Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

Sandy Smith
December 10, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Thermographic images of the head before (top) and after(bottom) cell phone use posted at Wikimedia Commons. It was accompanied by no citations or source references, no explanation of the colors, and no evidence of alleged negative health affects. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The evolution of mobile devices over the past decade has transformed the millennial generation. Walking down the streets, driving cars, shopping for groceries, in class, and in all other facets of everyday life, cell phones seem to be central. Nonetheless, the question of how cell phone use might relate to cancer has become a much-debated topic of recent years, with multiple theories stating that there is a direct correlation as well as arguments against this theory that state the signals being emitted are too low to form the carcinogenic cells. [1]

This paper aims to argue and conclude that after research of statistics, case studies, laboratory studies, and the physics behind cell phones, I see no persuasive evidence that cell phones have a direct correlation to the development of cancer-causing cells.


The particular reason cell phones have even been talked about as cancer causing is due to the type of radiation it emits; this radiation is called electromagnetic radiation, which also is divided into two types: non-ionizing and ionizing. An example of ionizing radiation is an X-ray, while non-ionizing waves are radio frequency waves, such as cell phones.

Radiofrequency waves produce a low amount of frequency, while ionizing waves emit a high frequency and high energy. The human body does in fact absorb this energy from both of these waves when exposed to it, but it is in the way of heating. [2] When a user puts his or her phone to their ear, the radiation waves emitted heat the skin tissue. In order to form these brain tumors or cancer cells, the heating of the tissue from these radiofrequency waves would have to break down one's DNA and cause mutations from the intense exposure from the electro magnetic radiation of cell phones. Studies, suggested and analyzed below, show that cell phones emit too low of these waves to have a harmful impact on the tissues to the point where either malignant or benign cancerous tumors or cells would form. [3]

In order to form these brain tumors or cancer cells, the "heating" of the tissue from these radiofrequency waves would have to break down one's DNA and cause mutations from the intense exposure from the electro magnetic radiation of cell phones. [4]


First, many statistical analyses have showed that long-term cell phone use and certain types of brain tumors do in fact have a relationship, and that is it does elevate a person's risk of developing a tumor on the side of the brain that the phone is used, but it is not important to include the statistics. However, Fig. 1 is just one example of ways researchers, doctors, and scientists have tried to prove that they do in fact cause negative health affects. What this source tries to correctly show is the way the tissue is heated after cell phone use. But it fails to explain to what extent there are "negative health effects". It also fails to provide any evidence that there even are effects in the first place because of lack of explanation of the colors. Therefore, we can conclude and infer this as one of the weaker examples that negative health effects do occur, for this "alleged" heating has no strong support or argument. This is the type of argument this paper aims to point out, disprove, and push back against because it does not provide accuracy, scientific developments, or evidence of these claims. Moreover, I am in agreement with these scientific studies that do in fact push back against these arguments.

RF (radiofrequency) waves exposure studies and experiments have been conducted on rats ; however, the only studies that have been conducted on humans are those of questionnaires and data. [1] In one case-controlled study done on rats, they picked a group of rats at random with different body weights and exposed them to different types of the radiofrequency waves (pulsed RF-signal and sham). Nevertheless, no deviation in DNA, or chronic stress, was found out of the ordinary to cause spinal chord tumors or brain tumors related to the amount of radiation exposure.

Further evidence suggests the same: the American Health Foundation and the National Cancer society came out with two case-controlled studies that found no association, meaning that the radiation emitted by cell phones is in fact too low to pose any sort of cancer risk. [3] Scientists questioned human individuals as to what extent they use their hand-held cell phone and when they began using it did this study. Once again, this evidence was unconvincing because of the continued changes in cellular devices as time goes on.

The three biggest studies, as given by the American Cancer Society, are the INTERPHONE study, which was conducted in 13 different countries and based upon over 5000 people with and without tumors. No conclusions evidently suggested a connection. Next was the Danish Cohort Study who followed a sample of people most recently up to 2007 who had a consistent subscription to a cell phone company. Once again, evidence did not suggest any increased risk between cell phone use and cancer or tumors of the brain and salivary gland, where most of the exposure takes place. Finally, the Million Women Study took a sample of about 800,000 Women over 7 years and analyzed their use of cell phones and exposure time. No ties were found between them once again but some data suggested the possible link to acoustic neuromas. More evidence needed to be concluded though.

The reason the evidence is also inconclusive is because studies have yet to be proven or done on large mammals with more body weight and exposure time of over 10 years, which scientists believe is crucial to proving that there is a correlation. [4]


The studies listed in this paper show very weak ties between the developments of cancer and the use of cell phones; in other words, the evidence remains inconclusive and inconsistent. While cell phones do emit RF radiation that can cause cancer, the concluding factor is that it does not emit strong enough rays to really have a profound affect on users. The only problem with the cellphone case studies is that cell phones continue to evolve as new improvements are made, meaning that many believe it is important to continue to put money into these studies at this technology develops and users continue to use their mobile devices for longer periods of time. [3]

For now, there is strong evidence supporting the conclusion that cell phone use does not pose such a risk; however, we do know that if the exposure to these types of radiations are high enough, like in x-rays or UV rays, cancer cells are at a higher possibility of forming. Therefore, as previously stated, in the future, this may pose more of a problem, but as of now, the emitting of cell phone radiation is the least of concerns in the development of malignant and even benign tumors.

© Sandy Smith. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B. C. Zook and S. J Simmons, "The Effects of Pulsed 860 MHz Radiofrequency Radiation on the Promotion of Neurogenic Tumors in Rats," Radiat. Res. 165, 608 (2006).

[2] J. Moulder et al., "Cell Phones and Cancer: What Is the Evidence For a Connection?", Radiat. Res. 15, 513 (1999).

[3] N. Nelson, "Recent Studies Show Cell Phone Use Is Not Associated With Cancer Risk," J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 93, 170 (2001).

[4] V. G. Khurama et al., "Cell Phones and Brain Tumors: A Review Including the Long-Term Epidemiologic Data", Surg. Neurol. 72, 205 (2009).