Can you get breast cancer from keeping your cell phone in your bra? Often stuck with no convenient way to carry their devices, a lot of women find themselves asking that question. So, is there a health risk? If so, what is it?
To answer it, we bring you Healthy Living Tip #65: Don’t Carry Your Cell Phone In Your Bra. Let’s take a look at why.
Yes – Phones In Bras Are A Thing
Like it or not, women’s clothing design often favors form over function. Pockets can ruin the lines of a garment, so designers simply do away with them. Sportswear is a great example – how many women, heading out for a jog on their own, opt to stash their cell phone in their sports bra rather than risk being without it?
Other women simply find that slipping their phone into their bra is a handy way to keep it safe and close at hand. Some bras and sports bras these days are even deliberately designed with cell phone pockets built in to cater to this habit.
In one 2017 study from Australia, 25% of women surveyed had carried their phones in their bras at one time or another, with 15% having done so in the past week. The youngest age groups had the highest rates of phone-in-bra use.
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To think about it another way, that’s 15 women out of every 100 regularly carrying their cell phone directly against their chest and breasts.
According to the CDC, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. Hence we arrive at the question of whether it’s safe to carry your phone in your bra.
Can Putting Your Phone in Your Bra Cause Cancer?
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: establishing a scientific cause and effect for diseases is complicated. For one thing, many diseases are caused by multiple environmental and genetic factors, not one thing alone.
On top of that, epidemiological studies (those that study diseases in a real-world population) are expensive to run and generally don’t give conclusive proof, while laboratory studies don’t always reflect the real world. Our post about the health risks of cell phones explains this in detail if you want to know more.
Suffice to say, these exact limitations apply to studying cell phones in bras.
What we can do is take a look at the information available and use that to help us decide how to act.
So here’s what we do know.
Cell Phones Emit EMF Radiation
For any cell phone to work, it must be generating electromagnetic radiation (EMF). And in truth, your phone is a source of multiple different types of EMF – cellular data, WiFi, Bluetooth, and possibly others like NFC and wireless charging.
Here’s more about what EMF is, but to put it simply, this radiation being emitted by our devices is not natural. Human bodies didn’t evolve with it and have become exposed to a very large amount of it in a very short space of time.
So while the type of EMF emitted by your cell phone falls under the category of non-ionizing radiation (as distinct from things like X-Rays and UV rays, which are ionizing and unquestionably very harmful), that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
In fact, there’s a lot of research out there to suggest that non-ionizing radiation can cause negative health effects. These range from DNA damage to infertility to cancer. And EMF exposure for women has been shown to cause unique problems like miscarriage as well.
The body of evidence for such health effects is impressive – and growing. Which, in light of what we noted above about how difficult it is to study the causes of such diseases, is really saying something.
Even Phone Companies Tell You Not to Carry Your Phone Next to Your Body
If you read the fine print that’s tucked away in the manual of your smartphone or other device, you’ll notice something very interesting. Even the manufacturers themselves tell you not to hold it directly near your body.
If you, say, carry your phone in your pocket, your EMF exposure can exceed FCC guidelines (which are themselves insufficient for a variety of reasons).
For example, here’s a legal notice from Samsung for the Galaxy S10:
“Body-worn SAR testing has been carried out at a separation distance of 1.5 cm. To meet RF exposure guidelines during body-worn operation, the device should be positioned at least this distance away from the body.”
That means you’d need to keep your cell phone 15 mm away from your body just to be within the exposure limits!
If, on the other hand, you keep your phone nestled close to your skin – as you would with it in your bra – the results could be extremely dangerous. Let’s take a look at some of the research that’s been done so far.
The Research On EMF, Breast Cancer & Phones In Bras
Various meta-studies and reviews themselves note that the research around breast cancer and EMF is thin, and at times conflicting. And yet, what little research does exist certainly points to the need for more.
Here’s one laboratory study that exposed human breast cells to microwave radiation at 2.1 GHz (a frequency in the range of common wireless devices). The results showed that the radiation was able to inhibit cell proliferation and induce apoptotic cell death.
One review published in Annals of Epidemiology notes that there have been multiple occupational studies showing an increased incidence of breast cancer among electrical workers – in this case, mostly males (females in this profession have been less studied because there are fewer of them).
The review also highlights several other studies, including one where pre-menopausal women in occupations with high EMF exposure were found to be at a significantly higher risk of breast cancer.
But perhaps one of the most interesting studies on EMF and breast cancer to date is this one from 2013. The report details four separate case studies of young women who developed multifocal invasive breast cancer. States the report:
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.
These cases are intriguing for several additional reasons:
- All patients had no family history of breast cancer, tested negative for genetic factors, and had no other known breast cancer risks.
- All were under the age of 40 – and presenting with breast cancer without a genetic predisposition is extremely rare for that age group (less than 5% of cases).
- Pathology of all four cases was strikingly similar. Says the report: “All tumors are hormone-positive, low-intermediate grade, having an extensive intraductal component, and all tumors have near identical morphology.”
Case 1, a woman of just 21 years old, kept her cell phone in her bra on the left side for several hours a day. As you can see below, her mammogram showed a mass of calcifications spanning 12 cm (4.7″) directly under the area where she kept her phone.
In another of the cases, a 33-year-old woman had been placing her cell phone in her bra intermittently for eight years. In the two years prior to diagnosis she went jogging 3-4 times per week with her phone in her bra, with GPS switched on to track her running activity. She presented with “at least six suspicious lesions spanning a length of 8 cm in the upper outer quadrant of the right breast” – again, directly under where she kept her phone.
The other two cases were a similar story.
“Although the numbers of reported cases here are too small to have a scientific conclusion,” conclude the study’s authors, “the findings are intriguing and support the notion that direct cellular phone contact may be associated with the development of breast carcinoma.”
What Should You Do?
The reality is that there’s no consensus from the medical community on EMF radiation and breast cancer. Some studies find only a weak link or no increased risk. Others show a significant increase in incidence.
As mentioned, drawing conclusive relationships is difficult for a number of reasons. Studies are difficult to conduct; some suffer from poor design, small sample sizes, or conflicts of interest; diseases can be caused by multiple factors; and cancers can take years to develop and diagnose.
But given the deadly nature of breast cancers, the research above is, beyond a doubt, enough to bring the precautionary principle into play.
If a woman as young as 21 with no family history of breast cancer can develop a tumor directly under where she’s been placing her phone – a tumor that requires a mastectomy and spreads all the way down to the bone – that should be enough to make you think twice.
The simplest solution is, of course, don’t carry your cell phone in your bra.
If you don’t have any other option but to keep your phone close to your body, limit your use to minimize radiation. For example, don’t use GPS tracking (which is constantly beaming a cellular signal), turn off functions like Bluetooth and WiFi when not needed, or – even better – put it in airplane mode to stop EMF emissions all together.
Do note that a cell phone emits heat when switched on, and even that can lead to what’s known as the thermal effect (it heats your bodily tissue, which can cause lasting damage). So again, keeping it off or away from your body is always the best option.
There are certainly EMF protection products that can help with deflecting harmful EMF radiation. If you simply must carry your phone in your bra (or pocket) switched on, do consider making a small investment in one of these.
When it comes down to it, minimizing your use and maximizing your distance from EMF-emitting devices is always a good idea. It costs nothing, and you can still get the most out of your gadgets. And that’s why those two strategies are still the best EMF protection around.