Can mobiles cause cancer?
Mobile phones hit the headlines again this week as a US cancer researcher recommended that staff should limit their use of their phones because of the potential cancer risk. It’s a controversial issue that has been fuelled by constant see-sawing media stories about studies that find a link and others that do not.
Let’s take a look at what we already know about mobile phones and cancer.
The bigger picture
The main issue is that there is still no strong evidence to suggest that mobile phones pose a cancer risk.
Their use has skyrocketed since the 1980s but during this time, the numbers of people with brain cancer has not changed very much.
Several studies have directly looked at the risk of cancer in mobile phone users, and overall, the evidence from these suggests that mobile phones do not cause any type of cancer, including brain cancers and leukaemia.
The largest study so far, which looked at over 420,000 people, found that even people who had used mobiles for 10 years did not have increased risks.
While some studies have linked mobile phones to cancer, almost all of these have come from a minority of research groups, whose methods have been criticised by other scientists, not least for the practice of publishing the results of the same study in multiple journals. Recently, the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority concluded that “bias and chance are the most likely explanations for their findings.”
A few studies have found that people with brain cancer are more likely to develop the disease on the side of the head that they hold their phone to, even though overall, they found no link between phone use and cancer. That’s a puzzling result and it’s most likely down to chance or inaccuracies. If phones were really increasing the risk of brain cancer on one side of the head, you would still expect to see this danger reflected in the overall result.
The problem is that many of these studies ask people with cancer to remember how they used their phones, often many years ago. Their memories may be biased if they had previously heard about a connection between phones and cancer in the media.
And most importantly, so far no one has been able to consistently agree on how mobile phones could cause cancer, and that’s been a big blow for the argument that they pose a risk. Sure, the phone gives off microwave radiation, but it has millions of times less energy than, say, an X-ray and is not powerful enough to damage our DNA. Nor is the heating effect of this radiation large enough to affect our bodies. Other suggestions have been put forward, but none are backed by consistent evidence.
The bottom line
Recently, a report from the Mobile Telecommunications & Health Research Programme, which looked at all the available evidence, came to the same conclusions. It said that:
- Mobile phones aren’t linked to any negative health effects.
- Short-term mobile phone use does not cause brain cancer, and does not affect brain function.
- There is no evidence that the symptoms experienced by people who suffer from ‘electrical hypersensitivity’ are the result of exposure to mobiles or base stations.
- There is no evidence that mobiles could affect our cells beyond heating them.
- The effects of exposures of 10 years or more is unclear and deserves more research.
The last point is a valid one. Mobile phones are still a young technology. Studies suggest that using them for 10 years or less is safe, but only further research can tell us about longer-term effects.
For the moment, the only health risk that has been conclusively linked to mobile phones is a higher risk of driving accidents. People who use mobile phones while driving, even with a hands-free kit, are easily distracted and are four times more likely to be involved in an accident.
UPDATE: It has come to our attention that our main website mentions precautions that people can take if they are concerned about mobile phones, while this blog post does not. In light of that, here’s what we say over on our main Healthy Living site, for people who want to take action while new research is being carried out.
“Until we get a conclusive answer, the Government recommends that people take precautions. It advises mobile phone users to keep their call times short. And children under the age of 16 should only use mobile phones for essential calls, because their head and nervous systems may still be developing. You can read the Government recommendations in full at the Department of Health website.”
Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?
December 10, 2016
Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016
|Fig. 1: Thermographic images of the head before (top) and after(bottom) cell phone use posted at Wikimedia Commons. It was accompanied by no citations or source references, no explanation of the colors, and no evidence of alleged negative health affects. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
The evolution of mobile devices over the past decade has transformed the millennial generation. Walking down the streets, driving cars, shopping for groceries, in class, and in all other facets of everyday life, cell phones seem to be central. Nonetheless, the question of how cell phone use might relate to cancer has become a much-debated topic of recent years, with multiple theories stating that there is a direct correlation as well as arguments against this theory that state the signals being emitted are too low to form the carcinogenic cells. 
This paper aims to argue and conclude that after research of statistics, case studies, laboratory studies, and the physics behind cell phones, I see no persuasive evidence that cell phones have a direct correlation to the development of cancer-causing cells.
The particular reason cell phones have even been talked about as cancer causing is due to the type of radiation it emits; this radiation is called electromagnetic radiation, which also is divided into two types: non-ionizing and ionizing. An example of ionizing radiation is an X-ray, while non-ionizing waves are radio frequency waves, such as cell phones.
Radiofrequency waves produce a low amount of frequency, while ionizing waves emit a high frequency and high energy. The human body does in fact absorb this energy from both of these waves when exposed to it, but it is in the way of heating.  When a user puts his or her phone to their ear, the radiation waves emitted heat the skin tissue. In order to form these brain tumors or cancer cells, the heating of the tissue from these radiofrequency waves would have to break down one's DNA and cause mutations from the intense exposure from the electro magnetic radiation of cell phones. Studies, suggested and analyzed below, show that cell phones emit too low of these waves to have a harmful impact on the tissues to the point where either malignant or benign cancerous tumors or cells would form. 
In order to form these brain tumors or cancer cells, the "heating" of the tissue from these radiofrequency waves would have to break down one's DNA and cause mutations from the intense exposure from the electro magnetic radiation of cell phones. 
First, many statistical analyses have showed that long-term cell phone use and certain types of brain tumors do in fact have a relationship, and that is it does elevate a person's risk of developing a tumor on the side of the brain that the phone is used, but it is not important to include the statistics. However, Fig. 1 is just one example of ways researchers, doctors, and scientists have tried to prove that they do in fact cause negative health affects. What this source tries to correctly show is the way the tissue is heated after cell phone use. But it fails to explain to what extent there are "negative health effects". It also fails to provide any evidence that there even are effects in the first place because of lack of explanation of the colors. Therefore, we can conclude and infer this as one of the weaker examples that negative health effects do occur, for this "alleged" heating has no strong support or argument. This is the type of argument this paper aims to point out, disprove, and push back against because it does not provide accuracy, scientific developments, or evidence of these claims. Moreover, I am in agreement with these scientific studies that do in fact push back against these arguments.
RF (radiofrequency) waves exposure studies and experiments have been conducted on rats ; however, the only studies that have been conducted on humans are those of questionnaires and data.  In one case-controlled study done on rats, they picked a group of rats at random with different body weights and exposed them to different types of the radiofrequency waves (pulsed RF-signal and sham). Nevertheless, no deviation in DNA, or chronic stress, was found out of the ordinary to cause spinal chord tumors or brain tumors related to the amount of radiation exposure.
Further evidence suggests the same: the American Health Foundation and the National Cancer society came out with two case-controlled studies that found no association, meaning that the radiation emitted by cell phones is in fact too low to pose any sort of cancer risk.  Scientists questioned human individuals as to what extent they use their hand-held cell phone and when they began using it did this study. Once again, this evidence was unconvincing because of the continued changes in cellular devices as time goes on.
The three biggest studies, as given by the American Cancer Society, are the INTERPHONE study, which was conducted in 13 different countries and based upon over 5000 people with and without tumors. No conclusions evidently suggested a connection. Next was the Danish Cohort Study who followed a sample of people most recently up to 2007 who had a consistent subscription to a cell phone company. Once again, evidence did not suggest any increased risk between cell phone use and cancer or tumors of the brain and salivary gland, where most of the exposure takes place. Finally, the Million Women Study took a sample of about 800,000 Women over 7 years and analyzed their use of cell phones and exposure time. No ties were found between them once again but some data suggested the possible link to acoustic neuromas. More evidence needed to be concluded though.
The reason the evidence is also inconclusive is because studies have yet to be proven or done on large mammals with more body weight and exposure time of over 10 years, which scientists believe is crucial to proving that there is a correlation. 
The studies listed in this paper show very weak ties between the developments of cancer and the use of cell phones; in other words, the evidence remains inconclusive and inconsistent. While cell phones do emit RF radiation that can cause cancer, the concluding factor is that it does not emit strong enough rays to really have a profound affect on users. The only problem with the cellphone case studies is that cell phones continue to evolve as new improvements are made, meaning that many believe it is important to continue to put money into these studies at this technology develops and users continue to use their mobile devices for longer periods of time. 
For now, there is strong evidence supporting the conclusion that cell phone use does not pose such a risk; however, we do know that if the exposure to these types of radiations are high enough, like in x-rays or UV rays, cancer cells are at a higher possibility of forming. Therefore, as previously stated, in the future, this may pose more of a problem, but as of now, the emitting of cell phone radiation is the least of concerns in the development of malignant and even benign tumors.
© Sandy Smith. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 B. C. Zook and S. J Simmons, "The Effects of Pulsed 860 MHz Radiofrequency Radiation on the Promotion of Neurogenic Tumors in Rats," Radiat. Res. 165, 608 (2006).
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 N. Nelson, "Recent Studies Show Cell Phone Use Is Not Associated With Cancer Risk," J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 93, 170 (2001).
 V. G. Khurama et al., "Cell Phones and Brain Tumors: A Review Including the Long-Term Epidemiologic Data", Surg. Neurol. 72, 205 (2009).