Does Mobile Phone Radiation Cause Cancer?

A mobile phone is something that’s always with you, whenever and wherever you go. During the day you keep it in your pocket, look at its screen or hold it close to your ear. At night it lies next to your bed until it goes off in the morning and wakes you up. It works like an alarm clock, a small portable computer, a music player, you name it, in a word, it’s indispensable. Almost everyone uses a mobile phone these days, but unfortunately few people are aware that it functions as an antenna that is continuously switched on and in constant contact with our body. Indeed, mobile phones are emitters of electromagnetic radiation and this should not be neglected. Our attachment to mobile phones mightn’t be as safe as it may seem.

Waiting for proof

As a matter of fact, when the analogue mobile phone came into use in the 1980s people took on the role of guinea pigs. After a dozen years or so a Swedish study found that there’s a link between the glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumour, and the intensity of a mobile phone conversation[1]. Although digital broadcasting used nowadays is considered safer, a few years ago the World Health Organization identified mobile phone radiation as ‘potentially carcinogenic’ and announced the publication of a cross-sectional report[2].

Yet, these findings are only partially confirmed: according to the Swedish study, the risk of cancer arises relatively late, about 20 years after one has started using a mobile phone. For that reason, it might take decades before we can clearly determine what the link between the occurrence of cancer and mobile phone radiation is.

Side effects

Electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones may lead to a variety of side effects. Heat radiation, in the case of mobile phones, is rather harmless to the brain and virtually imperceptible[3]. However, the thermoacoustic pressure wave may be more noticeable for the user. Mobile phones work like a transmitter of impulses and every impulse generates a microscopic increase in the skull pressure: this results in an acoustic wave.

A resonance may occur between the skull and the wave, which is the reason why even after a few minutes of talking on the phone some people tend to suffer from a headache. The biggest risk factor, however, is electromagnetic radiation, particularly microwaves. They might change the structure of proteins or damage the blood-brain barrier that forms a boundary between blood vessels and nerve tissue[4].

How to minimize the risk

Precautionary measures don’t cost much. The best way is to limit conversations conducted via a mobile phone. It’s advisable to keep the mobile phone away from the body as often as possible. One way of doing it is to use headphones or hands-free kits when making calls. It’s also a good idea to avoid keeping the mobile phone in your pocket if you do so. Remember that paradoxically the better the signal, the less power a mobile phone needs for its operation.

When a mobile phone tries to connect to a base station, it works with the slightest power, but when the signal weakens, the power of the device increases. Therefore, in a place where the signal is weak, such as a remote area or an elevator, your mobile phone will radiate more intensively. Lastly, if you have children, you should also consider what age is appropriate for them to start using mobile phones. Bear in mind that children’s skulls are thinner and more sensitive to radiation.

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[1]Strålskyddsstiftelsen (2017) Brain tumours are increasing in Denmark [Online] 27/06/2017)

[2]WHO (2011) IARC classifies radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans [Online] (Accessed 27/06/2017)

[3]IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques (Unknown) How Mobile Phone Radiation Penetrates The Brain [Online] 27/06/2017)

[4]Nittby, H. et al. (2009) Increased blood-brain barrier permeability in mammalian brain 7 days after exposure to the radiation from a GSM-900 mobile phone. [Online] 27/06/2017)