by a complicated set of things. In some cancers all of those things have to happen for the disease to express itself."
It's not uncommon for such media reports to incite public fears, he said. But the best thing that people can do is concentrate on proven cancer deterrents.
"There's actually quite a bit we can do to protect ourselves against cancer," he said. "We know we can prevent primary lung cancer if they quit smoking. A lot of breast cancer can be avoided with a mammogram," he said. "People should be appropriately screened for skin cancer. These things can make an enormous difference in the population."
It can be hard to get people to focus on the day-to-day realities of good health when such stories break, said Kevin Hall, spokesman for the Lexington Fayette County Health Department.
As for the cell phone story, he said, it came across his radar.
"It was getting national attention. It stood out."
And when those kinds of medical threat stories break, he said, "it gets into the collective consciousness."
"There are times when it can be difficult when Expert A says one thing, Doctor B another," said Hall.
But, like Tucker, he said time and energy is probably better spent on things that can yield tangible results.
Giving up your cell phone to prevent cancer, no matter how challenging that might be for some, can seem a simpler solution than, say, eating right, exercising consistently and making sure to get adequate sleep.
"Sometimes," he said, "it's easier to point to an external source than point to something that I could be doing."
Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261 or 1-800-950-6397 , Ext. 3261.