Cellphone Use & Cancer: Risks and Opinions

cellphone_brainOn May 31, 2011 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced their classification of radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields emitted from cell phones, used globally by more than 4.6 billion people, as "possibly carcinogenic to humans.”  Given the serious health risk that this implies, WHO has pledged to conduct a formal risk assessment of all studied health outcomes from radiofrequency fields exposure by 2012.

The Current Evidence of Cancer Risk

  1. A study conducted in Denmark from 1982 to 1995 (with a follow-up in 2002) analyzed cancer rates among 420,095 cell phone users and found no increased risk for brain tumors, salivary gland tumors, eye tumors, or leukemia.
  2. A number of earlier and smaller case–control studies as well as more than 40 experimental studies also found no direct association between cell phone use and cancer.
  3. The INTERPHONE study, the largest of its kind to date, examined 2,708 glioma and 2,409
    meningioma cases in 13 countries using a common protocol. This study found that using a cell phone appeared to slightly lower the risk of developing a glioma, compared with never using one. But, when the highest 10% of cell phone users in terms of call time were analyzed, this subgroup had a 40% increased risk for glioma, compared with those who had never used a cell phone. Thus, according to Interphone, there is a higher risk for tumors occurring on the same side of the brain as cell phone exposure, and especially for tumors located in the temporal lobe, where RF exposure is highest.
  4. A meeting of 31 scientists organized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, whose results have been just published in the latest issue of the medical journal The Lancet, considered the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to RF electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones. The IARC group concluded that fields emitted by cell phones should be considered as "possibly carcinogenic" to humans. 
  5. A pooled analysis of Swedish studies examined the association between cell and cordless phone use and glioma, acoustic neuroma, and meningioma in 1,251 (85%) cases and 2,438 (84%) controls. For people who had used a cell phone for more than 1 year, the risk for brain tumors was 1.3 times higher (30%) than in people who had never used a cell phone. This risk increased with time since first use and with total call time. After more than 2000 hours of use, the risk was 3.2 times as high. Similar results were observed among cordless phone users.

In addition to the comprehensive review planned by WHO, the Cohort Study on Mobile Communications (COSMOS) is attempting to do a similarly all-inclusive study. It will become the largest study ever conducted and examine the effects of cell phone use on long-term health. COSMOS plans to track at least 250,000 people in 5 European countries for up to 30 years and it will not rely on users’ self-report, but will follow cell phone use in real time.

The Opinions On Cell Phone Use and Cancer Risk

aaKandinsky_YellowRedBlueDr. Jonathan Samet, Chair of the IARC working group and the Flora L. Thornton Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, , explains that "possibly carcinogenic" means is that cell phone use is not completely safe, although it needs to be more clearly defined through better investigation. If users want to do something about the risk, says Dr. Samet, “there are easy steps to take to lower exposure, such as using hands-free devices and reducing use of the phone."

Other researchers point out that exposure to RF fields is not limited to cell phones but can be caused by other personal devices. Moreover, the specific absorption rate varies from one phone model to another and it can be affected by many factors, including the design, the position of the phone and its antenna in relation to the head, how the phone is held, the anatomy of the head, and the quality of the link between the base station and the phone.

Children are more at risk than adults, since the average RF energy deposition in a child’s brain is generally at least twice as high as in adults. In the most sensitive area of the head, the bone marrow of the skull, exposure in children can be up to 10 times as high as in adults.

Researchers also point out that the INTERPHONE study and the Swedish pooled analysis may not be entirely accurate due to the possibility of "recall error and selection for participation," although the results of these studies cannot be dismissed as reflecting bias alone, since a cause-effect relationship between cell phone-caused exposure to RF fields and brain cancer remains a distinct possibility.

More, Better Research Needed

Where does this leave cell phone users, all 4.6 billion of them? More studies are certainly needed and, perhaps most importantly, the studies need to be better designed. Studies which rely on interviews and on the participants ability to recall the details of their phone use do not produce the most reliable results. Prospective studies that track phone use and health records in real time, that are large enough to include significant segments of the population will produce far more accurate results. They are being planned and, in the case of the COSMOS study, they are underway. Until then, Bluetooth earpieces would seem the way to go.

A New Stressor: Cell Phone Waves Affect Brain

cellphone_brainLess than one hour on the cellphone has been shown to significantly increase brain activity, especially in the area closest to the phone’s antenna. Is this good or bad? In a study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD and Brookhaven National Laboratories in Upton, NY presented convincing evidence of this localized increase, but could not say whether the findings may have any clinical significance. At issue was whether exposure to cell phone radiofrequency signals has any noticeable and, most importantly, any dangerous effects on the human brain.

One of the measures that best indicates brain activity levels is brain glucose metabolism. In a randomized crossover study conducted between January 1 and December 31, 2009, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, 47 healthy individuals were asked to use their cell phone during a period of 50 minutes. Using positron emission tomography (a PET scan) to detect levels of the biological marker 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose, brain glucose metabolism was measured with the cell phone activated (sound muted) for 50 minutes (switch in the “on” position) and with the cell phone deactivated (“off” position). Statistical tools were used to compare brain glucose metabolism between on and off conditions, and to verify the association of brain glucose metabolism and the estimated amplitude of radiofrequency-modulated electromagnetic waves emitted by the cell phones.

The results of the tests indicate that glucose metabolism throughout the whole brain did not differ between on and off conditions. However, glucose metabolism in the region of the brain closest to the cell phone antenna (corresponding to the orbitofrontal cortex and the temporal area) was significantly higher when the phone was on (35.7 vs. 33.3 μmol/100g per minute). The increase in brain activity appeared to be directly correlated with the estimated electromagnetic field amplitudes.

The researchers conclude that, compared with no exposure at all, a 50-minute cell phone conversation is associated with increased brain glucose metabolism in the region closest to the antenna. Short of any evidence that this increase is harmful, the study authors concluded that this finding “is of unknown clinical significance.”

What Is Brain Glucose Metabolism?

Brain glucose metabolism is the use of glucose (sugars) to create energy for neural activation, as the brain requires a continuous supply of glucose carried to it by blood circulation to meet its metabolic requirements. The central nervous system is dependent upon a continuous supply of blood and the viability of brain cells depends upon the immediate and constant availability of oxygen and glucose.

Although there is inconsistent evidence that increased brain glucose metabolism is pathogenic, the consensus is that it may be a contributing factor in causing a higher than normal concentration of extracellular potassium (ionic disequilibrium), that it may produce fluctuating levels of extracellular excitatory amino acids, and that it may be responsible for localized brain seizure activity.

Similar to the detrimental effects of too little glucose (hypoglycemia), periods of too high glucose (hyperglycemia) have been shown to worsen neurologic outcomes, i.e., to aggravate any existing brain disorder. More specifically, high glucose can cause isolated seizures and situation-related syndromes, such as fever seizures and seizures due to alcohol, drugs, or complications of pregnancy. In fact, longitudinal neuroimaging studies of alcohol-dependent individuals have revealed increased brain glucose metabolism in the frontal cortex and other studies have revealed that cocaine at doses typically used by drug abusers also significantly increased brain glucose metabolism.

Scans of amphetamine users have shown a 14% increase in whole brain metabolism in abusers as compared to non-abusers. Differences were most accentuated in the parietal cortex, ­ an area of the brain that regulates sensation and coordinates information on space and spatial relations. "This finding was a complete surprise," study author Dr. Volkow says. "Most drug studies have shown decreased metabolism. The increased metabolism we saw is consistent with an inflammatory response. This result, taken together with our other findings, indicates that this is a very toxic drug." The presence of inflammation signals that there is a physical injury to the brain.

tn_reach-outWhile it is premature to conclude that cell phone use is harmful to the human brain, the concern has been around for a while and the possible correlation between electromagnetic waves and brain injuries continues to be studied. That a direct correlation of higher than normal brain activity and cell phone use has been so clearly established may however be sufficient to give many of us a reason for using text messaging and a plain old landline to reach out and touch someone.

I’m Bored: Does This Mean I’m Stressed?

aaEscher_RelativityBoredom, like pain, is an entirely subjective experience mediated by personality, needs, wants, past history and contingent upon one’s perceptions of the experience, and thus very difficult to describe with precision and quantify. The state of boredom has been variously described as a dullness of the mind, mental inertia, sloth, or ennui. Its characteristic features are a lack of interest in the ordinary and a lack of delight in the extraordinary. The forcibly approximate label of boredom often changes into something more precise when it can be examined without prejudice. Often, there’s an unpleasant or stressful feeling lurking in the shadows just behind boredom. Individual perception and the subjective assessment of a situation play a significant role, as the following little parable illustrates.

Sometime ago, in the Middle Ages, a traveler approached a group of stonecutters and asked, ‘‘What are you doing?’’ The first responded, ‘‘I’m cutting stone. It’s dull work but it pays the bills.’’ The second stonecutter said, ‘‘I’m the best stonecutter in the land. Look at the smoothness of this stone, how perfect the edges are.’’ The third man pointed to a foundation several yards away and said, ‘‘I’m building a cathedral.’’

Boredom is perhaps most vividly experienced at work, although its impact is rather more ubiquitous. When a work task (be it that of the chief executive or the firefighter) does not provide the opportunity to sufficiently use or develop one’s skills and abilities, most individuals can feel undervalued and underutilized, and therefore bored.

Boredom, Stress and Aggression

In time, boredom may result in apathy and lead to poor morale, irritation, depression, job dissatisfaction, and absenteeism. In more sustained cases, the stress of frustrated ambition, unfulfilled goals, and unmet expectations can cause reactions that degenerate into destructive behaviors. Examples of destructive coping strategies against boredom include workplace vandalism, sabotage, alcohol and drug abuse, and binge-eating habits.

Perhaps the most important source of aggression and destructiveness today is to be found in the “bored” character. Boredom, in this sense, is not due to external circumstances such as the absence of any stimulation, as in the experiments in sensory deprivation or in an isolation cell in prison. It is a subjective factor within the person, the inability to respond to things and people around him with real interest. In some respects, the bored character resembles those in chronic, neurotic depressed states. There is a lack of appetite for life, a lack of any deep interest in anything or anybody, a feeling of powerlessness and resignation; personal relations–including erotic and sexual ones–are thin and flat, and there is little joy or contentment. Yet, in contrast to the depressed, chronically bored persons do not tend to torture themselves by feelings of guilt or sin, they are not centered around their own unhappiness and suffering, and their facial expressions are very different from those of depressed persons. They have little incentive to do anything, to plan, and at most can experience thrill but no joy. To use another concept, they are extremely alienated. For these reasons it seems preferable to establish the concept of the chronically bored character as distinct from the depressed character. Milder forms of characterological boredom are usually not conscious, as long as the boredom can be compensated for by ever-changing stimuli. This seems to be the case with a large number of people in industrial society for whom the compulsive consumption of cars, sex, travel, liquor or drugs has this compensatory function, provided that the stimuli either have a strong physiological effect, like liquor and drugs, or are constantly changing: new cars, new sexual partners, new places to travel to, etc. This consumption pattern keeps people from nervous–and industry from economic–breakdowns, and precisely for this reason they are addicted to consumption. — The Theory of Aggression, written by Eric Fromm to introduce his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, first published in The New York Times Magazine, February 1972.

The Time Dimension of Boredom

lastminuteResearch studies on boredom have uncovered that easily bored individuals generally perceive time as passing very slowly, paradoxically, even when they are busy performing a task. It is not surprising to learn that institutionalized individuals, whose days are highly regulated and monotonous, say they experience time as painfully slow. Individuals suffering from depression often say in clinical interviews that they perceive a slowing of time. Cancer patients, who experience high levels of anxiety, have been found to routinely overestimate the duration of treatments and report that hours and days never seem to go by fast enough. In general terms, these studies highlight the distress felt in situations when individuals are not emotionally or cognitively engaged, which draws attention away from meaningful thoughts and actions and focuses it on the passage of time.

Is Ours the Age of Boredom?

It has been said that today’s pervasive boredom is a manifestation of cultural disenchantment. The great danger of boredom, as Fromm surmised, is that it can lead to pursuing irrational thrills in an attempt to relieve it. German philosopher Martin Heidegger, best known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the concepts of being and time, sought to explain boredom not as a subjective intrapsychic experience whose possible causes might be a matter of interest to psychology, but as a mood in which time becomes the focus of attention. Heidegger distinguished between three forms of boredom: The first, being bored by something, is the most common and easiest to understand. In the second, becoming bored with something, it is not always easy to determine what it is that is boring. The third, when nothing in particular is boring per se, is a profound, unexplainable boredom with existence itself.

In profound boredom, utter anonymity of self, wholesale meaninglessness of world, and total unrelatedness are fused together to create an existential extreme.—Martin Heidegger

Boredom, Stress and Health

Chronic boredom, and the chronic stress it provokes, are associated with undesirable health outcomes. Boredom often complicates and sometimes compromises the course and treatment of physical and mental illnesses that require extended care in treatment facilities. A recent study by McWelling identified sustained boredom as a contributor to the onset of postpsychotic mood disturbances, increased risk-taking and substance seeking behaviors, the exacerbation of positive symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations, changes in distractibility and overall cognitive efficiency, and a hypohedonic state of highly generalized lack of interest. Who said that boredom is not stressful?

How Severe Is Stress in America?

Battistero at Stresshacker.comAccording to the latest APA (American Psychological Association) survey, nearly half (42 percent) of Americans are reporting that their stress has increased, as compared to the previous year’s survey. Half of Americans say that they are increasingly stressed about their ability to provide for their family’s basic needs. Eight out of 10 say that the economy is a significant cause of stress. Women are most likely to report stress related to the current economic climate.

Frequent Symptoms

More than half of all adults report that they lay awake at night because of stress. More people report fatigue (53 percent), feelings of irritability or anger (60 percent) and lying awake at night (52 percent) as a result of stress, in addition to other symptoms including lack of interest or motivation, feeling depressed or sad, headaches and muscular tension. Other reported symptoms include changes in appetite, stomach aches, intestinal problems, nervousness, and excessive worry.

The Doctor Knows

Two-thirds (66 percent) of adults living in the U.S. have been told by a health care provider that they have one or more chronic conditions, most commonly high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The vast majority of adults indicated that a health care provider recommended lifestyle and behavior changes (70 percent).

Treatment … of Sorts

Almost one-fifth of Americans report drinking alcohol to manage their stress (18 percent), and 16 percent report smoking. Many people rely on sedentary activities to manage their stress. Forty-three percent say they eat too much or eat unhealthy foods because of stress. A third (33 percent) cited their own lack of willpower as the reason they were unsuccessful, in addition to not having enough time (20 percent) and lack of confidence (14 percent). 14 percent of adults report they are too stressed to make any changes at all.

What is Your Biggest Stressor?

What worries you the most right now? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Check out Stresshacker’s StressWise program for tips and coaching, online webinars, and downloads for making sense of stress.

Faith And Stress: The Connection

My view is that "bad" stress is handled through scripture, prayer, and faith. That is not naïve but a way to perceive the circumstances of life which would invade our peace and joy. –Doyle Kee

Hurricane at The belief in the existence of a supernatural being who has
a plan for each human being, and the opportunity to connect with others who share the same belief, can be powerful relievers of the stress of life. The psychological appeal of faith is beyond dispute: there are over 100,000 registered religions in the United States alone, and membership is constantly on the rise. An even greater number of people accept a form of personal spirituality which includes the belief in a higher being, without subscribing to any one specific movement.

Religious belief and affiliation appear to rise significantly in times of severe stress. Some of history’s most prominent, and some of the most unusual and charismatic, religious movements have arisen in times of great political, economic and societal turmoil. In times of war, widespread famine, poverty and natural disasters, and impending death and illness nearly all religious groups have seen and continue to see their appeal grow.

Sigmund Freud, in his book on The Future of an Illusion admitted, without accepting it, that faith in God could reduce psychological stress. Carl Marx famously stated, “religion is the opiate of the masses” in the introduction of his book Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. And we can certainly consider the meaning attached to faith by the 9/11 suicide bombers who went to their death (and took many with them) as a testament to the power of their religious fervor.

The Connection Between Faith and Stress

Research has shown that faith in a supernatural being, with all its corollaries and attributes, appears to be particularly effective in relieving certain specific psychological stressors. Here are the most important ones:

  • Psychological and physical escape from stress: religious organizations offer physical as well as spiritual shelters where food, clothing, and healthcare are available, along with social support, structure, and spiritual guidance.
  • Consolation, devaluation of and disassociation from the illusory trappings of the material world, and the ephemeral appeal of beauty, money, success.
  • Appealing models of resilience and positive outcomes in the face of life-threatening stressors.
  • Cognitive and dialectical techniques that are useful in coping with stressors, such as individual prayers, group rituals and collective petitions. Nearly all religious movements provide ways of giving voice to individual and collective distress, including the fast-growing Internet-based churches.
  • Explaining the inexplicable: in a world that seems ruled by chaos and administered by randomness, faith in a superiorly organized universe is an appealing provider of stability. By prayer, penance, code, dietary laws, rituals, or positive thinking, faith-based movements promote a sense of personal control.
  • A meaning to life and to life’s end. Faith can promote a hopeful and optimistic outlook with its emphasis on a more peaceful (and stress-free) existence and its promise of life after death.
  • A refuge from aloneness and abandonment. The profoundly comforting sense of belonging to a community of mutual love and support, and the incomparable feeling of being loved unconditionally by someone who epitomizes love and trust are perhaps the most appealing attributes of faith.

As an intensely personal experience, faith remains beyond the investigation by scientific means. In psychological terms, faith can positively influence us in cognitive and emotional terms, in the way we come to perceive ourselves, our world, and our future. When embraced sincerely and whole-heartedly, it can become an important protective factor against the effects of stress in our lives.

Stressful Age: Good News/Bad News For Boomers

Tiepolo at First the good news. A study based on the 2008 Gallup poll of 340,000 Americans has identified 50 as the age when people begin to feel better about themselves. Prior to that age, people generally feel progressively worse from age 18. The study was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Following the sharp reversal at about age 50, most people report better self-satisfaction at increasing levels up to age 85.

Now for the bad news. According to the latest figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among people age 45-54 years has increased at a surprising pace since 2006. Typically, individuals aged ≥80 years have had the highest rates of suicide in the United States. Since 2006, however, rates of suicide among persons aged 45 to 54 years in the United States have been the highest. The majority of suicides in this age group were among white, non-Hispanic males.

The CDC speculates that problems related to mental health (depression), job loss, financial reversal (foreclosure, loss of investment value), or relationships (divorce, bereavement) might be contributing to the rising rates of suicide in this age group. Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs was a frequent precipitant or “facilitating” factor for the suicide.

Brothers, fathers, friends in this age group who may be feeling overwhelmed and have had a recent significant stressor may be at risk. Suicide crisis hotlines (in the United States: 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255) are available as a first line of defense. Among the best protective factors is the availability of support from immediate family and close friends.

eClass 4: Best and Worst Food For Stress

Italy_Tuscany2 How, when, and what we eat tells a lot about who we are. It also says a lot about how well we handle our stress reaction. Food can help or hurt our coping abilities and thus make a difference in how well we respond to stressors.

Food intake is one of the critical factors ensuring adequate growth and development in all species. Just ask my puppy dog where food ranks on his daily list of priorities! In particular, brain development is sensitive to specific nutrient intake such as proteins and fats, which are important for cell membrane formation and myelinization.

A surprising amount of the stress we may experience on a daily basis can be caused by the chemicals we consume in our food. By eating, drinking or inhaling certain substances we can put our bodies under elevated chemical stress. Similarly, if we are eating an unbalanced diet we may be stressing our bodies by depriving them of essential nutrients.

Eating too much of certain high-calorie foods for a long period is a leading cause of obesity. How much food is consumed as a stress reliever? Gaining too much weight puts our heart and lungs under stress, overloads our organs and reduces stamina. It may also significantly shorten our lives.

Stress reactions are a pervasive factor in everyday life that can critically affect our development and functioning. Severe and prolonged exposure to stressors can have a negative effect on our balance mechanisms.

Let’s look at some of the most important effects of food on our psychological state right after the jump.

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Learning From Stress: The Locus of Control

Dali_1954_PiramidesWhen it comes to handling stressors and managing the stress reaction, are you an internal or an external?

Our response to a stressor can be classified in many ways, but when it comes to our interpretation of its impact on our capabilities and resources we fall along a continuum from internal (“I feel I can handle this”) to external (“I can’t handle this by myself”) locus of control.

On one side of the continuum are individuals who feel capable of taking personal responsibility and are therefore inclined to believe that success or failure in handling the stressor can be found primarily within their own resources, i.e. their locus of control is internal. At the other end of the continuum are individuals who do not feel capable of assuming responsibility over the stressful situation and are therefore more inclined to believe that success or failure in handling the stressor hinges on luck, chance, or help from others; their locus of control is external. What are the implications of locus of control? Read more after the jump.

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Stress: The Misunderstood Messenger

Stress has a bad reputation. It is largely undeserved. Stress itself is not the problem. The stressor (of which stress reaction is the messenger) is the problem. Moreover, there is more than one kind of stress: the good stress that motivates and the unmanaged stress that damages.

Unmanaged stress is generally understood as a bad outcome, a mental disorder from which we suffer either in acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) form. However, we believe that all stress is bad and pathological because that’s what we are being told over and over.

Many times a stressor takes us by surprise. But many more times we can see it coming, we can expect it to happen, we can see the warning signs. Too often the warning signs are ignored or, worse, are turned off so that they won’t bother us anymore. Many choose to turn them off by

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