With the health risks of cell phones and EMF radiation becoming more widely known, many people ask me different variations of the same question: “will my phone give me cancer?” While that question used to be more difficult to answer, in the past few decades, quite a bit of evidence has accumulated demonstrating a strong link between cell phones and increased risk of developing cancer. And, it may surprise you to learn it’s not just brain tumors but multiple different types.
Cell Phones & Brain Tumors
In 2009, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published the findings of a team of scientists, who reviewed 23 epidemiological studies on the link between cell phone use and cancer. The team concluded that:
Although as a whole the data varied, among the 10 higher quality studies, we found a harmful association between phone use and tumor risk. The lower quality studies, which failed to meet scientific best practices, were primarily industry funded…
The 13 studies that investigated cell phone use for 10 or more years found a significant harmful association with tumor risk, especially for brain tumors, giving us ample reason for concern about long-term use.
- the higher quality studies demonstrated a positive correlation between cell phone use and cancer;
- and the longer-term studies demonstrated an even stronger link
The point about duration of the study is an important one. Because cancers do not form overnight. And these results suggest that cancer is a long-term result of extended cell phone use over a period of many years. This is why short-term studies that dispute the link between cell phones and cancer can not be trusted.
A 2007 review of 16 studies on this subject found that all studies demonstrated increased risk of brain tumors known as glioma and acoustic neuroma (cancers that develop on the nerves associated with hearing and balance that run along the side of the face) among cell phone users. Compiling the data across studies for 10 years and greater, the risk of developing an ipsilateral glioma tumor (a tumor on the same side of the head as the cell phone is used) was elevated 240%. The incidence of ipsilateral tumors reinforces the connection between radiation and cancer, as these tumors develop in the precise area where exposure to cell phone radiation has been most intense.
In 2008, Dr. Siegal Sadetzki of Tel Aviv University published a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology that concluded that heavy cell phone users (those who use cell phones at least 22 hours a month) were at least 50% more likely to develop cancer of the parotid gland (one of the salivary glands) than those who never or rarely used mobile phones.
Significantly, Sadetzki’s results revealed a higher incidence among those with ipsilateral use (that is, the tumor formed on the same side of the head where the phone is held), reinforcing the link between the use of cell phones and the occurrence of cancer.
Increased Incidence of Brain Cancers
When I tell people about some of the science linking cell phones with increased risk of developing various types of brain tumors, they’ll sometimes reply “well, if that’s true, why aren’t we seeing an epidemic of brain cancer?”
Now, as mentioned above, cancers take many years– sometimes decades– to form. So naturally any increase in the incidence of brain tumors from widespread cell phone would take time to manifest. And now, a couple of decades after cell phones become commonplace, this is, in fact, what we are starting to see.
Parotid Cancers in Israel
Let’s take a moment and look back at Dr. Sadetzki’s 2008 study. Given her results linking cell phone radiation and parotid cancer, one would expect to see a notable increase in cancer of that specific type, corresponding to the rollout of this technology. And this is precisely what a review of the data from Israel (where the 2008 study was conducted) demonstrates.
A review of deaths between 1970 and 2006 from Israel’s National Cancer Registry found that:
The total number of parotid gland cancers in Israel increased 4-fold from 1970 to 2006 (from 16 to 64 cases per year), whereas other major salivary gland cancers remained stable.
The point about other salivary gland cancers is also a significant one. In the time period studied, the rate of parotid gland cancers increased, whereas the salivary gland (which has a degree of natural shielding against EMF radiation by the jaw bone) remained steady, further strengthening the causal link.
Brain Tumors in the UK
The incidence of aggressive brain tumors have skyrocketed in the UK, according to a 2018 report – and the researchers point specifically to the increased use of cell phones as a cause.
The report, which was published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, was based on an analysis of England’s national statistics from the years 1995 to 2015. When breaking the data down to the specific types of brain tumors reported across those years, it transpired that glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) brain tumors — the deadliest and most aggressive type — had more than doubled.
“We found a sustained and highly significant increase in GBM throughout the 21 years and across all ages,” lead researcher Alasdair Philips told the website Microwave News.
Sometimes the rise in reported cases of a disease can be linked back to changes in how that illness is diagnosed. More accurate scans or the introduction of new screening technologies, for example, can lead to more diagnoses. So could that be the case with GBM?
According to Philips and his team, that’s highly unlikely.
First, since these types of tumors are usually fatal, they are unlikely to be missed in diagnosis. And secondly, statistics show that during the same time period, low-grade (i.e. less aggressive) tumors actually decreased.
“If better diagnosis were responsible for the changes in GBM, then you would expect the two trends to be going in the same direction,” Philips has said in a previous interview, speaking about the raw statistical data.
So why the exponential increase, then? As Philips told Microwave News:
When we looked at the incidence of GBM tumors we found an even more dramatic rise in frontal and temporal regions of the brain. This raises the suspicion that mobile phone use may be promoting gliomas.
Philips also noted that the results supported previous findings by Swedish oncologist and researcher Lennart Hardell.
Hardell has conducted extensive research into the effects of electromagnetic radiation. One key paper from 2014 found that Swedes who talked on mobile or cordless phones for more than 25 years were three times as likely to develop a certain kind of brain cancer.
Hardell himself weighed in on the UK study on his blog, writing: “Our results are similar to those now published from England. All results are in agreement with wireless phones (mobile phones and cordless phones) causing glioma.”
Cell Phones Cause Brain Tumors: Legal Precedent
Reports like the UK study mentioned above continue to support the existence of a strong link between cell phones and brain cancer. And major health organisations are taking note.
The World Health Organization, for example, classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” back in 2011.
“What that means is they found some evidence of increase in glioma and acoustic neuroma brain cancer for mobile phone users, but have not been able to draw conclusions for other types of cancers,” CNN reported at the time.
So why is there still debate surrounding the link?
Establishing a clear and indisputable connection between cell phones and cancer remains a difficult task. As one recent report notes, there are many methodological barriers to designing accurate studies. Largely “due to the fact that EMFs are imperceptible, ubiquitous, have multiple sources, and can vary greatly over time and short distances.”
But, as time passes, these links are becoming more obvious– and the causal link between cell phones and brain tumors is now legal precedent, affirmed by two separate courts.
As the Daily Mail reported in 2017:
A man has been awarded monthly social security payments after a [Italian] court found that his brain tumor was caused by a company-issued cellphone… it was the first trial court verdict in the world ‘to recognize a link between cellphone use and the development of brain tumor’.
And the court in Italy ordered the Italian mobile firm, Telecom Italia, to pay the plaintiff an annuity for the rest of his life.
The plaintiff, Roberto Romeo, used his work cell for approximately four hours per day for 15 years for his job at Telecom Italia. His total exposure was estimated at 12,600 hours over 15 years. And he developed an acoustic neuroma, which is a brain tumor that forms on an acoustic nerve in the head.
Additionally, the judge refused to accept ‘evidence’ submitted by the cell phone industry claiming that cell phone use is “safe”.
Why? Because those studies submitted on behalf of the defendant were funded by the cell phone industry.
The Turin court of appeal on Tuesday upheld a ruling issued by a lower court in 2017 in relation to a man with neurinoma of the acoustic nerve, a benign but disabling tumour. The decision was based on studies provided by two court-appointed doctors that showed an increased risk of head tumours among those who talked on their phones for 30 minutes a day over a 10-year period… “There are solid elements to affirm a causal role between the exposure of the person to radio frequencies from mobile phones and the disease that arose,” the judges said in their ruling.
So now an appeals court agrees with the original lower court: cell phones cause tumors.
Making this ruling an even stronger precedent for EMF health advocates, the appeals court judges also found that a significant portion of the scientific studies that find that cell phones do not cause cancer are funded by the wireless industry– and that this funding is not always disclosed with the research.
Cell Phone Towers, Antennas and Masts
While the use of a cell phone remains at one’s personal discretion, cell phone towers are always on and broadcasting electromagnetic radiation into the environment, radiating everyone within range, whether or not they use a cell phone.
This, of course, includes the many infants and young children who are not yet cell phone users. And people have no choice as to whether or not to be exposed to them. In a sense, radiation from these towers can be viewed as the cell phone equivalent of second-hand smoke.
Industry and related organizations acknowledge the presence of RF from these towers but they maintain that public exposure to the radio waves from cell phone tower antennas is slight. For example, they point out that the antennas are mounted high above ground level with the result that the RF loses much of its intensity before it reaches any people.
Despite these claims, several recent studies indicate an increase in cancer associated with proximity to cell towers. And the closer one is to the tower, the greater the risk of developing cancer. In fact, some people live in apartment buildings with these transmission towers immediately above, on the roof, and, as we can see from the example of England’s Tower of Doom, the results can be tragic.
UK’s ‘Tower of Doom’
The Tower of Doom is a pair of cell phone masts owned by the British firms Vodafone and Orange. They were erected in 1994 on top of an apartment building.
In the years that followed, local residents, and particularly the dwellers of the apartments in the buildings directly under the masts, began noticing increased incidence of negative health effects, including cancer. Among those residents of the building who were affected by the Tower of Doom included
- John Llewellin who died of bowel cancer;
- Barbara Wood, Joyce Davies and Hazel Frape, who all died of breast cancer;
- Barbara Watts and Phyllis Smith who both developed breast cancer;
- and Bernice Mitchell who developed uterine cancer.
In actual fact, the cancer rate on the top floor of the apartment building was 10 times higher than the national average.
Following years of public outcry, Orange eventually agreed to remove their tower in 2007. Vodafone, in contrast, has not, and the South Gloucestershire Council remains unable to force removal because current safety standards do not indicate that cell phone tower radiation is dangerous.
Causal Link Borne Out in Multiple Studies
A 2011 review of the research published on the health outcomes of long-term exposure to low-intensity microwave radiation (such as that to which you may be exposed by nearby towers) noted demonstrable carcinogenic effects. These typically manifested after extended exposure of 10 years or more.
Notably, these low levels of MW radiation in the study are well within the ICNIRP (the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, of the World Health Organization) safety standards.
On the specific question of radiation from cell towers, this review noted that even one year of exposure led to a “dramatic” increase in cancers in nearby residents. One study compared cancer cases among people living up to 400 meters (less than a quarter of a mile) from a base transmitting station and people living further away. After ten years, the group close to the base station had over three times the rate of cancer relative to those living at a greater distance.
Similar findings were reported in Brazil in 2011. In this study, the greatest accumulated cancer incidence was among those exposed to power density as high as 40.78 µW/cm2 was 5.83 per 1000. In contrast, those further away who were exposed to power density 0.04 µW/cm2 (levels one thousand times lower than the group with the highest exposure), had a notably lower cancer incidence of 2.05 per 1000.
These studies, and others like them, indicate that towers are a significant component in the risks associated with cell phones.
Other Types of Cancer & Tumors
Brain tumors get a lot of the attention because many people (quite reasonably) find them to be terrifying. But the brain is not the only part of the body where we have increased risk of forming cancer from exposure to electromagnetic radiation from our mobile phones.
Escalating Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is now the fastest growing cancer in the U.S, having tripled over the last three decades. Though still not as common as other cancers, the National Cancer Institute estimates there were over 53,000 new cases in the U.S in 2018 alone.
Death rates have also been rising on average 0.7% each year over the period 2006-2015.
So why the increase?
Better imaging technology and diagnostic tools could be one factor, since they can now pick up tumors that would have previously gone undetected. But researchers suggest that this alone can’t account for the growing numbers. Another possibility is environmental factors — like electromagnetic radiation.
“We postulate that the whole increase cannot be attributed to better diagnostic procedures,” concludes a Swedish study from 2016. “Increasing exposure to ionizing radiation, e.g. medical computed tomography (CT) scans, and to RF-EMF (non-ionizing radiation) should be further studied,” suggest the authors.
New research published in December 2020 in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health further explores the rising rates of thyroid cancer. The study used the Swedish Cancer Register to track trends in cancer rates between 1970 and 2017. To summarize the key takeaways from the study:
- Professor Lennart Hardell, a member of the research team, says there’s been an “extremely steep increase in thyroid cancer incidence during recent years – especially in women”.
- The increase in thyroid cancers was especially pronounced during 2010–2017, suggesting that the more ubiquitous EMF-emitting technologies become, the faster cancer rates increase.
- The researchers found a similar increase across all Nordic countries, confirming that the rise in cases is not unique to one specific area.
- The increasing incidence was similar for tumors ≤4 cm as for tumors >4 cm, indicating that “the increase cannot be explained by overdiagnosis”.
The researchers conclude, “These results are in agreement with recent results on increased thyroid cancer risk associated with the use of mobile phones. We postulate that RF radiation is a causative factor for the increasing thyroid cancer incidence.“
Research Linking Cell Phones And Thyroid Cancer
Increased exposure to EMFs from wireless devices and cell phones is certainly one explanation that would fit with the thyroid cancer rate timeline.
And research has shown that cell phone radiation does have an effect on the functioning of the thyroid. Take this 2017 study, which measured the amount of time students spent talking on a mobile phone per day, alongside their thyroid function as indicated by levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). It found a “significant correlation between total radiation exposure and an increase in TSH”, regardless of whether the participant had a family history of thyroid illness or not.
Note that high levels of TSH are typically an indicator of thyroid dysfunctions like hypothyroidism.
As for cancer specifically, research is only beginning to really explore the link to EMFs.
Most recently, a 2018 study looked at 462 thyroid cancer cases in Connecticut between 2010 and 2011. Though it didn’t prove any significant association between cell phone use and thyroid cancer in general, it did find an increased risk of a sub-type of tumor called a microcarcinoma. These are small tumors of 10mm or less in size.
The groups with increased risk were individuals who had used a cell phone for more than 15 years; had used a cell phone for more than 2 hours per day; or who had the most cumulative hours or calls.
The increase in risk fell just below the level of statistical significance, which could be due to the small sample size. Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D. speculates that controlling for cordless phone use — which may be another risk factor for thyroid cancer — could also alter the significance of the results.
Lastly, it’s also important to consider the age of the data used and how this might impact the results.
Smart Phones And The Thyroid
Information from the American Cancer Society states that the most common thyroid cancers, papillary carcinomas, “tend to grow very slowly”.
This fact is significant, as we need to bear in mind that the true effects of long-term EMF exposure may take years to present.
Recall that the 2018 study looked at cases from between 2010 and 2011 — a time when smart phones were only just reaching mainstream popularity. This could account for why the increase in microcarcinomas had only started to show up. With years more of smart phone use, there’s a strong chance the incidence of tumors will be shown to escalate further and to more significant levels.
Smart phones may also have a more detrimental effect on the thyroid due to their design.
As Dr. Moskowitz notes: “Since smart phones are more likely to have cell antennas located in the bottom of the phones than earlier cell phone models, the peak radiation exposure from a smart phone is more likely in the neck than in the brain. Hence, I would hypothesize that the association between cell phone use and thyroid cancer has increased in recent years.”
The good news about thyroid cancer is that the survival rate of patients is high in comparison to other cancers. The National Cancer Institute lists the 5-year survival rate at 98.1 percent. Typically, surgery will be done to remove the cancer. If the thyroid itself needs to be completely removed, patients can recover but will be put on a life-long medication regimen to replace the hormones no longer being produced by the organ.
Rising Rates Of Colorectal Cancer
Professor De-Kun Li, a senior epidemiologist and research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, has proposed that cell phones might be to blame for soaring rates of colorectal cancer.
What do we mean by soaring rates?
Colorectal cancer (an umbrella term for any cancers of the bowel, colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States for men and women combined.
But here’s the interesting thing: on the whole, the death rate from colorectal cancer has declined, a lot. In 2016 there were less than half the deaths that there were in 1970. This is great news, and we have better treatments and increased screening to thank.
And yet, at the same time, colorectal cancer rates in young people are increasing. Here’s the American Cancer Society:
“Although the overall death rate has continued to drop, deaths from colorectal cancer among people younger than age 55 have increased 1% per year from 2007 and 2016.”
Overall proportion of diagnosis in young people is rising as well. According to a report from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute:
- Between 1989 and 2013, the proportion of rectal cancer diagnosed in adults younger than 55 doubled (from 14.6% to 29.2%).
- Those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer than those born around 1950.
It’s not just the US: colorectal cancer rates have risen in young people in other developed countries as well.
What is it about the lifestyles of younger people that makes them more susceptible to cancers like colon cancer and bowel cancer?
The Link Between Cell Phones And Colorectal Cancer
“Doctors aren’t certain what causes most colon cancers,” says the Mayo Clinic. It begins, they say, when healthy cells develop DNA mutations.
As a veteran researcher into the effects of EMF on human health, Dr. De-Kun Li has put forward a theory on what’s causing those mutations: radiation from cell phones.
“When placed in trouser pockets, the phones are in the vicinity of the rectum and the distal colon and these are the sites of the largest increases in cancer,” he told Microwave News.
Other risk factors like obesity, low-fibre diet and sedentary lifestyle aren’t a logical fit. “If anything,” said Li, “younger generations are more health conscious with better diets.”
One thing you may be wondering is exactly how much radiation is absorbed by the body when your phone is in your pocket. Especially given that the phone isn’t directly in use and should automatically go into standby mode.
This is difficult to answer because, in truth, cell phones are not adequately tested for safety in different conditions. Mobile phone safety standards are usually based on radiation absorption tested when the phone is held at least 10mm away from the body — a fact that was called out in a TED talk as the “dirty secret” of the telecommunications industry.
When held in contact with the body, it was revealed, most phones fail to pass safety standards.
So while emissions are generally reduced in standby mode, as noted by Microwave News, there are other factors that are ignored by tests — like that smartphone apps now have slews of locations services pinging away in the background, or that your phone emits more radiation when you’re moving because it needs to search for new cell towers to connect to.
The latter factor is particularly pertinent if you consider that we’re moving toward 5G networks. 5G cell towers are spaced extremely close together, meaning your phone will have to update its position with alarming frequency. Thus we’re likely to see a huge increase in radiation exposure from cell phones, even when they’re in pockets and on stand-by mode.
If Li’s hypothesis turns out to be correct, this does not bode well for the already-rising rates of colorectal cancer. Dr. De-Kun Li has been right before. His groundbreaking research on magnetic fields and miscarriage has been backed up by at least seven other studies.
Another very scary type of cancer is breast cancer, which predominantly occurs in women. Because of the growing evidence linking cell phones to the formation of cancers, many (myself included) strongly advise women not to carry their phones in their bras– which is a disturbingly common habit.
For example, in 2017, researchers at Monash University in Australia surveyed nearly 200 women of ages 15 to 40, and found that a quarter of them had carried their smartphone tucked into their bra — with 15 percent doing so in the past week.
There is not yet a large body of evidence linking cell phones to breast cancer, specifically. A small 2013 study examined four women under 40 with no family history of breast cancer.
All patients regularly carried their smartphones directly against their breasts in their brassieres for up to 10 hours a day, for several years, and developed tumors in areas of their breasts immediately underlying the phones…All patients had no family history of breast cancer, tested negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2, and had no other known breast cancer risks.
Again, this is a small study, so the possible conclusions are limited in scope. However, the lack of family history and genetic disposition to breast cancer, along with the fact that the cancers formed directly underneath the location where the phone was carried, are strong indicators.
And, while we await additional studies, the evidence is strong enough for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to warn that “flight attendants may be more likely to get breast cancer than the general population” due to their elevated exposure to cosmic EMF radiation.
What You Can Do
These days almost everyone has– and needs– a cell phone. So what can you do to reduce your risk of negative health effects from cell phone radiation?
The answer is actually quite simple: use your phone less, and keep it further away from your body when it’s on. So, for example, you can:
- Stop carrying your cell phone in your pocket.
- Stop sleeping with your phone.
- Always use your speakerphone or an anti-radiation headset.
Little changes to your behavior, like these, can make a massive reduction in your exposure to electromagnetic radiation from your phone. It’s why we always say the best EMF protection is free.