Is there any link between cellphones and cancer?

Answer From Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

The possible connection between cellphones and cancer is controversial. Many years' worth of studies on cellphones and cancer have yielded conflicting results. Currently, there's no consensus about the degree of cancer risk — if any — posed by cellphone use.

The primary concern with cellphones and cancer seems to be the development of brain tumors associated with cellphone use. Some research suggests a slight increase in the rate of brain tumors since the 1970s, but cellphones weren't in use during the 1970s.

Instead, the subtle increases are more likely related to other factors — such as increased access to medical care and improvements in diagnostic imaging.

  • In one study that followed more than 420,000 cellphone users over a 20-year period, researchers found no evidence of a link between cellphones and brain tumors.
  • Another study found an association between cellphones and cancer of the salivary glands. However, only a small number of study participants had malignant tumors.
  • Another study suggested a possible increased risk of glioma — a specific type of brain tumor — for the heaviest cellphone users, but no increase in brain tumor risk overall.

After evaluating several studies on the possibility of a connection between cellphones and glioma and a noncancerous brain tumor known as acoustic neuroma, members of the International Agency for Research on Cancer — part of the World Health Organization — agreed that there's limited evidence that cellphone radiation is a cancer-causing agent (carcinogenic). As a result, the group classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to people.

Still, a series of recent studies can't tell the entire story. It often takes many years between the use of a new cancer-causing agent and the observation of an increase in cancer rates, such as with tobacco and lung cancer. At this point, it's possible that too little time has passed to detect an increase in cancer rates directly attributable to cellphone use.

For now, no one knows if cellphones are capable of causing cancer. Although long-term studies are ongoing, to date there's no convincing evidence that cellphone use increases the risk of cancer. If you're concerned about the possible link between cellphones and cancer, consider limiting your use of cellphones — or use a speaker or hands-free device that places the cellphone antenna, which is typically in the cellphone itself, away from your head.

With

Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Dec. 12, 2018 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. 3 ways to get closer to achieving your goals
  2. Make healthy habits stick
  3. 5 do's and don'ts for staying motivated
  4. 5 ways to avoid secondhand smoke
  5. 7 signs and symptoms not to ignore
  6. Energy management
  7. Animal bites: Do you need a tetanus shot?
  8. Are you doing everything you can to stay healthy?
  9. Belching, intestinal gas, gas pains and bloating
  10. Bone health tips
  11. Cancer-prevention strategies
  12. Colon cancer screening
  13. Plastic surgery
  14. Do adults need shots?
  15. Don't save leftover pain pills
  16. Exercise: Check with your doctor
  17. Find meaning in the small things
  18. Flu Shot Prevents Heart Attack
  19. Functional fitness training
  20. Overcome obstacles to your goals
  21. Healthy holiday habits: How to get back on track
  22. Hand drying
  23. Hand-washing tips
  24. Healthy habits that boost happiness
  25. Healthy heart for life: Avoiding heart disease
  26. Heart attack prevention: Should I avoid secondhand smoke?
  27. Home Health Hazards
  28. Brown fat
  29. How social support spurs you
  30. Break the busy cycle
  31. How well do you wash your hands?
  32. Injury Season for Snow Blowers
  33. Investing in yourself
  34. Is antibacterial soap a do or a don't?
  35. Keep the focus on your long-term vision
  36. Liposuction alternatives
  37. Lost in Space
  38. Making progress towards your goals
  39. Mammogram guidelines: What are they?
  40. Make over your mindset to make time for your health
  41. Measles vaccine: Can I get the measles if I've already been vaccinated?
  42. Medical family tree
  43. Infographic: Organ Donation Donate Life
  44. Infographic: Paired Donation Chain
  45. Infographic: Pancreas Kidney Transplant
  46. Personal health records
  47. Personalize your wellness journey
  48. Stick to healthy-eating goals at social gatherings
  49. Posture: Align yourself for good health
  50. Posture check: Do you stand up straight?
  51. Reach your goals, track your habits
  52. New Year's resolutions
  53. Secondhand smoke
  54. Creating a wellness vision
  55. Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting?
  56. Good posture tips
  57. Back exercises
  58. Proper lifting techniques
  59. Stop multitasking and focus
  60. Thirdhand smoke: What are the dangers?
  61. Want good health? Build a solid base
  62. The benefits of gratitude
  63. Travel Safety
  64. Triclosan
  65. Using if-then statements
  66. Vaccines for adults
  67. What are superbugs?
  68. What are superbugs and how can I protect myself from infection?
  69. Air purifiers and smoke