Smart phone in hand

No matter how easy they make life, the smartphone remains the subject of debate: is it a risk factor for cancer or not? Some see no mischief in it and remain inseparable from their device, for others it is a source of headaches, because the radiation from your mobile phone turns out not to be completely harmless. Science also makes a split: while some studies suggest a possible risk of cancer, other studies stubbornly reject this hypothesis.

In a nutshell:

  • The FDA says that neither research results nor public health statistics clearly show that normal cell phone use increases the risk of cancer.
  • According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, cell phone radiation is "possibly" a carcinogen.
  • The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that science has not yet given a definite answer and that more research is needed.

So no one can say for sure at the moment whether there is a link between mobile phones and cancer. However, it is clear that it is the radiation from our phones that is worrying.

How harmful is the radiation from a mobile phone?

Mobile phones emit small amounts of radiation: the radiofrequency radiation or radio waves. This is called non-ionizing radiation. That's the same type of radiation you find in FM radio waves and microwave ovens. Ionizing radiation, on the other hand, comes from X-rays and ultraviolet light. That kind of radiation can chemically damage your DNA and increase your risk of cancer.

The non-ionizing type of radiation from mobile phones does not have enough energy to directly damage the DNA in your cells. Still, parts of your body near your phone can absorb the radiation. Because we often hold our cell phones next to our heads when we call, scientists wonder if this could lead to a brain tumor or a tumor in the ear or neck.

Search results
In recent years, a lot of research has been done into the use of mobile phones and cancer. We list the most important ones:

  • In the INTERPHONE study, researchers from thirteen countries looked at cell phone use in more than 5,000 people who developed brain tumors and a similar group without brain tumors. Overall, they found no association between the risk of brain tumors and cell phone use, the frequency of phone calls, and the length of phone calls. The researchers did find a small increase in the risk of a certain type of brain tumor in the 10% of people who used their mobile phone the most.
  • In 2019, an analysis was conducted in which researchers compared the results of multiple studies. They found no evidence that cell phone use led to a higher risk of tumors of the brain or salivary gland (in the jaw). But they doubted whether the risk would increase fifteen years later. They were also unsure whether children who use cell phones later have a higher risk of these types of tumors.
  • Between 1966 and 2016, a review of 22 studies was conducted. It found that people who had used cell phones for ten years or more had a higher risk of brain tumors.
  • In a 2018 study, Australian researchers compared cell phone use with activity in brain tumors over three different ten-year periods. They found no link between brain tumors and cell phones.

Advice on mobile phone use

In order to eliminate the current uncertainties, scientific research is continuing. But in the meantime, we have to take into account that our smartphone use is not necessarily separate from the risk of cancer. The Foundation against Cancer therefore formulates some recommendations:

  • Use your mobile phone in moderation and use a hands-free kit
  • Do not use it in a moving vehicle (car, train, plane), because the mobile phone must work at full power
  • A mobile phone is not suitable for children