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How radiation can cause cancer
Nigeria Created: 25 Jan 2011
Human beings are prone to many dangers - Among them is radiation. There are various types of radiation. Virtually, all of them are capable of causing cancer. For example, microwave ovens can cause cancer when man is exposed to it.

According to a Senior Lecturer and Consultant Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Biology and Radiotherapy, College of Medicine, University of Lagos (CMUL), Idi-Araba, Lagos, Dr Moses Aweda, "Our recent study shows that microwave radiation produces more than heat. The effect of microwave radiation with the matter that it is made of, for use in domestic microwave oven is for heating effect, but our recent study shows that microwave radiation produces more than heating effect.

Interaction is the baseline. For instance, in what we call polar molecule such as water, when it interacts with microwave radiation it produces hydrolysis. That is, breaking down or decomposition of water. The result of this is the production of some radicals. Radicals are chemical species that are very reactive. Examples of such radicals are electron, hydroxyl radical, perorxl radical and super – orxyl radical.

"These products are very toxic to living cells and they can cause damage modification or mutation of vital components of the cell called the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA as a molecule is complex, a giant molecule in the cell. It is found in the nucleic of the cell. The molecule is responsible for the survival of the cell and also for replication. And so when they are apart by this molecular specie, the radical, they can cause a mutation or modification and modification of DNA by consequence, denatured its cell. That is, it changes the nature of its cell, i.e., certain component of the cell.

"Talking about the cell phones, the type of radiation used for the cell phone, are called radio waves, but part of this radio wave overlaps with microwave. So, as a result of that, it means that the radiation from the cell phone also has the potential of causing cancer. And, of cause, another type of radiation is from the transmitting antenna for telecommunications especially GSM. For radio and television antenna the frequency is a little bit lower, but they can cause cancer."

The Consultant Medical Physicist said there had been some instances of people dwelling close to transmitting stations complaining of health hazards. "Some complain of pains, headaches and general weakness and anaemia. Before now, those who argue that this radiation does not produce hazardous effect are saying so because of their ignorance. Now what is known to be associated to this radiation is the heating effect, the ability to generate heat whenever they interact with biology tissues. Our research for the past few years, that is, five to six years have demonstrated that this radiation produces more than heating effect. So, the ability to cause cancer is as a result of the radical that is generated, when someone is exposed to radiation.

"But coming back to the example of microwave oven radiation, we are not directly exposed to it, so the problem really lied in what is consumed. For food which was prepared by microwave radiation, eaters are likely to consume these radicals generated during the cooking. I am not aware of the studies that have been done to quantify the production of these radicals in food, but if they are produced in experimental animals as we observed, surely they will also be produced in food that contains water or any other polar molecule. So, that is the danger associated with microwave oven and microwave radiation generally," said Aweda.

How did the study start? The senior lecturer explained: "It was done with one of my PhD students. Actually, we were to work on another type of radiation but we had some technical problems and we had to change to microwave radiation. The PhD student was to study the effecst and he got some animals to study. We started from scratch. He exposed the animals to microwave radiation. The attempt was to expose them to some amount of radiation and see what quantity will be sufficient to produce measurable effect in the animals.

"As soon as he did that, he had an emergency call and had to travel to Bayelsa State and gave money to the messenger at the department to buy food and water which were given to the animals. They were kept in a room and at about three weeks later, after I had finished giving lecture and was about to wash my hands in the room where the animals were kept, I observed the animals and they have all come down with cancer. They were already losing hair and you could see directly that they had developed cancer. Five days later they died of tumour strangulation. They were strangled by tumour growth. So, since then I have been interested in the final details which is the refined study, and that was the time the GSM was coming to the country. So that gave me that keen interest to make a closer study.

"When the student came back, he could not remember that radiation again. I tasked him. He conducted his research work, and knew it was from it that he discovered that the radiation produced more than heating effect. So, we measure some medical parameters, especially those chemicals that I have mentioned and then we confirmed they were really there. Indeed, we made attempts to further confirm, if radicals produce among other things stress, weakness etc, we tried as part of the experiment, to introduce vitamins, alsacophorun and ascorbic acid. Those vitamins, E and C, which are vitamins that scavenge, that negate the effects of these radicals. And so we found a clear difference in the animals exposed to the radiation administered with vitamins and those that were not administered with vitamins. That confirmed to us truly that, just as other chemical analyses discovered that these chemical tissues were produced, the administration of vitamins bring down concentration."

He went on: "Some four years ago, I had another PhD student from another university who wanted to work with me and we decided to continue our study in that area. What we did, was with the background story I gave earlier. The radiation causes tumour in animals. We wanted to do a fine study. We know that radiation coming from GSM is usually very low, but low, yes, how low? How do we define low? Are they low to the extent of not being able to produce health hazards. So, we embarked on another research and we decided to go very low in the quantity of radiation we administered on animals because when you want to determine how much is sufficient, you have to study a wide range of the amount of radiation. The quantity of the radiation we expected at Specific Absorption Ratio (SAR) is value lower than the regulated values by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

"Some of the results of the research are already published in local and international journals. The first phase of the study was to see whether it will affect the behavior and we found that the exposure to this radiation affected the behaviour in animals. They became more fearful. The paper that came out from that was entitled: Anxiolytic and explorative behavioural effects of exposure to microwave radiation. The second thing we did was to study effects on reproductive system, and we found that it also affects the reproductive system negatively. So, it affects the sperm count in male, it affects motility and mobility of sperm cell. The third aspect of the study was histopathological. That is, it affects the tissues because it modifies the structure of the tissues. What is more related is to our focus, which is cancer, is that we studied the effect on the relevant component of the cell. That is on the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that I mentioned and other important components of the cell.

"Here we do not have the facilities for the study. But fortunately, while we were contemplating on how to get it done, the student carrying out the research had a scholarship for three years, but eventually one year was used out of the three because we had gone far in the study. Now the laboratory to host the candidate abroad complained that they do not have our kind of animal for the study. So, what we did was to expose the animal and then extract the DNA under a suitable condition and it was transported. And on getting there, the professor over there was entertaining fear on what we said we were doing. He doubted whether we were not wasting our time because the value we used was very low. Now it happened that the interaction leading to the radicals I mentioned earlier are associated with x-ray and gamma ray, both are alike except that they are of different origin. They behave and interact the same way. They have the same effect when they have the same energy. So, nobody would ever think that microwave radiation would produce. So, it was a surprise to us. By the time the student conducted the research work, study the DNA over there, we got the result. The professor was so surprised that we could get such a result.

"So, to my amazement too, micro wave’s radiation of as low as 0.48 milli watts per centimetre square (SAR) was able to produce such a damage to DNA. The damage to the DNA is a confirmation that it can produce cancer, but then the question is, in man for how long? What date after exposure to observe it is cancerous? These are the questions that I cannot answer, but I know it depends on how much of radiation someone has taken, but after it was taken, how would take to the experience is what I may not be able to say and that may vary from one person to another."

And for the health conscious person, how does one avoid being victim?

Dr Aweda answered: "The way forward is to be mindful or conscious of these facts that I have mentioned. The most popular out of radiation generating devices is the hand set. We should be conscious of this, though we cannot advocate that people do away with it, because it is of vital economic value/ importance. It is life-saving and is very fast and interesting. It prevents a lot of time wasting.

It is an effective way of communication. But then associated with this is the problem with the radiation emanating from it. So the advice that I will give is that we spend minimum possible time on phone and if it is possible make more use of SMS (text). And if we use it often, like those doing business, they should make use of hands free devices. For those who are still within the age of reproduction, they should make effort to keep it away from the groins. That is, the reproductive system (waist line area).

"Again, the microwave oven is interesting because it is a fast method of cooking or warming edibles, especially in developed or metropolitan cities with busy people, who will go to work early in the morning, come back late in the night. Now we need to be conscious of this and probably limit the quantity of food we consume prepared using microwave. I have no statistical figure, concerning this because to my knowledge no study had been carried out on using microwave oven. Most people who use microwave ovens are ignorant of this fact. But they need to be courteous henceforth.

"As for radiation coming from the mast, we have existing regulation. But people are not keeping to it. I think they need to be aware of that. Some of this telecommunications companies go from place to place erecting their masts and giving some money to the landlords. The Level of poverty in the country is one major factor why this is common. The landlords are ignorant of the consequences of the radiation on them. Our people should be aware of this and resist the temptation to allow the telecommunication companies to erect masts close to their residential areas and areas where people stay for long. The government should enforce the existing regulations. It should be very strict in its enforcement."
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Source: The Nation, WALE ADEPOJU, 25 Jan 2011

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