Dr Weeks’ Comment: I have been discouraging people from using portable DECT phones which put out so many radio waves that it is like having a radio tower in your home. I see big problems with patients who have DECT portable phones beside their beds so that they get blasted all night long! Trouble sleeping?
Cordless Phones May Be As Risky As Cell Phones… But We Just Don’t Know
Did you know that your cordless phone may emit the same worrisome radiation as your cell phone? This is particularly so if you have a relatively new cordless phone… and it’s a particular concern if that phone sits near your bed or anywhere else you spend long hours every day.
You may recall the story I wrote a few months ago about the Pittsburgh oncologist who sent a memo warning his friends, family and associates about the potential dangers of cell phone use (see Daily Health News, November 10, 2008). His cautionary comments were the first I had heard about a problem with cordless phones, and I promised to follow up with a report. Well, I did my research… and found that digital cordless phones can emit large amounts of radiofrequency (RF) energy — that may be equal to or greater than cell phones — even when they’re not being used. Since many people keep such phones at their bedside in addition to using them for extended conversations with family and friends, the long-term exposure has the potential to add up to dangerous amounts.
CONGRESSIONAL TESTIMONY ON CELL PHONE DANGER
In fact, Ronald Herberman, MD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), testified on this topic before a Congressional subcommittee on September 25, 2008, calling for more research: “Many of my colleagues at UPCI, Rutgers University, University of California, San Francisco and a number of senior faculty at MD Anderson Cancer Institute are joining with me in calling for an independent scientific investigation, avoiding as many of the limitations of the prior studies as possible, to determine if long-term, frequent use of cell phones and cordless phones increases brain tumor risk.”
In contrast to the many research studies performed on cell phones, there is a paucity of comparable information on cordless phones. What we do know is that Lennart Hardell, MD, PhD, in Sweden recently did a new study on cordless phone users, in addition to others he’d previously conducted on cell phones. For both types of phones, his research points to a significant increase in risk for brain tumors among people using them frequently for longer than 10 years.
It’s important to note that the original cordless phones sold in the 1990s operated at a frequency of 900 mHz, whereas newer models operate at a more hazardous higher frequency. Unfortunately cordless phones haven’t been subject to the same kind of scrutiny to determine the extent of absorption of the radiation into the brain that’s been done for cell phones — in fact, to date this appears to be the only such study of brain tumor risks by long-term users of cordless phones. It’s clear that more research to determine the intensity of radiation of cordless phones and how much gets absorbed into the brain is sorely needed. You don’t have to throw out your phone (though I actually did replace mine with an old-fashioned wall phone with a long cord), but it is reasonable to take the following safety precautions:
- Keep your cordless phone plugged into a jack that is away from general household traffic, avoiding especially the kitchen counter and anywhere near the head of a bed. This is important because most cordless phones constantly broadcast, even when they’re not being used.
- Be aware that both the handset and the base can emit radiofrequency energy — it’s how they communicate to one another, with the base then transferring the signals over the system. Keep your handset on the base when not in use.
- Don’t let young children talk on your cordless phone. A key finding from research done on cell phones is that the radiation is absorbed more deeply into the brains of children. This is likely to also be the case for cordless phones, which means the danger to the developing brain is likely greater than for adults. Install corded phones for children to use.
- Minimize the use of cordless phones even by adults.
- Whenever possible, if you are on the cordless phone, use the speaker mode. It’s also a good idea to purchase and use a headset, as they are believed to be safer.
CALL FOR MORE RESEARCH
As is also true of cell phones, it is important to note that this research is neither conclusive nor infallible. There are studies that conflict with these, finding no dangers from cell phones at all — although few of these have looked at long-term use (more than 10 years). As mentioned above, there is little data at all evaluating health risks related to cordless phone use. According to Dr. Herberman, scientists are trying to call attention to these issues in order to discuss what we do and do not know about these phones, and to alert the public to the lack of safety data. In addition, he wants to raise awareness — collectively and individually — about the many hours we now spend talking on our cell and cordless phones, so we can take simple precautions to minimize the risk of harm while more data are collected. You can read more on this subject at http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=2199, where you will find a link to Dr. Herberman’s testimony along with a list of his precautionary guidelines calling for safer use of cordless and cell phones.
Ronald B. Herberman, MD, founding director, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh.