Do Cellphones (Radio Waves) Cause Brain Cancer?

Posted on May 22, 2013 in Arguments, Featured, Science, Science | 0 comments

Do Cellphones (Radio Waves) Cause Brain Cancer?

In 1972 (one year before the first cellphone call was made) nobody had ever used a cellphone. How many people worldwide have used a cell phone within the past five minutes? This is all (at the time of writing this article) over the past 40 years–only about half a normal lifetime!

(Wikipedia has a very interesting page on the history of mobile phones.)

The real reasons for the concern could possibly be summarized by the following:

  1. Cancer is a very real and dangerous threat.
  2. Cellphones are used in close proximity to our brains, often for long periods of time.
  3. The average person probably does not understand exactly what causes cancer.
  4. Most people probably do not fully understand radiation and how cellphones work.

Suddenly everyone is spending lots of time with these new and powerful devices. Naturally people are (and should be) concerned about their health, but irrational fear isn’t necessarily beneficial to your health either.

Cellphones are used constantly everywhere now, so we should make sure we have nothing to worry about. This article will attempt to answer the question by looking at what causes cancer and identify any possibly correlations with cellphones by understanding how cellphones work. Then we will see if we can back up our conclusions with actual data.

What is Cancer?

A disease characterized by unregulated cell growth.

“Cancer” is a broad group of various diseases, all of which involve unregulated cell growth. You have cancer if you have uncontrollably dividing and growing cells forming harmful (malignant) tumors and invading other parts of the body (metastasized). Both the tumor and the spreading can be harmful either directly or indirectly. If you have a benign (not harmful) tumor then the cells are not growing uncontrollably or spreading and you therefore do not have cancer.

What Causes Cancer?

There are many known causes for cancer, such as smoking and obesity, but obviously we want to focus on cancer-causing radiation.

Radiation is simply the emission of energy as electromagnetic waves or as moving subatomic particles. We are constantly surrounded by radiation from the sun, cosmic rays from outer space, power lines, and even bananas. Yes, there is a small amount of a radioactive isotope of potassium in bananas.

Since we all are exposed to a constant radioactive environment, why doesn’t everyone get cancer? Well, not all kinds of radiation are hazardous to our health. This is why the spectrum of radiation is split into two groups: whether the energy is ionizing or non-ionizing.

Ionizing Radiation

  • Dangerous, high energy radiation.
  • Can mutate DNA.

Non-Ionizing Radiation

  • Low energy radiation.
  • Can NOT damage DNA.

Ionizing radiation has high enough energy to knock electrons off of atoms or molecules. Ionizing radiation going through our body can lead to changes (mutations) in the cell’s DNA. This can contribute to cancer, or to the death of the cell. Ionizing radiation is a proven cancer causing agent in humans. In other words, ionizing radiation is the bad kind of radiation for humans.

Non-ionizing radiation has much lower energy–not enough to knock off electrons or to directly damage DNA. This is the “not dangerous” type of radiation as it has yet to provide any convincing evidence of increasing the risk of cancer.


Relationship between radiation and energy.

Radiation Energy Levels Bar Chart3

Notice the Y-axis is the energy of the radiation in a logarithmic scale, making every horizontal line 100 times greater than the previous. This means that Gamma rays have 10 trillion times more energy than microwaves. If this axis was linear instead, the chart would only be able to show gamma rays. All of the others would be a tiny hairline at the bottom!

The point is that all of the ionizing radiation is harmful because it has so much energy — enough to knock off electrons and damage the very atoms in your body. We wear sunscreen to protect from sunburn and skin cancer caused by UV radiation; lead vests to protect our bodies when getting X-Rays at the doctor’s office. Gamma rays turned Dr. Banner into the Hulk (not really, he would have died).

Despite being constantly exposed to them, we don’t wear any protection from microwaves or radio waves because they don’t do anything to our bodies that would require protection from.

Still unsure? Let SciShow’s Hank Green help you:



How Do Cellphones Work?

Cellphones work by sending and receiving signals using electromagnetic radiation within the radio and microwave ranges (RF).

Cell Phones

Use Radio and Microwave type radiation.

These are low energy frequencies known as non-ionizing radiation. Therefore, from what we know about radiation and cancer, cellphones should not be cancer-causing agents.

Theory says “No” – Does the Data Agree?

There have been numerous studies with most showing no correlation between cellphones and cancer.

Some results have shown a possible connection and have led the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) to categorize radio waves, such as those from cellular devices, as a “possible carcinogen.” This is at best still a guess and not at all a definitive answer. It should be mentioned that “coffee” and “pickled vegetables” are also on this list.

A recent study published by the Epidemiology journal showed that brain tumor (Glioma) statistics from four Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark) over a 20-year period showed no link between gliomas and cellphone usage. (

A study with much the same conclusion was also published on the National Cancer Institute’s website (



best reference:

IARC possibly carcinogenic:

international journal of epidemiology no cause of cancer:

TRASH homeopathic blog post saying cellphones are dangerous:

Awesome article comparing cellphone subscribers with brain cancer:—————–——————

cell phone use per brain cancer:———–

compare cellphone to brain cancer:

smokers to lung cancer deaths:







estimated subscribers




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