man with cellphone

We would not blame you if you are confused about the question regarding cellphones and cancer. Even the experts do not agree on what to make of the latest rodent research.

Confusing Headlines About Cellphones and Cancer:

“‘Game-Changing’ Study Links Cellphone Radiation to Cancer” Mother Jones, May, 27, 2016

“Will Your Cellphone Give You Cancer?” New York Times, May 27, 2016

“Do Cellphones Cause Cancer? Don’t Believe the Hype” The Washington Post, May 27, 2016

“Cellphone-Cancer Link Found in Government Study” Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2016

“Government Admits Cellphones Cause Cancer” Newsmax Health, May 31, 2016

“Why It’s Not Time to Panic About Cellphones and Cancer” New York Times, May 31, 2016

“Are Your Children’s Cellphones Giving Them Cancer?” Deseret News National Edition, June 1, 2016

How the Study Was Organized:

First, let’s start with the actual research regarding cellphones and cancer. This was a $25 million-dollar, taxpayer-funded research project. In theory there was no conflict of interest because the investigators did not have a horse in the race.

Second, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) that ran the experiment is made up of highly regarded toxicologists who have been studying carcinogenesis for a very long time. Admittedly, they normally study chemicals, but they have a lot of experience with cancer bioassays.

Third, the protocol for this experiment was negotiated over a long period of time by many experts. The FDA, which is responsible for regulating radiation exposure, tasked the NTP to study any association between cellphones and cancer almost 20 years ago. Investigators had to design special equipment that would expose rodents to the radio-frequency (RF) energy from cellphones without raising body temperature.

In the first phase of the experiments, over 2,500 rats received varying amounts of RF exposure during the two years of the study. It amounted to roughly nine hours per day. (Keep in mind that even when you are not talking on your cellphone, there is some RF energy exposure from such devices.) The doses of radiation in the rat study were roughly in the ballpark of what humans might be exposed to in a wireless electronic environment.

What the Study Revealed:

The female rats did not demonstrate an increased risk of cancer during the experiment. Male rats, on the other hand, did appear to have an increase in two kinds of cancers: gliomas in the brain (a 2-3 percent increased risk over controls) and schwannomas in the heart (a 6 to 7 percent increased risk over controls).

Unanswered Questions:

Why were female rats seemingly not affected by cellphone radiation? So far we have seen no response to this question.

Why did the control rats not develop cancers? (One possible explanation is that these are such rare tumors that they do not often evolve spontaneously in control animals, but that remains to be resolved.)

Does rat research like this have implications for humans? This also remains unresolved. An association like that found in this NTP study is not final proof of cause and effect.

Do the results of this initial report support or refute human epidemiology research? The human epidemiology is highly variable. Some reports suggest an association between cellphone use and cancer while many others do not.

One review of data from eleven long-term studies where radio frequency human cellphone exposures lasted at least 10 years was published in Surgical Neurology (Sept., 2007):

“The results indicate that using a cell phone for more or equal to 10 years approximately doubles the risk of being diagnosed with a brain tumor on the same (‘ipsilateral’) side of the head as that preferred for cell phone use. The data achieve statistical significance for glioma and acoustic neuroma but not for meningioma.

“The authors conclude that there is adequate epidemiologic evidence to suggest a link between prolonged cell phone usage and the development of ipsilateral brain tumor.”

To be fair, there are quite a few other studies where no such association has been found. Nevertheless, it is somewhat disconcerting that the gliomas found in some of the epidemiological studies were also found in the male rats exposed to RF energy in this National Toxicology Program research.

Is brain cancer increasing?

One might assume that with so many people using cell phones on a daily basis we would have seen a dramatic increase in brain cancer over the last decade or two. Gina Kolata, medical reporter for the New York Times, says that there has been no detectable increase in brain cancer since 1992. That should be very reassuring, but sometimes it takes a long time for the data collection to catch up with the biology. Only time will tell if we will see an upward trend in brain cancer over the next few decades.

The Bottom Line on Cellphones and Cancer:

First, we have to admit that we are not necessarily objective about this issue. That’s because Joe’s interest in RF radiation, or what has also been dubbed EMF (electromagnetic field) radiation, dates back to the 1960s. You can learn more about his interest and involvement with EMF radiation and health at this link: Health Hazards from Hybrids.

In Conclusion:

Finally, the most intriguing aspect of the preliminary report from the National Toxicology Program to us is that there was any detectable effect from cellphone radiation. Many experts have assumed for decades that the amount of energy people were exposed to was so small as to be biologically meaningless. That view may no longer be sustainable.

The wireless and cellphone industry is so large and so much money is at stake that we have little doubt the results of this research will be downplayed or ignored. And most people are so dependent upon their smart phones and wireless technology that they will be reluctant to contemplate the implications of this animal research for their own health.

We will have to wait for the final report from the NTP to really make sense of the new animal research. It will include mice as well as rats. This data may not become available until the fall of 2017.

Until then, we encourage people who are even a little bit concerned about the new report to avoid leaving their cellphones next to their nightstands when sleeping. If you can use the speakerphone or a headphone/microphone device to talk, that should provide some reduction in RF exposure.

Don’t forget to read our history with EMF at this link. And please share your own thoughts on this controversial issue below in the comment section.

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  1. James
    Orange Country, NC

    They are rolling out Smart Meters this month in the county that People’s Pharmacy is broadcast from and would be curious if you will have one or “opted out”?

    Would that new Smart Meter be near a bedroom in your home like so many in Orange County, North Carolina?

    Found this talk by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman at the time in 2016, very disturbing in terms of safety considerations. It is said there will need to be a 5G tower every twelve houses or so in neighborhoods across America by 2020 and it is rolling out right now. The plan is to use 5G from space bathing the entire country in Terahertz-Frequency Networks. Since Mr. Wheeler does not act in a civil manner (or the least bit compassionate) would understand if you deleted that part of my post but am very curious about the rest.

    Tom Wheeler bio shows he was deeply involved in the wireless “industry” before gov’t service:

    Think it might be a good time for a “Myths and Facts About 5G Terahertz-Frequency Networks “

  2. Wholestory

    I’m a little confused how anyone could find any positive link between those specific cancers and cell phone use.

    To start, here is the link to the study: doi: You can read the whole study instead of just the abstract by clicking on the red “Download PDF” link in the right column.

    Can anyone confirm or deny that I’m translating the following correctly? In the fine print under Table 1, you will see “Historical Control incidence in NTP [National Toxicology Program] studies: 11/550 (2.0%), range 0-8%” Doesn’t that mean historically, the (male) Harlan rats tend to have a 2.0%, on average, incidence of brain lesions, for whatever test they’re used for, and with the range being anywhere from 0% to 8%? So when I see the GSM and CDMA exposed male rats with 3.3%, 2.2%, 0% rates of brain lesions, I’m thinking that’s to be expected. Historically, that’s within the range of what they normally get just by being alive. [Dang, why do these rats get so many brain lesions?]

    Same thing goes for Table 2 where they explore brain lesions in the female Harlan rats: 0%, 1.1%, 2.2% results with (in the fine print) “Historical control incidence in NTP studies: 1/540 (0.18%), range 0-2%.” So the females are also getting these brain lesions as would be expected based on historical studies the NTP organization has done.

    Plus, there doesn’t seem to be any distinct increase in the rate of brain lesions with an increased rate of exposure to the radiation. For example, in Table 1, just picking at random, when the male rats get exposed to 1.5Watts/kg, they have an incidence of Glial cell hyperplasia of 2.2%. But when they get exposed to a higher 3W/kg, you’d expect them to have more brain lesions. But they don’t. They have 0%. And when you get to a whopping 6W/kg, the lesions go back to being 2.2% and not more. There are a few areas where there does seem to be an increase in incidences with increases in exposure, like in Table 3. Specifically the Schwannoma heart lesions go from 2.2%, to 3.3%, to 6.6% as exposure to CDMA radiation increases…. but then the historical range has been 0-6%, so nothing stands out there for me. And then GSM doesn’t have the same patterned increase.

    What does stand out for me is that the control rats consistently had 0 heart or brain lesions. Granted, historically the range includes 0%, but I would have expected at least one of them to get a lesion.

    And then what amuses me is that the survival rate for the controls was consistently lower than the ones exposed to the radiation (page 9, first paragraph, “At the end of the 2-year study, survival was lower in the control group….”). I could see someone running with this and saying cell phone radiation helps you live longer. :D

    So I’m going to keep my cell phone with me for now. A tiny voice in my head reminds me that the rats were only exposed for two years. But then another tiny voice reminds me that the Australian study following human beings over the decades also didn’t find anything even remotely alarming.

    (Final note: I didn’t read every word of the study. My eyes couldn’t stay open. And I’m an amateur at trying to read medical studies. I’m hoping someone with a lot more experience could tell me if I’m going wrong anywhere with my interpretation.)

  3. BobK

    As a life long amateur radio operator the same question has been asked many times over regarding radiation from our radio gear/antenna systems. In most instances the energy levels were be much higher as typical transmitters would run at 100 watts and as high as 1000 watts. Grant it we didn’t put anything up to our heads but many antennas were within short reach of the radio station so the health concern was there. Many studies were made and from what I recall there never was any conclusive evidence that the radiation caused any health issues.

  4. Chris
    Maple Grove, MN

    This reminds me of the discussion about those that live near or under power lines. While the frequency of that EMF is much lower than that of what cellphone emit, it could also affect animals and people. What I would be interested in is a study of all the old studies that involve RF/EMF exposure. My fear is that we are being exposed to RF from so many sources now that it will be very difficult to isolate any that are more harmful than others. Along with the RF that all phones use for voice communication, some phones also have Bluetooth and WIFI. And the voice carriers themselves have different technologies like LTE and 3G. It’s a confusing mess even for those that have some knowledge about the technology. Sure, short term testing has shown it’s safe, but what about 20 years or 50 years of exposure? And IF there are dangers, what is the “acceptable amount” of risk? Are expected cancers in 5% of users OK? Or should that only be 0.3% of all users? When does the number become small enough that we all can agree to accept that risk? I surely don’t have any answers. I just hate that like exposure to asbestos and many new pharmaceutical product,s we may be again be put at risk because we do not allow enough time for long term health problems to appear. Some may say that is impractical since it took 20-40 years for asbestos cancers to appear. I understand that. But for those affected waiting may have been a much smaller price to pay.

  5. Leise
    Los Angeles

    Does this apply to cordless phones as well?

  6. Pat

    What about the time you spend holding the phone in your hands and searching the web or playing games? What about texting? You are also holding the phone.

  7. M
    Waxhaw, NC

    Do cordless phones have EMF? I sleep with one by my bedside. (The base for the cordless phone is two rooms away in my kitchen.)

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