Cell Phones
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Are Cell Phones Safe?
Cell Phones
The radiation emitted by cell phones, known as radiofrequency (RF) radiation, is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Hundreds of millions of Americans use cell phones and many of them wonder if there are any health risks.

People who say cell phones are safe reference statements by the FCC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and point to peer-reviewed studies which conclude that cell phone use is not associated with an increased risk of brain tumors or the onset of other health problems. They contend there has been no increase in brain tumor rates despite hundreds of millions of people now using cell phones.

People who say cell phones are not safe cite peer-reviewed studies showing an association between cell phone use and tumor growth, DNA damage, and decreased fertility. They say cancers take 20-30 years to develop and cell phone studies have monitored periods of 10 years or less. They highlight the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen. Read more...
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Pro & Con Arguments
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Cell Phones ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents research, studies, and pro and con statements on questions related to whether or not cell phones are safe.
Did You Know?
  1. Cordless home phones, television, radio, laptops, and tablet computers all produce radiofrequency (RF) radiation, the same type of radiation that is produced by cell phones.

  2. The radiation emitted by a cell phone can penetrate 4 - 6 cm (1.6 - 2.4 in) into an adult human brain. [1] The amount of RF absorbed into the head can be reduced by using a wired ear-piece (not a Bluetooth) rather than placing the phone against the ear.

  3. The Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute issued a warning [25] to faculty and staff on July 24, 2008 to decrease cell phone exposure due to a possible connection between cell phone radiation and brain tumors. His warning prompted a congressional hearing on cell phone use and tumors. [26]

  4. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on May 31, 2011 that it had added cell phone radiation to its list of physical agents which are "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (group 2B agents). [37] Other group 2B agents include coffee, DDT, pickled vegetables, and lead.

  5. On Oct. 20, 2011 the British Medical Journal published a study of 358,403 Danish citizens – the largest study of its kind to date – which concluded that "there was no association between tumors of the central nervous system or brain and long term (10 years +) use of mobile phones." [39]
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Pro & Con Arguments: "Are Cell Phones Safe?"
PRO Cell Phones

  1. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have found that cell phone use is not associated with an increased risk of brain tumors. An Oct. 20, 2011 study of 358,403 Danish citizens – the largest study of its kind to date – concluded that "there was no association between tumors of the central nervous system or brain and long term (10 years +) use of mobile phones." [39] A July 27, 2011 study found that there was no association between cell phone use and brain tumor risks among children and adolescents. [50] Numerous other studies published from 2001-2013 have similarly concluded that there is no association between cell phone use and the development of brain tumors. [1] [41] [42] [45] [46] [49]

  2. Radiofrequency radiation from cell phones is non-ionizing and is not powerful enough to cause cancer. Ionizing radiation, including x-rays and ultraviolet light, produces molecules called ions that have either too many or too few electrons. Ions are known to damage DNA and cause cancer. Cell phone radiation, like radio, TV, and visible light radiation, is non-ionizing and lacks sufficient energy to add or remove electrons from molecules, and therefore it cannot ionize and cause cancer. [2] According to the authors of a 2005 peer-reviewed study of 3.7 million Swedish residents, a "biologic mechanism that could explain any possible carcinogenic effect from radiofrequency radiation has not been identified." [42]

  3. Cell phone radiation levels are tested and certified to remain within levels deemed safe by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC sets the maximum amount of thermal radiation (heat) that cell phones are permitted to emit. [3] This limit is measured as the amount of radiation absorbed by a user and is known as the specific absorption rate (SAR). In 1996 the SAR for cell phone radiation was set at a maximum of 1.6 watts of energy absorbed per kilogram of body weight. Manufactures of cell phones must test their products to ensure that they meet this standard. Random tests of phones on the market by FCC scientists further ensure that radiation levels meet FCC guidelines. [48]

  4. Studies have shown an association between cell phone use and a decreased risk of certain brain tumors. According to a peer-reviewed Dec. 2006 study of 420,095 cell phone users in Denmark, the results showed a "reduced brain tumor risk" among long-term subscribers. [1] Two other peer-reviewed studies also found that cell phone users had a slightly decreased risk of developing brain tumors. A July 20, 2005 Danish study [41] found a "decreased risk for high-grade glioma," a malignant brain tumor, and a 2005 Swedish study [42] also found a "decreased odds ratio" for developing glioma as well as meningioma, another type of brain tumor.

  5. US government agencies conclude there is no scientific evidence proving that cell phones cause cancer or other health problems. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), [4] US Government Accountability Office (GAO), [5] and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), [47] have all concluded that there is no evidence in the scientific literature proving that cell phones cause brain tumors or other health problems. According to the FDA, "attempts to replicate and confirm the few studies that did show a connection [between cell phone radiation and head tumors] have failed." [69]

  6. There has been no rise in the rate of brain cancers despite a massive increase in the use of cell phones. If cell phones were causing cancer we could expect a significant rise in the rate of brain and other related cancers. According to the National Cancer Institute, there was no increase in the incidence of brain or other nervous system cancers between the years 1987 and 2005 despite the fact that cell phone use dramatically increased during those same years. [6] Between 2004 and 2010 there was still no significant change in the incidence rate of brain tumors. Between 2004 and 2010 there was a slight increase from 209 cases to 221.8 cases per 100,000 people, but this slight increase was attributed to better tracking and recording of cases. [43] During the same time period, cell phone use increased 62.7% from 182,140,362 subscribers in 2004 to 296,285,629 in 2010. [44]


  7. Like cell phones, other devices including radios, televisions, cordless phones, and pagers all safely transmit signals using RF radiation. Radio has used RF radiation since at least 1893 [77] and television has used it since at least 1939. [78] The safe, long-term use of those RF-using devices helps prove that cell phones are also safe.

  8. Use of a cell phone while driving is not inherently unsafe. Many activities that distract drivers are much more dangerous than talking on a phone. Research shows that cell phone use is a factor in less than 1% of accidents and that adjusting the radio or CD player, talking with passengers, or eating, and drinking while driving are all responsible for more accidents than cell phones. [7] [8]

  9. Cell phones increase personal safety by providing an easy means of contacting others during an emergency. According to the Wireless Association (CTIA), more that 400,000 wireless 911 calls are made every day. [70] According to an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) poll, 56% of people over the age of 65 cite safety as a reason they have a cell phone. [10]

CON Cell Phones

  1. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown an association between cell phone use and the development of brain tumors. According to a Mar. 2008 meta-analysis of cell phone studies there is a "consistent pattern" connecting cell phone use and an increased risk of developing glioma, a type of brain tumor. [12] A Mar. 31, 2009 study found that long term cell phone use (10 years +) "approximately doubles the risk" of being diagnosed with glioma on the same side of the head where the cell phone is held. [51] In Apr. 2013 another study of Swedish cell phone users also found an association between cell phone use and the development of glioma and acoustic neuroma - a benign tumor formation on the nerve near the ear. [52] Other studies published from 2005-2013 have similarly concluded that there is an association between cell phone use and increased risk of developing brain and head tumors. [13] [53] [54] [55]


  2. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen. On May 31, 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release announcing it had added cell phone radiation to its list of physical agents that are "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (group 2B agents). [38] The classification was made after a working group of 31 scientists completed a review of previously published studies and found "limited evidence of carcinogenicity" from the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless phones, radio, television, and radar. [37]

  3. Due to the relatively recent adoption of cell phones, the long-term safety of the technology cannot be determined conclusively and caution is warranted. Research on glioma brain tumors shows the average latency period is 20-30 years. [56] Although cell phones were introduced in 1983, it was not until 2003 that over 50% of the US population had a wireless subscription, so the 20 year mark for mass cell phone use has not yet been reached. [44] [71] The May 17, 2010 INTERPHONE study, the largest study ever to examine possible links between cell phones and brain tumors, concluded that overall there was "no increase in risk" for glioma or meningioma brain tumors, [57] but the average user in the study had less than eight years of cell phone exposure. [56] In his review of the INTERPHONE study results, Dr. Rodolfo Saracci stated that "none of today’s established carcinogens, including tobacco, could have been firmly identified as increasing risk in the first 10 years or so since first exposure." [58]

  4. Cell phones emit radiofrequency (RF) radiation, and RF radiation has been shown to damage DNA. A peer-reviewed Jan. 2012 study in the Journal of Neuro-Oncology tested the effects of cell phone RF radiation on the brain cells of mice and concluded that the radiation "may damage DNA and change gene expression in brain cells." [61] An Aug. 2009 meta-study found that RF radiation "can alter the genetic material of exposed cells." [62] A 2004 European Union-funded study also found that cell phone radiation can damage genes. [63]

  5. Children may have an increased risk of adverse health effects from cell phone radiation. According to American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Robert Block, when cell phones are used by children, "the average RF energy deposition is two times higher in the brain and 10 times higher in the bone marrow of the skull," than for adults. [68] A July 2008 peer-reviewed study shows that children under the age of eight absorb twice the amount of radiation into their brain tissue as adults due to their lower skull thickness. [17]

  6. Radiation from cell phones can damage sperm. Cell phone storage in front pockets has been linked to poor fertility and higher chances of miscarriage and childhood cancer. [18] According to the Cleveland Clinic Center for Reproductive Medicine, semen quality "tended to decline as daily cell phone use increased." [19] According to a May-June 2012 meta-study in the Journal of Andrology, "men using mobile phones have decreased sperm concentration" in addition to "decreased viability" of their sperm. [64]

  7. Prenatal exposure to radiation from cell phones may increase the risk of ADHD and other behavior problems in children. According to a peer-reviewed Nov. 2008 study in the journal Epidemiology, exposure to cell phone radiation while in the womb "was associated with behavior difficulties such as emotional and hyperactivity problems around the age of school entry." [65] A Dec. 2010 study replicated those findings. [67] A peer-reviewed Mar. 15, 2012 study found that mice exposed to cell phone radiation in the womb "were hyperactive and had impaired memory" as adults. [66]


  8. Cell phone radiation may disrupt the functioning of pacemakers. A 2005 study in the International Journal of Cardiology found that mobile phones may have "adverse effects" on pacemaker functions under certain conditions. [59] According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), radiofrequency energy from cell phones can create electromagnetic interference (EMI) that may disrupt the functioning of pacemakers, especially if the cell phone is placed close to the heart. [21] The American Heart Association includes cell phones on its list of "devices that may interfere with pacemakers." [60]

  9. Using a cell phone while driving, even with a hands-free device, is unsafe and makes accidents more likely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that driving distractions, including the use of cell phones, contribute to 25% of all traffic crashes. [14] According to researchers at the University of Utah people who drive while talking on their cell phones are as impaired as drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%. [16]
Comment Comment
Background: "Are Cell Phones Safe?"
Image showing inventor Dr. Martin Cooper and a prototype of the DynaTAC, the first commercial cellphone, 1973.
(Click to enlarge image)
Image showing inventor Dr. Martin Cooper and a prototype of the DynaTAC (aka "the brick"), the first commercial cellphone, 1973.
Source: www.cbc.ca (accessed Sep. 21, 2009)
The radiation emitted by cell phones, known as radiofrequency (RF) radiation, is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Hundreds of millions of Americans use cell phones and many of them wonder if there are any health risks.

People who say cell phones are safe reference statements by the FCC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and point to peer-reviewed studies which conclude that cell phone use is not associated with an increased risk of brain tumors or the onset of other health problems. They contend there has been no increase in brain tumor rates despite hundreds of millions of people now using cell phones.

People who say cell phones are not safe cite peer-reviewed studies showing an association between cell phone use and tumor growth, DNA damage, and decreased fertility. They say cancers take 20-30 years to develop and cell phone studies have monitored periods of 10 years or less. They highlight the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen.


Cell phones transmit their signals using RF wavelengths, which are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Electromagnetic waves move (radiate) through space at the speed of light via interaction between their electric and magnetic fields and can penetrate solid objects such as cars and buildings. [72] Cordless phones, television, radio, and Wi-Fi also use RF radiation to transmit their signals.

Photographs of the FCC's cell phone specific absorption rate (SAR) testing equipment.
(Click to enlarge image)
Photographs of the FCC's cell phone specific absorption rate (SAR) testing equipment.
Source: "Research and Regulatory Efforts on Mobile Phone Health Issues," www.gao.gov, May 2001
The RF radiation from cell phones is contained in the low end (non-ionizing portion) of the broader electromagnetic spectrum just above radio and television RF and just below microwave RF. At high exposure levels, non-ionizing radiation can produce a thermal or heating effect (this is how microwaves heat food). Exposure to the high end (ionizing) radiation of ultra-violet light, X-rays, and Gamma rays is known to cause cancer.

On Apr. 3, 1973 the world's first portable cell phone, the DynaTAC (also known as "the brick"), was introduced in the United States by Dr. Martin Cooper at Motorola. The phone was a foot long, weighed two pounds, and cost $4,000. It was not until 1983 that the first commercial cell phone system was launched in Chicago by Ameritech Mobile Communications.

On Feb. 26, 1985 the first safety guidelines [27] for radio frequency (RF) radiation were enacted by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that people were not exposed to dangerous "thermal effects" - levels of RF that could heat human flesh to harmful temperatures.

In 1993 concern over a possible link between brain tumors and cell phone use became a major public issue when CNN's Larry King Live show reported on David Reynard, a husband who had sued a cell phone manufacturer in a Florida US District Court for causing his wife's brain tumor. The case, Reynard v. NEC, was later rejected in 1995 by the court. [73]

On Aug. 7, 1996 the FCC expanded its guidelines on RF exposure with input from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The guidelines created a measure of the rate that body tissue absorbs RF energy during cell phone use called the specific absorption rate (SAR). The SAR for cell phone radiation was set at a maximum of 1.6 watts of energy absorbed per kilogram of body weight per cell phone call that averages 30 minutes when the cell phone is held at the ear. [3]

Illustration showing an estimate of the absorption of radio frequency radiation into the brain based on age.
(Click to enlarge image)
Illustration showing an estimate of the absorption of radio frequency radiation into the brain based on age.
Source: "The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones," www.environmentalhealthtrust.org, July 2008
SAR levels for cell phones sold in the US range from a low of .109 watts to the maximum of 1.6 watts. Holding a cell phone away from the body while using a wired earpiece or speaker phone lowers the amount of radiation absorbed, and text messaging, rather than talking, further lowers that amount.

The FDA and the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTIA) signed a research agreement in 2000 to further investigate the health effects of cell phones. They concluded that "no association was found between exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation from cell phones and adverse health effects." [74]

In 2001 Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) commissioned the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) to compile a report on the safety of cell phones. The May 2001 GAO report, "Research and Regulatory Efforts on Mobile Phone Health Issues," [5] concluded that there was no scientific evidence proving that cell phone radiation had any "adverse health effects" but that more research on the topic was needed.

In July of 2008 Dr. Ronald Herberman, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, issued a warning to hospital faculty and staff [25] to decrease direct cell phone exposure to the head and body due to a possible connection between cell phone radiation and brain tumors. As a result of his warning, on Sep. 25, 2008 the US House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the possible link between cell phone use and tumors to learn more about the possible risks. [26] On Sep. 14, 2009, the US Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Education, and Related Agencies of the Committee on Appropriations held a similar hearing entitled "The Health Effects of Cell Phone Use." [79] No further hearings were held on the matter in either the House or the Senate.

Illustration showing the electromagnetic spectrum.
(Click to enlarge image)
Illustration showing the electromagnetic spectrum.
Source: "Research and Regulatory Efforts on Mobile Phone Health Issues," www.gao.gov, May 2001
In 2008 the $148.1 billion wireless industry had over 270 million [34] subscribers in the US (87% of the population) who used over 2.2 trillion minutes of call time. [35]

On May 17, 2010 the largest study to date on cell phone radiation and brain tumor formation was released. The INTERPHONE study, a 13 country, 10 year, $25 million endeavor, found that there was no overall increase in the risk of the brain tumors glioma or meningioma among cell phone users, but also found "suggestions of an increased risk of glioma, and much less so meningioma, at the highest exposure levels.” The study concluded that the evidence was not strong enough to prove a causal link between cell phone use and the development of brain tumors. [36]

On June 22, 2010 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 to make the city the nation’s first to require that retailers post cellphone radiation levels prominently in their stores. [23] On July 23, 2010, CTIA, the trade group representing the cell phone industry, sued the city of San Francisco to stop the implementation of the law, [80] and on Oct. 27, 2011, a federal judge struck down the San Francisco ordinance. [81] On May 7, 2013 San Francisco settled the lawsuit and agreed to a permanent injunction against implementation of the law. [82]

On Feb. 23, 2011 the first ever study showing that cell phone radiation causes biological effects in the human brain other than heating (thermal effects) was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found increased glucose metabolism in the areas of the brain closest to the cell phone antenna. [83]

On May 31, 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release [37] announcing it had added cell phone radiation to its list of physical agents [38] that are "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (group 2B agents). Other group 2B agents include coffee, DDT, pickled vegetables, and lead. The classification was made after a working group of 31 scientists finished a review of previously published studies and found "limited evidence of carcinogenicity" from the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless phones, radio, television, and radar.

Image contrasting the number of minutes of cell phone use per day in the United States (blue line) with the number of new brain cancer diagnoses (red line) from 1991-2008.
(Click to enlarge image)
Image contrasting the number of minutes of cell phone use per day in the United States (blue line) with the number of new brain cancer diagnoses (red line) from 1991-2008.
Source: Scott Woolley, "Cell Phone Use Is Way up. So Why Did Brain Cancer Rates Fall?," tech.fortune.cnn.com, June 7, 2011
On Oct. 20, 2011 the British Medical Journal published a study of 358,403 Danish citizens which concluded that "there was no association between tumors of the central nervous system or brain and long term (10 years +) use of mobile phones.” [39]

On Oct. 18, 2012 the Italian Supreme Court ruled that a causal link between cell phone use and tumor formation exists. The appellant, Innocenzo Marcolini, argued that his benign neurinoma tumor was caused by the five to six hours a day he spent talking on his cell phone for work over a 12 year period. Based on the Court opinion "that scientific evidence advanced in support of the claim was reliable," the Italian Supreme Court ruled that Marcolini was entitled to an 80% disability pension from the Italian Worker's Compensation Authority. [40]

On July 24, 2012 the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on exposure and testing requirements for cell phones and concluded that the FCC should "formally reassess" the effect of cell phone radiation on human health and the radiation exposure limit set by the FCC in 1996. [75] On Mar. 29, 2013 the FCC officially opened an inquiry on this recommendation. [76]

As of Dec. 2012 the $185 billion wireless industry had 326,475,248 wireless subscriber connections in the United States and 301,779 cell phone tower sites across the country. [44]
Video Gallery
CNN host Anderson Cooper interviews Sanjay Gupta about the possible risks associated with cell phone use.
Source: CNN, "Is Your Cell Phone Safe?," youtube.com, May 31, 2011
Keith Black, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, describes the effects of cell phone radiation on the human brain.
Source: PBS NewsHour, "Neurosurgeon: 'Your Cell Phone Is Not Necessarily a Safe Device,'" youtube.com, May 31, 2011
Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society, describes the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer's classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen.
Source: American Cancer Society, "Behind the Science: Cell Phones as Possible Carcinogen," youtube.com, May 31, 2011
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, answers a question about cell phone safety and explains what the various studies published on cell phone radiation prove and do not prove.
Source: "Neil deGrasse Tyson Cell Phones and Cancer," youtube.com, Nov. 28, 2013

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