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How long it takes a cell phone to triple your brain cancer risk

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

"Intensive" cell phone use and brain cancer

Flat tires, missed connections and last-minute work emails are all "emergencies" that have been downgraded to inconveniences, thanks to cell phones. And they are pretty amazing — almost no one leaves home without one anymore. Yet these miraculous devices may be causing some emergencies themselves, with our health. A new study from the University of Bordeaux found that talking on your cell phone more than 15 hours a month triples your risk of a brain tumor.

People in park on smartphones

Photo credit: Mint Images - Tim Robbins/Mint Images RF/Getty Images

Fifteen hours a month isn't much, when you think about it. I probably spend that much on Candy Crush alone (shhhh!). Add in phone calls, work emails, Facebook notifications and that book I'm reading on my phone because I'm too lazy to carry my Kindle and I'm definitely in the "intensive" category of phone users. And looking around at my friends, I'm definitely not alone.

Whether it's using our phones to play music, entertain a toddler, find a restaurant or call home (hint: You should probably call your mom), many of us have come to rely on our cells for everything. Besides, I don't even own a regular home phone anymore.

All this convenience may come at a price. Previous studies have found that overusing cell phones is bad for our posture, our walking, our sleep cycles and our sex lives. But "texter's thumb" is one thing; brain cancer is entirely another. The link between talking on your cell phone use and brain cancer has always been rather tenuous with it falling more under myth than science but this French study says perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss it.

To examine this issue, the researchers studied 253 cases of glioma and 194 cases of meningioma reported in four French cancer departments between 2004 and 2006. These patients were compared with 892 healthy individuals drawn from the general population. They found that the risk for cancer among those who used their phone intensively was three times higher than those who used it the least.

In addition, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Cancer Research has classified electromagnetic waves, including the type emitted by cell phones, as possible carcinogens.

So what's a busy woman who forgets any event not typed into her phone's calendar (just me?) supposed to do with this information? European politicians are already calling for legislative reform, particularly when it comes to kids using cell phones. In addition they want more research to be done. In the meantime most of us will likely keep playing Angry Birds while we wait for the technology to catch up to our health issues. While I'm sure it would be better for me to ditch my phone — and not just in regards to brain cancer — it just doesn't seem like an option these days. Tin foil helmet anyone?

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