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Are There Dangers of Cell Phone Radiation?

Updated on June 10, 2013

Are cell phone radiation dangerous for long-term heavy-users who hold cell phone next to head?

There is no conclusive answer one way or another. On Tuesday 19th 2011 radio show, Talk of the Nation, host Neal Conan introduces the segment "Jury Still Out On Cell Phone-Cancer Link" with the following intro ...

"Decades worth of research can't seem to come up with a definitive answer. And each inconclusive or contradictory result leads to more questions around the intersection of the law, science, and media."

Topics such as these are difficult to prove since it may take up to 40 years for brain cancer to develop. Most studies are simply too short to find a link. But that does not mean there is no link.

Some epidemiological studies that looked at long-term heavy-users who have used cells for over a decade suggest an increase risk of brain tumors. And there are cases of long-term heavy-users who have in fact developed brain cancers.

There is growing evidence that cell phone radiation held next to the head for prolonged periods does have effects on the brain. Animal studies suggests the same. Although, it is debatable whether these effects are clinically significant or not.

As recently as 2011, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study this conclusion ...

"In healthy participants and compared with no exposure, 50-minute cell phone exposure was associated with increased brain glucose metabolism in the region closest to the antenna. This finding is of unknown clinical significance."[15]

Book on the Dangers of Cell Phone Radiation

Devra Davis Writes About Cell Phone Radiation

Scientist, author, and speaker Devra Davis PhD wrote the book Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family -- quite a long title.

The title "disconnect" comes from the fact that there is a disconnect between the public opinions about cell phones being safe and the reality of it not being as safe as the public thinks. We all love our cell phones. But as the Davis says "Sometimes what everyone wants to believe turns out to be inconveniently wrong."[page 2]

Devra Davis is the founding director of toxicology and environmental studies board at the United States National Academy of Sciences. In 2009, she along with other experts had testified before the United State Senate about the potential health risks of cell phones.

You can hear one of her talks in the below YouTube video. This is an eye opening and very comprehensive presentation. Do not use your bra as a cell phone carrier. And in fact, do not carry your cell phone in your pocket. Cell phone radiation may weaken the blood brain barrier. The danger may not come from the power of cell phone transmission, but more from its erratic nature of its frequency disrupting DNA repair. Another tip is to turn on "airplane mode" on your cell phone if you are carrying it in your pocket and if you do not need to send or receive calls or texts.

Even experts do not know

Even among experts, they do not know for sure.

Dr. Thomas Dehn says "there is no evidence for or against it at this point. In the beginning I thought it was nonsense, but since then there have been some interesting studies." [18: page 379]

University of Irvine says ..

"Therefore, our current knowledge does not permit us to state definitively that mobile phones are absolutely safe, or that they are unsafe. But available scientific evidence does not demonstrate any significant adverse health effects (no increased risk of brain cancer, etc.) associated with the normal use of cell phones."[source]

However, there are some who believe that EMF radiation does have an effect on health. Alasdair Phillips, who is trained as an electrical engineer, is one. He had talked with Dr. Mercola in the below YouTube interview ...

An interesting point he makes is that hair dryer and microwaves can generate EMF (electromagnetic fields). He suggest not to use hair dryers late at night because the EMF can decrease melatonin production. He suggests gauss-meters to check how much EMF are in portions of your house.

Cell Phones and Brain Cancer

Note that the above quote mentions "normal use of cell phones". But what about long-term heavy users. Long term meaning more than a decade. And "heavy users" means much more heavy use than the typical cell-phone user.

In her book disconnect, Davis writes ...

"if you examine only those studies that have analyzed people for a decade or longer you find one thing: Every single one of them shows that long-term heavy use of cell phones has increased the risks of brain tumors."[page 193]

In her book, Davis tells of other people where extensive cell phone use had caused cancer. One is real-estate broker Alan Marks who averaged 2 hours of use a day for more than 2 decade. He had an golf-ball size tumor in the glial cells of his brain on the side that he typically uses his phone. His story can also be found linked here. He is okay now after brain surgery.

Cell Phones in Cars

You are not supposed to use cell phones while driving due to the distraction factor. But using the cell phone inside your stationery car can be a problem as well. Better to use the cell phone outside your car. This is because the cell phone radiation can reflect off the metallic grid of the car chassis.

Even if you are not talking on your cell phone, having it in standby mode inside your car is nearly as bad since the phone is still transmitting and communicating with the cell towers. Ideally, you want to switch your cell phone into airplane mode when you get inside your car. And then you can return it back to normal mode when you get out of your car at your destination.

"Zapped: Why Your Cell Phone Shouldn't Be Your Alarm Clock ..."

Greater Dangers to Kids

Cell phone radiation presents a greater danger to kids than to adults. Because even during the teenage years, the brain is still developing. Their brains at these years change more rapidly than brains of adults.  And cell phone radiation penetrates deeper in younger smaller child skulls.

The Independent reports of a study in Sweden by Professor Hardell. It found that those who started cell phone use before age 20 had more than a 5-fold increase in the chance of getting glioma, a cancer of the glial cells typically in the brain (but can also be in the spine). They were also 5 times more likely to get acoustic neuromas, a benign tumor of the auditory nerve which can cause deafness.[16]

Davis says similarly ...

"Those who began using cell phones before age 20 have 5 times more brain cancer by the time they reach their late 20's."[3]

For those who started cell phone use later in their 20's the risks are lower.

The Fine Print

Cobbs is correct; there are warnings in the fine prints of the cell phone manuals.

"As of spring 2010, the Motorola V195 includes a warning to keep the phone one inch from the user's body; the BlackBerry 8300, 0.98 of an inch; the Nokia 1100, one-fourth of an inch; and the iPhone, five-eights of an inch."[Disconnect: page 217]

But who reads those?

Why using the phone just a little further away from body will help? Cell phones uses electromagnetic radiation -- similar to that used in microwave ovens but with intensity that is about 1000 times less. The radiation decreases with the square of the distance. That means if the antenna is twice as far away, the radiation is four times as less. If it is 3 times as far away, the radiation is 9 times less. etc.

Unlike X-rays which are ionizing radiation, cell phones radiation is non-ionizing radiation. WebMD says "non-ionizing radiation does not damage DNA and is not felt to harm living tissues at the levels of heat induced by a cell phone."[source]

Reader's Digest book Your Health, What Works, and What Doesn't says ...

"Most studies suggest that cell phones don't cause brain cancer or any other type. But stay on the line; the signals about long-term use are fuzzy."[page 342]

What Dr. Chorpa Says About Cell Phone Radiation?

Doctor Chorpa says similarly. Although he feels that the nonionizing radiation emitted appears to be too weak to cause cellular or DNA damage. He does agree that it makes sense to use speaker phone and Bluetooth and check the SAR value of the phone.

He believes that driving while using hand-held cell phone is clearly more dangerous than getting brain cancer or acoustic neuroma from it. Reader's Digest Your Health also says the same -- saying that talking on cell phone while driving increase crash risk fourfold.[page 343]

The book Doctor Chopra Says has a section that discusses whether cell phones cause cancer. Here's what Doctor Chopra writes ...

"Personally, I don't hesitate to use my cell phone. I simply haven't seen enough compelling data to raise my concern. But I am aware of the potential problems. When I'm not going to disturb anyone else, I use the speaker, and in public I'll often use a Bluetooth" [page 379]

Dr. Chorpa concludes by saying "Cell phones do not appear to be causally related to brain cancer -- however, they are relatively new and long-term studies have yet to be completed." [page 381]

A 2006 Danish study following 420,000 people for two decades and found no increase in risk of cancer.

A British researcher found "no substantial risk of acoustic neuronal in the first decade after starting mobile phone use."[18: page 376] But goes on to say that we don't know about the decades after the first decade.

If cell phones did cause cancer, then there should be an increase in cancer trend at the time when cell phone became ubiquitous. Assuming that it takes 5 to 10 year for a tumor to develop, researcher did not find this increase cancer trend.[18: page 375]

New York Times Article "Do Cellphones Causes Brain Cancer"

More information about cell phones and brain cancer can be read in New York Times article on April 13, 2011 written by Dr. Siddartha Mukherjee and heard on Talk of the Nation's interview of Dr. Mukherjee. 

Dr. Mukherjee is a cancer specialist who won the Pulitzer prize for his non-fiction book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

He said that studies have not found an increase in the particular brain cancer rates as cell phone use increased in the population. He also said that the risk of a car accident while using a cell phone is many times more than the risk for brain cancer from the cell phone use.

There are many type of radiation. There are low energy radiations such as that from electric light (which doesn't cause cancer) and there are high energy radiations from say X-rays. Cell phone radiation falls in lower energy area of the spectrum.

The New York Times article says ...

"Nonionizing radiation lies on the other end of the energy spectrum. These rays can warm cells, boil water and stimulate chemical reactions, but they cannot strip electrons away from atoms or damage DNA. They have no capacity to mutate genes directly and thereby no simple and direct means of initiating cancer. Radiation from microwaves, from cellular phones and from light bulbs are examples of nonionizing radiation."

It also says that there is study that showed...

"telltale sign of increased brain-glucose activity in the area of the brain immediately adjacent to the antenna of the phone."

However, that may not be causal to cancer.  

So what is the verdict?  The New York Times article writes like this ...

"this extraordinarily wide-cast net has yet to find solid proof of risk for cellphone radiation: not a single trial or test that has attributed carcinogenic potential has been free of problems. Populationwide studies have failed to demonstrate an increased incidence; retrospective trials have been contradictory and riddled with biases; animal studies negative; human physiological experiments inconclusive; cellular studies inconsistent and weak."

Other Studies

The major InterPhone study gave this conclusion ...

"Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones. There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation."[reference]

Another study concluded ...

"Overall, a weight-of-evidence evaluation shows that the current evidence for a causal association between cancer and exposure to RF energy is weak and unconvincing."[reference]

Cell Phone Radiation Levels - SAR values

Cell Phone Radiation Level is typically measure in SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) which is an indication of how much radio frequency energy is absorbed by the body when using the phone.

CNET has an great article[14] listing the SAR values of various phones when used next to the ear. Note that the value are all less than 1.6 because that is the maximum watts per kilogram a phone can have in order to meet FCC certification. Canada also allows for a maximum of 1.6; while Europe's max is 2.0.

CNET's list was last updated February 4, 2011 and at that time, Motorola Bravo had the highest SAR measured at 1.59. And Samsung Blue Earth had the lowest at 0.196. That's a pretty big difference.

For a more extensive list that is updated weekly, see

The FCC has a SAR database also where you can enter the FCC ID number of your phone.

However, some say that the SAR value measures only the thermal effects rather than the EMF effects which are more biologically relevant. [reference Alasdair Phillips video above]

More Advanced Phones Means More Broken DNA

Sometimes the more advanced phone poses a greater risk. Franz Adlkofer exposed human cells (both adult and children) to cell phone radiation and he found that there were 10 times as much broken DNA when the cells were exposed to 3G phones using the UMDS system than the 2G using the GSM system.[17]

Also the advanced modern phones may be connecting to the network to poll email at a greater frequency (even when not on a phone call).

Radio Frequency Opened Up Blood Brain Barrier in Rats

In an attempt to get chemotherapy drugs into the brain, neurosurgeon Leif Salford was able to open up blood-brain barrier just a bit more to get chemotherapy drugs through to brain cancer patients.

But if radio frequency can have that effect on the brain, what would cell phone radio frequency do to healthy brains?

So they did experiments on rats, exposing them to cell phone frequencies two to six hours a day. The exposed rats have ...

"more direct brain damage, less ability to fix this, and greater chances of growing and acting strangely." [1: page 66]

Another study on rats with 2 hours of exposure for just one week, shows a breaching of blood brain barrier where microscopic fluid from the brain got into the blood and elements in the blood got into the brain.

Then exposing rats for a whole year, they found although the brain looked the same, they did not function as well. The exposed rats showed forgetfulness, senility, and loss of memory.

Obviously, rats brains are smaller than human brains; so one can not translate rat results to humans. But nevertheless, the animals may be hinting at something.

How to Protect Yourself from Cell Phone Microwave Radiation

1. Use speaker phone feature (so phone is not right against to your head).

2. Use BlueTooth headset or similar (which transmit with less power)

3. Do not sleep with cell phone.

4. Do not keep the phone turned on next to the body all day. At least have the keypads facing the body (since the antenna is usually on the back where the keys are not.) Put in purse or table instead so that it it at least one inch away from body.

Eighty percent of your body's red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow in your hip which is especially vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation. [page 326 of The UltraMind Solution]

5. Avoid using when there is weak signal. This is when phone requires more power to transmit.

6. Pregnant women should keep phone away from unborn baby near abdomen. Similarly, men who are trying to become fathers should not have phone turned on in pocket.

7. And obviously, the less you use your phone, the better.

Tips were based on appendix of Davis' book[1] and CNET article[14].

What about WiFi?

What about WiFi? Isn't that electromagnetic radiation too? Yes, it is. And sunlight is electromagnetic radiation too.

The difference it that WiFi intensity is many times less than cell phones and it is not place right next to one's head. Dr. Michael Clark says ...

"All the expert reviews done here and abroad indicate that there is unlikely to be a health risk from wireless networks ... typical exposures from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent to 20 minutes on a mobile. If wi-fi should be taken out of schools, then the mobile phone network should be shut down, too — and FM radio and TV, as the strength of their signals is similar to that from wi-fi in classrooms." [12]

BBC News article also says that WiFi is significantly different from cell phones that WiFi should pose no concern.[13]

Nevertheless, it may be a good idea to turn off your WiFi hub in your house at night when not in use. And turn off WiFi on your phone if you don't need it.

Different people will have different sensitivity to EMFs.


This article was written in March 2011 and is only opinion at the time of writing. Author of this HubPages article is not a medical professional and may receive revenue from the ads and links within the article's content.

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