In this insight, we look at the history of fears about a possible link between mobile phone usage and cancer, then we look at the latest studies, conclusions, and expert opinions.
Claims that mobile phones could cause cancer (e.g. brain tumours) can be traced back to the 1990s when mobile phones were first used frequently. This led to research into whether radiation from mobile phone antennas or phone towers was affecting human health. This also led to the International EMF (Electric and Magnetic Fields) Project in 1996 which assessed the scientific evidence of possible health effects of EMF in the frequency range from 0 to 300 GHz. The research and advice fuelled widespread fears and speculation about a link between mobile phone use and cancer. Brain cancer was a particular focus because hand-held phones are used close to the head and because ionizing radiation has been found to cause some brain cancers. However, as was established later, ionizing radiation is a higher energy form of radiation than that emitted by mobile phones.
Also, in 2011, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said that it was classifying electromagnetic fields from mobile phones and other sources as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” This resulted in the agency advising the public to adopt safety measures to reduce exposure, such as the using of hands-free devices, or texting. This again added fuel to the idea that mobile phone use was dangerous.
Threats – Two Types
The two main perceived threats to health possibly caused by mobile phone use are, therefore, the emission of possibly harmful radiation (radiofrequency radiation, or radio waves), and the widespread and frequent use of mobile phones by the public. For example, 90% of people in the UK now own a mobile phone (Statista).
Many of those who argue that mobile phones do cause tumour growth (also DNA damage and decreased fertility) cite peer-reviewed studies. They also claim that cancers take 20-30 years to develop and that mobile phone studies have only monitored periods of 10 years or less.
There have also been some successful lawsuits against mobile phone manufacturers. For example, two separate cases in Italy, in 2009 and 2017 resulted in pensions being awarded to plaintiffs who claimed that their benign brain tumours were caused by prolonged mobile phone use in professional tasks, for 5–6 hours a day.
New Study Says ‘No Link’
A new study involving more than 770,000 women has concluded that mobile phone usage does not pose a tumour risk for the average user. The survey was conducted by scientists from the Oxford Population Health and International Agency for Research on Cancer used data from the ongoing research project ‘Million Women Study’ (recruiting one in four of all UK women born between 1935 and 1950).
The study looked at the risk of a variety of brain tumours including glioma (nervous system tumour), acoustic neuroma (tumour of the nerve connecting the brain and inner ear), meningioma (a tumour on the membrane surrounding the brain), and pituitary gland tumours.
14-Year Follow-Up Period
After a 14-year follow-up period of the 3,000+ women who developed a brain tumour, the researchers were able to conclude that there was no significance difference in the risk of developing a brain tumour between those using a mobile phone or those not using one. Also, the researchers concluded that even for those who spoke for at least 20 minutes a week or had used a mobile phone for over 10 years, there was no increased risk of developing any type of tumour.
Radiation From Mobile Phones Is Not Harmful
Mobile phones emit radiation in the radiofrequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum, but the ranges of the frequencies in mobile phones fall in the non-ionizing range of the spectrum, which is low frequency and low energy. This means that the energy is too low to damage DNA.
Cancer Research UK & National Cancer Institute (US)
The charity Cancer Research UK states that: “Using mobile phones does not increase the risk of cancer. And there aren’t any good explanations for how mobile phones could cause cancer.”
The National Cancer Institute in the US says: “The evidence to date suggests that cell phone use does not cause brain or other kinds of cancer in humans”. Also, on the subject of potentially damaging radiation from mobile phones, it says: “The human body does absorb energy from devices that emit radiofrequency radiation” causing heating to the area of the body where a cell phone is held (e.g. the ear and head). However, it also states: “that heating is not sufficient to measurably increase core body temperature. There are no other clearly established dangerous health effects on the human body from radiofrequency radiation.”
What About 5G?
There have been many fears about the possible cancer risks of 5G.
Cancer Research UK is very clear about this subject, stating that: “4G and 5G mobile signals do not cause cancer” and that “5G networks use higher frequency waves than 4G or older mobile networks, but they still don’t have enough energy to damage DNA to cause cancer”.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Many people in business now use their smartphone for multiple aspects of their business meaning that they are in close contact with their mobile phone for many hours per day, every day with everything from calls to texts, app use, online meetings and collaborative working. Their use of their mobile phones may have even increased during and after the pandemic due to remote working. It is, therefore, in everyone’s interest to know if mobile phone use causes cancer. Thankfully, as shown by this latest survey (although critics say it only involved women) and supported by other credible research and advice from respected cancer charities, there is no solid evidence to suggest that mobile phone use causes cancer. 5G has yet to be fully rolled out and more studies are likely to follow but the current consensus is that 5g will not pose any cancer risk.
By Mike Knight