For many young women today, tucking cell phones in the bra has become a cool, hip way to have simple access to these essential devices. They can jog, drive, shop or sit in darkened movie theatres, quickly responding to tingled vibrations at their breast. Most of us have no idea that cell phones are small two-way microwave radios that should not be kept directly on the body.
As the month of breast cancer awareness, October finds the media packed with warnings about the disease. What's missing from this welcome public attention is the fact that the ways some people are using their phones today could increase their risk of developing breast cancer and other diseases. Cell phone's microwave radiation seeps directly into soft fatty tissue of the breast. That's not a good thing.
Someone wise once said that there is no cure for stupidity, but ignorance can be cured with knowledge.
I sure hope this is the case. It's too late for Donna Jayne, a young active mother of three from Southern California. For more than six years, this vegetarian runner drove her children everywhere with her cell phone tucked into her sports bra. She used her hands-free headset and was on the phone for four to five hours a day. Often, her chest or ear would redden, but she thought little of it. This spring she developed a malignant tumor right where her phone had sat on her breast. No one in her family has ever had breast cancer. Could all this be a coincidence? Of course. But her doctor and those of four other women under the age of 40 with similar stories are deeply concerned that cell phones can cause cancer in women who store them at their breasts.
In San Francisco and Burlingame, Calif. manufacturers will soon be required to tell people before they buy phones that they emit microwave radiation and provide the estimated Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for each phone. As it stands now, warnings about keeping phones off the body can only be found after phones are purchased – in packaging that often gets tossed. The American Cancer Society and Federal Communications Commission websites advise that using a headset or speakerphone substantially reduces radiation exposure, as does holding a phone away from the body when it's connected to a signal.
Within the cell phone industry and government heated debates are occurring about what information should be given to the public and when. Some are arguing that there is no safe way to place a phone next to the body for hours at a time. The multi-trillion dollar global Cellular Telecommunications Industry (CTIA) contends that publicizing information on radiation levels will mislead people into thinking that lower SAR phones are safer. After San Francisco passed the "right to know" ordinance requiring that people be provided with information about radiation that emanates from cell phones before they purchase the phones, the CTIA sued, claiming that people will become confused if they learn about the levels of cell phone radiation before making a purchase.
In fact, all smart phones today do come with warnings. The iPhone 4 manual, for example, says that if the phone is kept in the pocket, "FCC guidelines for safe exposure can be exceeded," and that "users are responsible for protecting themselves." The Blackberry Torch warns people to use hands free devices and keep the device "at least 0.98 inches (25 mm) from your body (including the abdomen of pregnant women and the lower abdomen of teenagers) when the Blackberry device is turned on and connected to the wireless network."
When asked at a hearing of the Maine legislature this past March to explain why all phones include these fine print warnings, the CTIA said, it would get back to the group.
A year later, we are still waiting for an answer.
Amazingly, all of the SARs that are used today rest on standards that were set in 1979 long before we lived in a sea of radiofrequency radiation relying on the large head of a 6-foot tall heavy-set man who spoke for about half an hour. Many of the world's four billion cell phones belong to teens and younger children, who have developing brains that more easily absorb cell phone radiation and talk for hours every day.
And what of all those women tucking their cell phones into their bras? Think of it this way: our bodies are truly electric. Electric impulses allow our muscles to move and our minds to think. But the steady, low electrical impulses that keep us alive may be disrupted by those pulsed signals that power today's small microwave radio cell phones. Yes, as physicists like Michael Shermer note in Scientific American, cell phone radiation is too weak to break ionic bonds that hold together our DNA and living cells. But, microwave cell phone radiation from cell phones is constantly streaming back and forth to towers and can cause cancer and other diseases by increasing the production of damaging free radicals in the blood stream and weakening cell walls and cellular defenses.
Millions of young women around the world are putting phones next to their chests not realizing what some may think is sexy for a moment could turn out to be dreadful decades later. If the physicians who have contacted me are correct that their young breast cancer cases came about from holding cell phones at the chest, that warm tingle from the cell phone pressed to the bosom could presage breast cancer in the future. Experimental studies show that cell phone radiation accelerates the growth of breast cancer cells. It's time to get a headset, and take those phones out of your pockets and bras. Far better to be safe now than sorry years later.
Devra Davis, PhD MPH, is president and founder of Environmental Health Trust and the author of DISCONNECT: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family.