Could Cellphones Cause Brain Tumors?

The city of Berkeley passed a cellphone safety law, but scientists still aren't convinced of the cancer link
A person scrolling on a cellphone

Credit: Japanexperterna.se

Cellphones have become an essential part of our communications with one another, but some worry about their longterm effects. No, we’re not talking about society’s lack of face-to-face contact. Some scientists are worried our cellphone habit is giving us cancer.

The link between cellphone use and cancer is by no means definitive. Some experts are concerned that the radiation levels in cellphones put people at a greater risk for brain tumors, including deadly glioma.

In fact, the World Health Organization puts cellphone use on the same cancer-risk level as caffeine and pickled vegetables.

Does this mean you should you drop your cellphone for good? Not entirely, the American Cancer Society explains. Little research or evidence proves that cellphones cause cancer. In fact, the World Health Organization puts cellphone use on the same cancer-risk level as caffeine and pickled vegetables.

If coffee and pickled beets have the same supposed cancer risk as cellphones, then it would seem logical to continue using the products as normal. However, cities such as Berkeley are pushing for greater safety precautions until scientists have better evidence.

Berkeley recently passed a Right to Know law, which requires cellphone retailers to tell customers how much radiation cellphones emit before they buy the product.

Berkeley recently passed a Right to Know law, which requires cellphone retailers to tell customers how much radiation cellphones emit before they buy the product. Although the evidence for cancer is still up in the air, lawmakers in the city do not want to put citizens at needless risk in the event that cellphones have a greater impact on health than we once thought.

A couple taking a selfie with a phone on the beach

Credit: Susanne Nilsson

While cellphones are on par with other relatively harmless products on the market, they have not been in the market as long as coffee, alcohol or other potentially carcinogenic products. Scientists have had much more time to study the effects of these foods on health over time, but cellphones are a far more recent invention. For this reason, some researchers urge users to take precautions.

One way to prevent prolonged exposure to radiation in cellphones is to avoid direct contact with the phone as much as possible, some researchers suggest. This includes keeping the phone out of your pocket, or using headphones to talk for long periods of time. In one study, the glioma tumor rate in participants who used cellphones only increased if the participants used their phones without a headset for more than 1,640 hours over their lifetimes.

Studies like these show some risk associated with cellphones, yet other studies have found no link between brain tumors and phone use.

These types of phones use non-ionizing radiation, which is not the same type of radiation found in X-rays or radon.

Part of the reason many scientists and doctors are not convinced on the link between cancer and phone use has to do with the radiation from the phones themselves. These types of phones use non-ionizing radiation, which is not the same type of radiation found in X-rays or radon. Ionizing radiation causes cancer by damaging DNA. The type of radiation in cellphones does not have this effect, according to current research.

For now, using cellphones isn’t likely to give you cancer, especially a rare type such as glioma. In fact, only about five people in every 10,000 get this rare form of cancer. Until we have better evidence for this link, you can likely feel safe texting your friends about that hilarious thing your cat did last night.

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