Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Cellphone radiation – is it harmful?

December 11, 2013 1 comment

There are an estimated 6.8 billion cellphones all over the world and about 900 million in India, second highest in the world. There is an increasing concern over health effects of cell-phone radiation in general public, largely attributed to popular media. This adversarial reporting on radiation has cause so much fear that people are frowning over children and pregnant women using cellphones

The main claims about dangers of cellphone radiation are fatigue, dizziness, brain tumors, cancer, heating of body tissue (to the extent of brain getting cooked like an egg or popcorn). When a news agency like CNN publishes an article about how carrying a cellphone in pocket is akin to roasting one’s bone marrow, panic among readers is expected. So, is cellphone radiation really that harmful? What do clinical studies say about this? Did we have sufficient time period since the advent of cellphones to conduct long-term research? Is there any conclusive evidence for or against any of these claims?

What does research say?

We actually had sufficient time to conduct long-term studies on effect of cellphone radiation. This nation-wide massive study done in Denmark and published by National Cancer Institute (NHI) studied 420,000 cellphone users over a period of 13 years tested the association of cellphone usage with brain tumor, salivary glands tumor, leukemia and other cancers and their variation by duration of cellphone use, time since first subscription and age at first subscription. The results didn’t support the hypothesis with any statistical significance.

Another study published by European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) researched on how radio frequency (RF) fields, including those generated by mobile phones, might affect health. They studied people who have used a mobile phone for up to 10 years. This study used three independent lines of evidence (studies on humans, animals, and cell cultures) and concluded the following:

  • Exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increased cancer risk in humans.
  • There is no evidence so far that exposure to radio signals could cause self-reported symptoms like headaches and dizziness. There have been indications that there might be adverse effects that are caused by expectations or beliefs that RF fields and EMF in general are harmful (a nocebo effect).
  • There is no evidence that individuals are able to sense RF fields.
  • There is no evidence that RF field exposure contributes to DNA-damage.
  • There is no evidence that RF fields effect human or animal reproduction and development.

Fun fact: RF radiation is non-ionizing radiation, which means it doesn’t have enough energy to damage living cells or break chemical bonds. Ionizing radiation, on the other hand, like x-rays, gamma rays and cosmic rays, can damage living cells and cause cancer.

Probably the most extensive and widely cited study on cellphone radiation and brain tumors is the Interphone study, which was a coordinated interview case-control study done in Japan, who used a novel approach of estimating the radiation absorption in a tumor and its variation along with cellphone usage. The study observed no increase in overall risk of tumors in relation to regular mobile phone use. NCI has also published a note, citing a study published in British Medical Journal, that while cellphone use in U.S. increased substantially over the period 1992 to 2008 (from nearly 0 to almost 100 percent of the population),  trends in glioma (a type of brain tumor) incidence did not mirror that increase.

Finally, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of World Health Organization (WHO)  assessed and evaluated available literature and studies about effect of RF radiation on tumors and released a statement that there’s no evidence linking cellphone radiation with brain tumors. It has classified RF fields as Group 2B carcinogenic agents, which is “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, which actually means that there is limited (insignificant) evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. To realize what this means, Group 2B contains Coconut oil, Aloe vera, Caffeine and Asian pickled vegetables!

In summary, studies done till date suggest no evidence for cellphone usage causing dizziness, headaches, tumors or cancer. Despite evidence, if you are paranoid about it, you can try to maintain cautionary approach in using cellphones. But if that latest iPhone steals your heart, radiation effect is not any valid reason not to buy it.

References and further reading:

Swerdlow AJ, Feychting M, Green AC, Leeka Kheifets LK, Savitz DA. Mobile phones, brain tumors, and the interphone study: where are we now? Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(11):1534–1538. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1103693.

Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). Health effects of exposure to EMF. Scientific Committees. Retrieved 2008-12-08. <;

Takebayashi, T; Varsier, N; Kikuchi, Y; Wake, K; Taki, M; Watanabe, S; Akiba, S; Yamaguchi, N (2008-02-05). “Mobile phone use, exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic field, and brain tumour: a case-control study”. British Journal of Cancer (London: Nature Publishing Group) 98 (3): 652–659. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6604214

Johansen, C., Boice Jr., J., McLaughlin, J., Olsen, J. “Cellular Telephones and Cancer: A Nationwide Cohort Study in Denmark.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 7 Feb. 2001, Vol 93, No 3: 203-207.

WHO. “Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile telephones and their base stations.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, 1 Jun. 2000. Web. 13 Jan. 2010. <;

Dunning, B. “How Dangerous Is Cell Phone Radiation?” Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 2 Sep 2008. Web. 10 Dec 2013. <;

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