Toxic Talk and Labels

Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer? Tips To Lower Your Risk

+ CV Skinlabs Team

Do cell phones cause brain cancer? The debate has raged on both sides of the fence for years now. The subject is back in the news again because the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that using a cell phone may increase the risk of certain types of brain cancer, and listed the use of cell phones in the same carcinogenic hazard group as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.

The organization gathered a team of scientists from 14 different countries to analyze prior studies on cell phone safety, and the team believed there was enough evidence there to label cell phones as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Yet according to ABC News, the incidence and mortality rate of brain cancer has remained virtually flat since 1987, even though there are an estimated 5 billion cell phone users globally.1 But WHO counters with the fact that environmental factors like non-ionizing radiation (which comes out of a cell phone) takes years to show evidence of increasing health hazards.

The European Environmental Agency agrees with WHO that caution is called for, and has asked for more studies, saying cell phones could be as big a risk to the public as smoking and asbestos.2 Some of their concern may stem from the large international study that found using a cell phone for ten years or more doubled the rate of a rare type of brain cancer (glioma). Children may be especially at risk if they start using cell phones early in life, when their skulls and scalps are still developing.

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and regular columnist in Scientific American, wrote about this issue just last October (2010) saying, “…not only is there no epidemiological evidence of a causal connection [between cell phones and cancer], but physics shows that it is virtually impossible for cell phones to cause cancer.” Why? According to Shermer, cell phones don’t emit enough electromagnetic radiation to break the molecular bonds inside cells like DNA. X-rays, gamma rays, and UV rays all do. In fact, UV rays generate greater than 480 kilojoules per mole (kJ/mole), but cell phones generate less than 0.001 kj/mole-making them much weaker by comparison.

Possibly contradicting this point of view may be a study by the National Institutes of Health in February of this year that found that radiation emitted just 50 minutes from a mobile phone “increased activity” in brain cells. (It said nothing about breaking bonds.) The effects of that, however, are still unknown.3

As with most emerging science, we just really don’t have all the answers yet, so be prepared-this debate is sure to go on and appear in the news again in the future! In the meantime, be on the cautious side and protect yourself with these few tips:

  • When you’re using the phone, try to keep it away from your head. Most manufacturers recommend at least an inch between you and the device.
  • Use the speaker function, wired earpiece, or Bluetooth device as often as possible to minimize radiation exposure.
  • When you have a weak signal, your phone has to work harder to connect-using more power and emitting more radiation. Make calls when you have a good connection, and avoid using your phone in elevators, buildings and rural areas.

What do you think about the cell phone debate? Share your opinion.



  1. Michael Murray, “Study Finds Cellphones May Cause Cancer, but Brain Cancers Have Not Spiked,” ABC News, June 1, 2001.
  2. Danielle Dellorto, “WHO: Cell Phone Use Can Increase Possible Cancer Risk,” CNN, May 31, 2011.
  3. Julie Steenhuysen, “Cell Phone Radiation Alters Brain Activity, Study Shows,” MSNBC February 22, 2011.

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