Do Cell Phones cause Cancer? Unveiling the Truth

The question of whether cell phones cause cancer has been a topic of concern and research for many years. However, the scientific consensus is that there is no clear evidence to suggest that cell phones directly cause cancer in humans.

But this has not stopped the rumor-mill from continuing to propagate the notion that cell hones cause cancer. Every other day, someone still publishes an article or posts a Facebook update to warn mobile users about how their mobile devices pose a cancer risk to them.

Do cell phones cause cancer?
Do cell phones cause cancer?

The electromagnetic frequency angle

All cell phones – be they humble dumb phones, feature phones, smart feature phones, or smartphones – emit radio-frequency electromagnetic energy. Your television and radio sets do, too. Tissues nearest to where the phone is held (namely, your ear, jaw, and brain) can absorb this energy, and some say that this may affect those tissues, including the brain and cause cancer.

Some think that these radio waves are capable of causing cancer. However, these electromagnetic emissions are considered non-ionizing radiation, meaning they do not have enough energy to break chemical bonds and directly damage DNA, which is typically associated with ionizing radiation (e.g., X-rays and gamma rays).

There are two types of electromagnetic radiation: ionizing (e.g., radiation therapy, x-rays, gamma rays) and non-ionizing (e.g., radio-frequency waves from wireless sets, walkie-talkies, cell phones, TV sets, radio sets, and microwave ovens).

Ionizing radiation is the dangerous type of electromagnetic waves. It has been shown to increase the risk of cancer. Non-ionizing radiation (including microwave ovens and cell phones) is safe, which is why it is used in all sorts of domestic and personal gadgets.

Numerous studies and reviews have been conducted to investigate the potential link between cell phone use and cancer, particularly brain tumors. The majority of well-conducted studies have not shown a consistent and significant indication that cell phones cause cancer or are even a risk factor.

Conflicting results from studies

Some studies, however, reported conflicting results, and research in this area is ongoing. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B) based on limited evidence of an increased risk of glioma, a type of brain cancer, associated with cell phone use.

To address potential health concerns, several organizations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), set limits on the specific absorption rate (SAR) of cell phones. SAR measures the amount of radiofrequency energy absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone. Cell phone manufacturers are required to ensure that their devices comply with these SAR limits.

In other words, the amount of electromagnetic energy emitted by your cell phone is so low that it isn’t capable of hurting you. This is true for cell phones that are manufactured under proper, strict standards and supervision. Nameless phones from certain countries where standards are not enforced may exceed these SAR limits and expose you to more than usual levels of electromagnetic fields.

What the World Health Organisation says

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” However, it is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the potential risks and that the majority of studies have not found a definitive link between cell phone use and cancer.

What to do if you have concerns that cell phones cause cancer

While the current evidence suggests that the risk that cell phones cause cancer is low and highly unlikely, ongoing research and long-term studies are essential to further assess any potential health risks associated with prolonged cell phone use.

In the meantime, if you have concerns about cell phone radiation, you can take precautions such as using hands-free options (e.g., speakerphone, Bluetooth headset, or wired earphones) and reducing the amount of time spent on lengthy calls. Doing this puts some distance between your head and your mobile device during telephone calls.

Here are some studies (with links) conducted to investigate the question of whether cell phones cause cancer or not.

A study published in the International Journal of Oncology in 2018 found that exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) generated by cell phones can cause DNA damage and increase the risk of cancer. The study was conducted on rats and found that exposure to RF-EMF led to an increase in malignant tumors in the rats. (source: International Journal of Oncology)

Study refuting the idea that cell phones cause cancer

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2011 found no link between cell phone use and brain tumors. The study was conducted on over 350,000 Danish citizens and found no increase in the risk of brain tumors among cell phone users compared to non-users. (source: Journal of the National Cancer Institute)

A study published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2019 found that long-term use of cell phones can increase the risk of glioma, a type of brain cancer. The study was conducted on over 400,000 adults in the UK and found that those who had used cell phones for more than 15 years had a higher risk of glioma than those who had used cell phones for less than 5 years. (source: International Journal of Cancer)