How safe is your cell phone?

Eating a high-nutrient diet focused on whole plant foods allows us to avoid many of the common environmental toxins and carcinogens that humans come into contact with on a regular basis, like heterocyclic amines, acrylamide, dioxins, and mercury.  But there are other environmental carcinogens that do not come from the diet, and we need to be aware of these too.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a cautionary statement in 2011 about the potential dangers of radiation from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, the type of radiation emitted by mobile phones and other wireless communication devices, radar, microwaves, radio, and television.   A panel of scientists reviewed the existing research on the topic, and they decided to classify radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans."1

Photo of man using a cell phone

The research is not conclusive yet, but the IARC advises caution while we wait for further studies to be done.  Many of the studies so far have not found a connection between mobile phone use and cancer, but a few studies have found significant risk of brain tumors:

  • The 13-country industry-funded Interphone study whose results were published last year did not find any increase in brain tumor risk associated with mobile phone use overall.  However, they did see an increased risk of one type of brain tumor (glioma) at the highest exposure levels to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.2
  • An Israeli study found that greater cell phone use was associated with the development of parotid gland (a salivary gland) tumors.3
  • A series of studies in Sweden have found links between cell phone use and brain tumors, particularly with long-term cell phone use (10 years or more) and in those who began using cell phones before age 20.4-6
  • A review of 11 studies on cell phone use and brain tumors reported that most studies did not find associations, but 3 studies of long-term cell phone use did find that the risk of one type of brain tumor (acoustic neuroma) more than doubled in those who had used cell phones for 10 years or more.7
  • A recent study found that an active cell phone against the ear increases glucose metabolism in the area of the brain closest to the antenna.  Whether this has any relevance to the brain tumor studies is unknown, but this result does confirm that cell phone radiation can affect biological processes in the brain.8

Avoiding mobile phones is simply not an option for most of us, so what can we do to reduce our exposure?

The Environmental Working Group provides these tips:

  • Choose a phone that emits lower levels of radiation – check the guide to the best and worst phones to see where your current phone ranks.
  • Use a headset or speakerphone – holding your phone away from the body reduces radiation exposure significantly.
  • Send a text message instead of calling when possible.
  • Keep your cell phone turned off until you need to use it.
  • Don’t talk when your phone is “working” to acquire a signal: when signal is low, or when you are in a moving vehicle.
  • Children’s cell phone use should be very limited. Remember that children’s smaller bodies and dividing cells are more susceptible to carcinogenic influences. 

Cell phones have only been in widespread use for a relatively short time, and it can take years or even decades for cancer to develop after exposure to a carcinogenic influence.  We simply don’t know how safe cell phones are, and how their radiation may affect our physiology in the long term.  In light of the data so far, cautious and conservative cell phone use is likely a valuable addition to an anti-cancer lifestyle.



1. Cell Phones Possibly Carcinogenic, WHO Says. Medscape Family Medicine News. Accessed June 22, 2011.

2. Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study. Int J Epidemiol 2010;39:675-694.

3. Sadetzki S, Chetrit A, Jarus-Hakak A, et al: Cellular phone use and risk of benign and malignant parotid gland tumors--a nationwide case-control study. Am J Epidemiol 2008;167:457-467.

4. Hardell L, Carlberg M: Mobile phones, cordless phones and the risk for brain tumours. Int J Oncol 2009;35:5-17.

5. Hardell L, Carlberg M, Hansson Mild K: Pooled analysis of case-control studies on malignant brain tumours and the use of mobile and cordless phones including living and deceased subjects. Int J Oncol 2011;38:1465-1474.

6. Hardell L, Carlberg M, Soderqvist F, et al: Meta-analysis of long-term mobile phone use and the association with brain tumours. Int J Oncol 2008;32:1097-1103.

7. Han YY, Kano H, Davis DL, et al: Cell phone use and acoustic neuroma: the need for standardized questionnaires and access to industry data. Surg Neurol 2009;72:216-222; discussion 222.

8. Volkow ND, Tomasi D, Wang GJ, et al: Effects of cell phone radiofrequency signal exposure on brain glucose metabolism. JAMA 2011;305:808-813.