Cellphones and brain tumours

October 6, 2022

News report the other day that chronic use of cell phones may be associated with brain tumour should be taken exactly as a warning that it is, rather than waved aside as yet another undue alarm. Bearing in mind that there is hardly a positive phenomenon devoid of a negative side, this warning is not the first of its kind, and will likely not be the last, so long as human beings continue to employ technology in foraging life. What is required more than anything else is the consciousness of the danger and subsequently adopting moderation wherever possible. After all, the world communicated effectively long before the advent of cell phones, and with less hazards.

In this age of Internet of all things (IoT)—when technology has penetrated all spheres from the physical to the intangible—a nagging fear of technology persists. This fear is not new as every technological feat throughout history has evoked a mixed emotion of awe and fear.

Mitchell Stephens, in The rise of the Image, the fall of the word documents, fears of new technologies through the ages, from Socrates to modern thinkers and scientists. Socrates, for example, criticised the invention of writing as it would produce forgetfulness and only a semblance of wisdom, but not truth or real judgement. His disciple, Plato agreed with him noting that writing was a step backward for truth.

After the commercial success of the Gutenberg movable type in 1458, a Monk said, “printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices because scribes display more diligence and industry than printers.”

Even Graham Bell’s invention, the telephone, was attacked by the New York Times editorial in 1877 for its blatant invasion of privacy. Likewise, the telegraph as a new technology was criticised by The Spectator in 1889 for its “Constant diffusion of statements in snippets.” This appears to be a long shot criticism of modern-day Twitter.

It is within this context that the debate about the safety or otherwise of the cell phone technology can be situated. In a story, Chronic use of cell phones for 10 years may increase brain tumour (The Guardian, July18), the possible link between cell phone use and brain tumour was highlighted. We hold that this goes beyond the morbid fear of technology to a health emergency and should be so viewed, and caution applied.

According to the story, a neurosurgeon, Dr Edward Jolayemi said the cause of brain tumour was still largely unknown, but chronic use of phones for 10 years may be linked to it. He was speaking at an event to mark the World Brain Tumour Day. He listed other risk factors of brain tumour to include family history, exposure to ionizing radiation, certain chemicals and viruses. “There have been studies to define the association of brain tumours with the use of cell phones, but no convincing data has emanated. However, there is the suggestion that chronic use of cell phones for at least 10 years may increase the risk.” Jolayemi averred.

Symptoms of brain tumour include acute or persistent headache, vomiting, seizure in adults, worsening eye sight, hearing loss, milky nipple discharge, unsteadiness of gait, weakness or heaviness of a limb or any other body part, altered consciousness, among others, according to the Neurosurgeon. A health condition with these possible consequences deserves major attention.

The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) became popular in Nigeria in 2001. This means that many Nigerians have been using the technology for more than 20 years and therefore, should be curious about the possible effects. The cellphone technology has revolutionised social lives and redefined most spheres of endeavour. The disruption to social interaction is most notable. In one breath it has enhanced communication across geography and boundaries and at the same time has placed a significant distance within the family setting. A family could be in the same location and fail to interact because each member can be busy interacting with the cell phones.

But the health implication of cell phone use is of greater concern. The jury is still out on the direct link between cell phone use and brain tumour but users must exercise caution. Responsible use of the cellphone includes avoiding the use of cell phones while driving. Apart from being against the law, it constitutes danger to both the user and other road users and has been known to cause distraction that sometimes leads to fatal consequences. Cellphones are not to be used in dangerous places like filling stations and generator houses. A reduction in the number of hours used in telephoning should be a deliberate personal policy.

More research is needed to link cellphone use to brain tumour, or possibly any other ailment; but users cannot be too careful in the meantime. The call for caution goes beyond the fear of new technologies, but a vote for healthy living in this era of the explosion of information and communication technologies. Technological advancements have both positive and negative consequences on society. The cellphone may just be a deadly weapon in the long run depending on the uses to which it is put.

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