Last updated on: 6/29/2021 | Author:

The radiation emitted by cell phones, known as radiofrequency (RF) radiation, is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 97% of Americans used cell phones in Apr. 2021, up from 35% in 2011. [92]

People who say cell phones are safe point to statements by the FCC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and peer-reviewed studies that conclude 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 background


Pro & Con Arguments

Pro 1

Numerous peer-reviewed studies have found no evidence that cell phone use causes an increased risk of brain tumors.

A May 21, 2021 study concluded, “Canadian trends in glioma [brain tumors] and cell phone use were not compatible with increased risks of glioma.” [104]

Other studies have similarly concluded that there is no association between cell phone use and the development of brain tumors. [1] [39] [41] [42] [45] [49] [50] [99]

Studies that conclude there is an association between cell phone use and cancer have serious limitations including small sample groups, inconsistent results, and the fact that most studies use rats, which are not humans. Further, some studies, including a now-retracted study published in 2020, have asserted a link between cell phones and cancer, but studied types of radiation not emitted by cell phones. [100] [101] [102]

Finally, an “association” is not proof of a causal link. As explained by an article in Nature Methods: “As an example, suppose we observe that people who daily drink more than 4 cups of coffee have a decreased chance of developing skin cancer. This does not necessarily mean that coffee confers resistance to cancer; one alternative explanation would be that people who drink a lot of coffee work indoors for long hours and thus have little exposure to the sun, a known risk.” [103]

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Pro 2

There has been no rise in the rate of brain cancers despite a massive increase in the use of cell phones.

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 a slight increase that was attributed to better tracking and recording of cases. During the same time period, cell phone use increased 62.7% from 182,140,362 subscribers in 2004 to 296,285,629 in 2010. [43] [44]

As of Apr. 2021, 97% of Americans used a cell phone (85% used a smartphone), compared to 2011 when just 35% used a cell phone. In 2011, the observed rate of new brain and nervous system cancers was 6.2 per 100,000 people. In 2018, the newest data offered by the National Cancer Institute, the rate was 6.0, a slight decline in cases as cell phone adoption has dramatically increased. [92] [109]

Globally, there are more cell phones than people as of 2019. Brain tumors account for only 1.8% of cancer cases worldwide. [110]

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Pro 3

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]

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 and television has used it since at least 1939. The safe, long-term use of those RF-using devices helps prove that cell phones are also safe. [77] [78]

According to the authors of a 2005 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]

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Pro 4

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. This limit is measured as the amount of radiation absorbed by a user and is known as the specific absorption rate (SAR). [3]

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. Manufacturs 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]

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Pro 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), US Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have all concluded that there is no evidence in the scientific literature proving that cell phones cause brain tumors or other health problems. [4] [5] [47]

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]

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Con 1

Numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown an association between cell phone use and the development of brain tumors.

In 2018, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded, “high exposure to RFR (900 MHz) used by cell phones was associated with: [1] Clear evidence of an association with tumors in the hearts of male rats. The tumors were malignant schwannomas. [2] Some evidence of an association with tumors in the brains of male rats. The tumors were malignant gliomas. [and 3] Some evidence of an association with tumors in the adrenal glands of male rats. The tumors were benign, malignant, or complex combined pheochromocytoma.” The NTP indicated “clear evidence” of a link between cell phone radiation and cancer, the highest category of evidence used by the NTP. [106] [107]

A Feb. 2017 study concluded, “We found evidence linking mobile phone use and risk of brain tumours especially in long-term users (≥10 years). Studies with higher quality showed a trend towards high risk of brain tumour, while lower quality showed a trend towards lower risk/protection.” [105]

Studies have also linked cell phone use to thyroid and breast cancers. And other studies have similarly concluded that there is an association between cell phone use and increased risk of developing brain and head tumors. [12] [13] [51] [53] [54] [55] [84][108]

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Con 2

Children may have an increased risk of adverse health effects from cell phone radiation.

A 2016 meta-analysis of studies concerning cell phone use and cancer concluded in “children and teenagers, cell phone use is associated with the incidence of brain tumors.” [111]

According to former American Academy of Pediatrics President Robert Block, MD, 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 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]

Further, prenatal exposure to radiation from cell phones may increase the risk of ADHD and other behavior problems in children. According to a Nov. 2008 study, 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 Mar. 15, 2012 study found that mice exposed to cell phone radiation in the womb “were hyperactive and had impaired memory” as adults. [66]

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Con 3

Cell phones emit radiofrequency (RF) radiation, and RF radiation has been shown to damage DNA and cause cancer in laboratory animals.

On May 26, 2016, the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) released the first results of its study on cell phone radiation, finding an increased incidence of malignant tumors of the brain (gliomas) and heart tumors (schwannomas) in rats exposed to RF radiation. The NTP researchers also found DNA damage in the rats exposed to the highest levels of RF radiation. On Nov. 1, 2018, the NTP released its final report, concluding that there is “clear evidence of carcinogenic activity” in male rats exposed to RF radiation. [85] [86] [87]

A Jan. 2012 study in the Journal of Neuro-Oncology concluded that RF radiation “may damage DNA and change gene expression in brain cells” in mice. [61]

An Aug. 2009 meta-study found that RF radiation “can alter the genetic material of exposed cells.” A 2004 European Union-funded study also found that cell phone radiation can damage genes. [62] [63]

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Con 4

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]

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Con 5

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]

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 Did You Know?
1.As of Apr. 7, 2021, 97% of Americans owned a cell phone, up 85% from 2011 when just 35% of Americans owned a cell phone. [92]
2.85% of Americans owned a smartphone in 2021. [92]
3.According to the World Bank, as of 2019, there were 7.98 billion cell phone subscriptions globally. That means, in 2019, cell phone subscriptions outnumbered people. The 2019 World Bank population estimate was 7.674. [96] [97] [98]
4.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. [93] [94] [95]
5.The first commercial cell phone system was launched on Oct. 13, 1983 in Chicago by Ameritech Mobile Communications. [93] [94] [95]


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