Do cell phones cause cancer? As with any type of science looking at this type of issue, it’s going to take decades to come to a definitive conclusion. Meanwhile, though, more and more studies are painting a picture suggesting that cell phone radiation is not completely safe and could very well be carcinogenic.
I don’t know about you, but I’m practicing the precautionary principle, making simple tweaks in my cell phone use today while scientists continue to study the effects this type of non-ionizing radiation has on our bodies.
Remember, people once thought smoking was safe. Today, are we risking good health by using our smartphones in not so smart ways?
The Cell Phone–Cancer Link
The “do cell phones cause cancer” debate is still not settled and will likely take years to play out. Here’s what we do know, though:
- Cell phone radiation is radiofrequency energy and a type of electromagnetic radiation classified as non-ionizing radiation, similar to harmful microwaves and radar.
- Ionizing radiation is known to cause cancer and includes things like X-rays and radon. (1)
The latest evidence suggesting wireless radiation poses a huge public health risk comes from partially released data from a large, $25 million well-designed U.S. National Toxicology Program study. Researchers found exposure to very high signal cell phone radiation led to a slightly increased risk of malignant gliomas in the brain and schwannomas of the heart in male rats. Schwannomas are tumors that form in the nerve sheath. (2)
Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, called this latest study “good science” and added:
The NTP report linking radiofrequency radiation (RFR) to two types of cancer marks a paradigm shift in our understanding of radiation and cancer risk. The findings are unexpected; we wouldn’t reasonably expect non-ionizing radiation to cause these tumors. This is a striking example of why serious study is so important in evaluating cancer risk. It’s interesting to note that early studies on the link between lung cancer and smoking had similar resistance, since theoretical arguments at the time suggested that there could not be a link. (3)
The study found a dose-response effect. That means the higher the dose, the higher the risk. The results backed up previous research suggesting cell phone radiation could increase the risk of gliomas. Acoustic neuromas have also been linked to cell phone use.
In 2011, the World Health Organization listed cell phone radiation as a 2B carcinogen, meaning it’s possibly carcinogenic to humans. Since cell phones have only been in wide use since the 1990s, epidemiological studies looking for long-term risks from cell phone exposure could be missing certain threats that may not be surfacing in humans yet. (4)
Studies looking at cell phone radiation exposure and tumors and other health problems show mixed results, including:
- Swedish researchers found a higher risk for tumors on the side of the head where the cell phone was held, particularly with 10 or more years of use.
- Most other studies find that brain tumors do not more often originate on the side of the head where people reported using their cell phones.
- Most studies do not show a “dose-response relationship,” meaning increased cell phone use doesn’t seem to increase the risk of brain tumors.
- Those who begin using cell phones as teenagers have a four to five times higher chance of being diagnosed with brain cancer.
- Sperm die three times faster and experience triple the damage to mitochondrial DNA compared to sperm from men who are not exposed to cell phone radiation. (5, 6)
The Environmental Health Trust notes that many studies that do not show an increased risk of tumors are shorter studies of five or seven years. In reality, the organization says, it can take up to 10 years for brain tumors to develop.
Common Sense Ways to Protect Yourself from Cell Phone Radiation
Did you know that nomophobia, the fear of being without your cell phone, is a real thing? With more than 300 million cell phones subscribers in the U.S. — and millions of people afraid to have their phones out of sight — it’s clear we could be on the cusp of a major public health crisis if the latest link between cell phones and cancer pans out.
It’s best if we all reduce our exposure to wireless radiation, but for kids, it’s a must. Developing children’s skulls are thinner, and radiation has been shown to penetrate deeper. (9)
Final Thoughts: Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?
Emerging independent studies suggest cell phone radiation could increase your risk of certain cancers, including malignant gliomas in the brain and schwannomas of the heart. People having only been heavily using cell phones since the ’90s, so there’s still no definitive proof they cause cancer. (Or that they don’t.)
Still, it took decades to prove cigarette smoking caused lung cancer. Since there is evidence cell phones impair sleep and glucose metabolism and increase your risk of cancer, I suggest using the precautionary principle. Take simple steps to keep your phone further away from your body.
This means keeping it out of your bedroom when you sleep, texting while holding your phone further away from your body rather than holding it by your ear to talk, and turning it off or putting it in airplane mode when you’re driving, flying or on an elevator. Be sure to avoid cordless phones, too. They also emit dangerous radiation like cell phones.