Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

Cell phones have become ubiquitous worldwide, even in developing countries, so the very thought they might cause harm is hard to believe. While the data on a possible link between cell phone use and cancer has been inconsistent-and definitely controversial-the evidence is finally starting to accumulate.

Recently, the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer brought together top scientists from 14 countries to analyze peer-reviewed studies on cell phone use and cancer. They concluded there was enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as a "possible carcinogen to humans," in the same category as lead and auto exhaust. The WHO says there is not enough evidence to prove a link, but enough to say there's a possible connection.

Cell phones emit low-level, non-ionizing radiation, or radio frequency energy, which is absorbed in the skin near where the phone is used.

According Dr. Devra Davis, an epidemiologist and author of Disconnect: the Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It and How to Protect Your Family, the real concern is with children because the cellular industry has never tested the safety of cell phones with them. Davis says children's brains are growing so fast anything they are exposed to can have a huge impact on their development. Children also have thinner skulls; they can (and will) absorb twice as much radiation as an adult.

Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the average time between first exposure to a cancer causing agent and clinical recognition of disease can be 20 years or more, so we don't yet know the long-term effects of cell phone use.

If you and your cell phone are inseparable, there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself. 

  • Use a headset to put distance between the phone and your head.
  • Limit your time speaking with the phone near your ear.
  • Text (not while driving).
  • Use a landline when possible.
  • Never put the phone near your head while you're sleeping. If you need an alarm, put your cell phone in airplane mode first.
  • Limit your children to emergency use only.
  • When you're in an area with a weak signal, the phone must work extra hard, so it's emitting more energy. Turn it off.
  • Don't carry your phone in your pocket.

Davis says, when it comes to cell phones, distance is your friend.

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Hardell, Lennart and Carlberg, Michael. "Mobile phones, cordless phones and the risk for brain tumours." INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ONCOLOGY 35 (2009): 5-17. Web.

National Cancer Institute. "Cell Phones and Cancer Risk." Web. 23 June 2011.

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