The presumption that wireless phones cause brain cancer has persisted since their invention. Find out if the link between mobile phones and brain cancer is a myth or reality.
Mudit Chhikara
Myth or Reality: Mobile Phones Cause Brain Cancer

On February 4, World Cancer Day is observed in an effort to unite all parties involved in the fight against cancer under the common objective of reducing cancer worldwide.

The 5G network is on the horizon and has again sparked the debate about whether mobile phone usage causes brain cancer or not. Mobile phones indeed emit radiation, but so do all objects using wireless technology. Whether it's from television screens, Bluetooth gadgets, or even hair dryers, radiation is all around us.

However, this barrage of radiation is of extremely low frequency, unlike gamma or nuclear radiation, which immediately destroys the cellular structure. But the question still remains: Does mobile phone usage cause cancer?

Phone towers have become a common sight around the world. Even the most remote areas now have access to mobile networks and high-speed internet. Also, the use of phones and other wireless technologies has drastically increased in the past decade. This also coincides with the dangerously fast-rising rates of cancer, especially in and above the neck region.

Many studies have also been conducted to find the correlation between mobile phone usage and brain cancer but have produced varying results. Read on to find out if the notion that mobile phones cause brain cancer is a myth or reality.

How do Mobile Phones Work

The first handheld wireless phone came onto the market in 1983. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000x revolutionised the communication industry. Today, the number of phones exceeds the number of people in some countries.

Mobile phones work on the principles of electromagnetism and radio frequency communication. Unlike landline telephones, mobile phones, also called cellular or smartphones, do not transfer signals over cables.

Mobile phones consist of microphones, which convert sound signals into electrical signals. These signals are modulated and transferred as radio waves to a nearby phone tower, which sends them to a tower near the receiver. There, the aforementioned process is reversed, and communication is executed.

What is Cancer and How is it Caused?

Cancer is a disease that causes uncontrollable cell growth, resulting in tumours that disrupt the proper functioning of the body. Genetic factors are the leading cause of cancer, as it is an inheritable disease.

Cancer changes the DNA structure, which can be passed on to subsequent generations. Other causes of cancer are carcinogens, i.e., agents like tobacco, radiation, and asbestos, which damage the DNA and result in mutations.

Why Does Radiation Cause Cancer?

All objects emit radiation, more so when their temperatures increase. Even sunlight is a source of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. However, not all types of radiation are bad.

There are two types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. The major difference between the two is that ionizing radiation is extremely penetrative in nature. Even mild exposure to them can cause irreversible cell damage.

X-rays and gamma rays fall under the category of ionizing radiation, while microwaves, radiowaves, and infrared rays are non-ionizing radiation.

Mobile Phones and Radiation

Mobile phones emit low-frequency, non-ionizing radiofrequency (RF) radiations. Although RF waves, like microwaves, are seemingly harmless, they do carry energy and can lead to burns and tissue damage when absorbed in high amounts.

But mobile phones and other wireless devices like Bluetooth earphones don’t emit nearly as much radiation to be considered hazardous. Also, RF waves emitted from mobile phone antennas are weak and get weaker as they travel away from the phone. 

The most RF wave exposure happens during calling and when the phone is held against the head. The amount of radiation exposure also depends on the mobile phone model, battery level, distance to the nearest mobile tower, and the time spent on the phone. Mobile phones are frequently used for long periods of time by people of all ages nowadays.

Do Mobile Phones Cause Brain Cancer?

While it’s true that cancer is on the rise in the 21st century, so are the population levels, pollution, unhealthy lifestyles, and carcinogens. The sudden prevalence of mobile phones should have caused a global epidemic of brain tumours or other cancers, but that is not the case.

But there is a flaw in that analogy. Cancerous tumours take several years to develop. Sometimes, a person can have cancer and still continue to live healthily. The commercial use of mobile phones has only increased in the last few decades so it could take some more years to see the effects of mobile phone radiation on the body.

Anyway, several high-profile studies have been conducted to determine if there is any link between mobile phone usage and brain cancer, but the results have been conflicting.

A study by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded in 2018 that rodents who were exposed to harmful levels of RF radiation (2G and 3G) for long hours of the day showed malignant tumours in the heart, brain, and adrenal glands. However, only male rats were affected. Female rats and mice were not affected by the radiation. Humans are not rodents and have a high threshold of radiation absorption.

Another major study on the topic is the INTERPHONE study. It spanned 5,000 people with brain tumours in 13 countries, but no significant link between cancer and mobile phone usage was found.

So far, only the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have all failed to establish a concrete link between mobile phone usage and brain cancer.


The view that mobile phones cause brain cancer is a myth. It has been proclaimed for half a century that mobile phones can cause brain tumours and other cancers, but no study has ever effectively proven or disproven the notion. Plus, the rising cases of cancer can be attributed to the rising population and increasing carcinogens in the environment.

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take precautions. Mobile phones can be harmful to health in other ways. Try to limit your screen time, earphone usage, and frequent calls to protect your eyes, ears, neck, and elbows.

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