Objectives: Occupational or residential exposures to radio-frequency energy (RFE), including microwaves, have been alleged to result in health problems. A review of recent epidemiological studies and studies of humans as subjects in laboratory investigations would be useful.
Methods: This paper is a narrative review of the recent medical and scientific literature (from mid-1998 through early 2006) dealing with possible effects of RFE on humans, relating to topics other than cancer, tumors, and central nervous system effects (areas covered in a previous review). Subject areas in this review include effects on cardiovascular, reproductive, and immune systems.
Results: A large number of studies were related to exposures from cellular telephones. Although both positive and negative findings were reported in some studies, in a majority of instances no significant health effects were found. Most studies had some methodological limitations. Although some cardiovascular effects due to RFE were reported in epidemiological studies (e.g., lower 24-h heart rate, blunted circadian rhythm of heart rate), there were no major effects on a large number of cardiovascular parameters in laboratory studies of volunteers during exposure to cell-phone RFE. In population-based studies of a wide range of RFE frequencies, findings were equivocal for effects on birth defects, fertility, neuroblastoma in offspring, and reproductive hormones. Some changes in immunoglobulin levels and in peripheral blood lymphocytes were reported in different studies of radar and radio/television-transmission workers. Due to variations in results and difficulties in comparing presumably exposed subjects with controls, however, it is difficult to propose a unifying hypothesis of immune-system effects. Although subjective symptoms may be produced in some sensitive individuals exposed to RFE, there were no straightforward differences in such symptoms between exposed and control subjects in most epidemiological and laboratory studies. Consistent, strong associations were not found for RFE exposure and adverse health effects. The majority of changes relating to each of the diseases or conditions were small and not significant.
Conclusions: On the basis of previous reviews of older literature and the current review of recent literature, there is only weak evidence for a relationship between RFE and any endpoint studied (related to the topics above), thus providing at present no sufficient foundation for establishing RFE as a health hazard.