Myth or Fact?! Do Cell phones cause Cancer?


You must have met someone till now, in this era of cell phone and smartphones and what not? So many wireless bands, too many communication options and all have been fitted on a phone, but I bet you have met someone who would say that using too much cell phone may lead to cancer, but what exactly is the logic behind this? Another thing, if you live in India, you must have seen that on every radio tower has a warning sign with the text written ‘Non-Ionising Radiation‘. Well, I could never understand that logic behind putting that sign, but okay, so today we will talk a bit in detail about cell phone radiation and see if it’s just a myth or in reality, using cell phones can lead to cancer?

First, let’s talk about what kind of radiation can give you cancer. Radiation can be of two types, in this context- Ionising and Non-ionising. Ionising radiations are dangerous for sure, which can damage your DNA, but you shouldn’t be around one since you don’t face a nuclear disaster every other day at work, neither you get into those huge X-Ray machines every day for fun. That’s what is more dangerous, but instead, you are with your cell phone which doesn’t possess such threats as the cell phone radiation is non-ionising and well, that fact people say that you shouldn’t let any carrier set up a radio tower near your house is utter bullshit, and there is a reason.

Cell Phone tower
A radio tower

Once you live in an area where there is a radio tower within a radius of about even 2 kilometers, you are under excellent coverage and distance has nothing to do with this case, however, distance and obstacles have a significatnt effect on signal quality and it varies across different radio bands and mostly with the introduction of 4G LTE, carriers are facing similar challenges every other day to ensure the best quality of service, but be sure that you’re not escaping the radiation unless you’re not in some remote area or just don’t use a cell phone.

Regarding this matter of debate on the cell phone radiation, the American Cancer Society says, “Cell phones work by sending signals to (and receiving them from) nearby cell towers (base stations) using RF waves. This is a form of electromagnetic energy that falls between FM radio waves and microwaves. Like FM radio waves, microwaves, visible light, and heat, RF waves are a form of non-ionizing radiation. They don’t have enough energy to cause cancer by directly damaging the DNA inside cells. RF waves are different from stronger (ionizing) types of radiation such as x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet (UV) light, which can break the chemical bonds in DNA.”

Now, this explanation is completely based on what we know till now about Ionising and Non-ionising radiations, and this is true. As mentioned earlier, the RF energy is what we need to worry about and the amount of RF energy that gets transmitted from cell phone to user is known as Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) and this SAR value is to be mentioned on every packaging of every single handset and it is also mandatory for manufacturer to disclose the same to FCC or in India, the Government keeps an eye on it, but well the value is not constant and may vary depending upon the usage type and sometimes the amount of RF energy emitted may be higher than what has been found to be and mentioned by the manufacturer.

So, is there any practical evidence to prove that cell phone radiation cause cancer?

A transparent skeleton showing brain and blood vessels

The answer is affirmative and also in negative. Most of the studies and experiments were done in the lab have supported the idea that RF waves do not damage the DNA. But, some scientists have reported that the RF waves from cell phones produce effects in human cells that might possibly help tumors grow. But at the same time, when the test was conducted on mice exposing them to radiation, no such evidence were found.

The US National Toxicology Program (NTP) performed a few tests to find out the answer. They exposed large groups of lab rats and mice to RF energy over their entire bodies for about 9 hours a day, starting before birth and continuing for up to 2 years. However, they got some evidence but as it seems, the male rats were affected a little exposing them to risks of a tumor, but there was no increased risk among female rats. So, there are some chances that RF radiations can affect health.

Recently, another study found out that when people had an active cell phone held up to their ear for 50 minutes, brain tissues on that same side of the head used more glucose than the other side of the brain. However, it didn’t indicate any unusual effects or hazardous effects.

Any practical test on humans ever got conducted?

Not a test, but a kind of survey helped scientists analyze the effect, but it doesn’t point in any direction at all. Most of the patients with brain tumors were found to be regular cell phone users but didn’t use the phone for more amount of time than those who aren’t affected. Most of the studies show that brain tumors don’t appear on the side of the head where people used to place the phone near to it, but maybe on the other side as well. But some studies published by the same research group in Sweden have reported an increased risk of tumors on the side of the head where the cell phone was held, particularly with 10 or more years of use.

So, should we believe it or just call it as a myth? Well, even Scientists have mixed opinions on this, and it’s pretty hard to come to a conclusion as there’s no substantial evidence proving cell phone radiation cause cancer or the opposite.

Did myth bust on Cell phone Radiation?

A person speaking on a cell phone

Well, it’s still a puzzle for us, but here’s what we can say – ‘Prevention is better than cure’. So, if you’re the kind of person who believes that cell phone radiation causes cancer, then here’re the steps you can take to avoid the radiation [ideal cases]

  • Stop spending more time on your cell phones
  • When on calls, use the speaker mode or a Bluetooth headset to maintain a distance between the cell phone and your head
  • Do not keep it near your pillow when you are sleeping
  • If you still have that phobia, use RF shielding which can block the RF signals

If you’re the other kind of person who doesn’t believe cell phone radiation cause cancer, then here’s what you can do –

  • Make people of aware of using technology in a balanced way
  • Explain them about the radiation types, and which type of radiation actually causes cancer
  • Or just move on with your busy life

No matter how many times OEMs or government institutions conduct seminars explaining this, people will still believe what they want to! So, no matter what we do, we can’t change the fact unless we have a tangible proof. Until then, let’s call it as myth! But we can say one thing, the more you get addicted to something, the sooner you’ll lose your life. So, be cautious in how you use the technology.