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Cell phones and cancer

Alternative Names

Cancer and cell phones; Do cell phones cause cancer?

Information

Several major studies show no link between cell phones and cancer at this time. However, since the information available is based on short-term studies, the impact of many years of exposure is not definitively known.

The amount of time people spend on cell phones has increased dramatically. This will be taken into consideration during current and future studies. Research continues to investigate whether there is a relationship between long-term cell phone use and slow-growing tumors in the brain or other parts of the body.

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT CELL PHONE USE

Cell phones use low levels of radiofrequency energy (RF). It is not known whether RF from cell phones causes health problems, because the studies done so far have not been in agreement. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have developed guidelines that limit the amount of radiofrequency energy cell phones are allowed to give off.

The RF exposure from cell phones is measured in specific absorption rate (SAR). The SAR measures the amount of energy absorbed by the body. The SAR permitted in the United States is 1.6 watts per kilogram (1.6 W/kg).

According to the FCC, this amount is much lower than the level shown to cause any changes in laboratory animals. Every cell phone manufacturer is required to report the RF exposure of each of its phone models to the FCC.

CHILDREN AND CELL PHONES

At this time, the effects of cell phone use on children are not clear. However, scientists do know that children absorb more RF than adults. For this reason, some agencies and government organizations recommend that children avoid prolonged use of cell phones.

REDUCING RISKS

Although health problems related to long-term cell phone use are thought to be unlikely, you can take steps to limit your potential risk:

  • Keep calls short when using your cell phone.
  • Use an earpiece or the speaker mode when making calls.
  • When not using your cell phone, keep it away from your body, such as in your purse, briefcase, or backpack. Even when a cell phone is not in use, but is still turned on, it continues to give off radiation.
  • Find out how much SAR energy your cell phone gives off.

References

Boice JD, Tarone RE. Cell phones, cancer, and children. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011; 103:1211-1213.

Morgan LL, Kesari S, Lee Davis D. Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults: The consequences. J Microsc Ultrastruct. 2014. In press.

National Cancer Institute. Fact sheet: Cell phones and cancer risk. Last reviewed June 24, 2013. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/facts/factsheet/Risk/cellphones. Accessed 8/31/2014.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Radiation-emitting products: reducing exposure: hands-free kits and other accessories. Last updated 8/8/2012. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-emittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProceduresHomeBusinessandEntertainment/CellPhones/ucm116293.htm. Accessed 8/31/2014.

Updated: 8/31/2014

Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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