back to article Mobiles give you brain cancer?

Call me sensitive if you must, but when someone starts talking about wireless and keeps using the word "radiation" I tend to suspect an agenda. So this week when Occupational Environmental Medicine used headlines such as "Using mobile phones for more than 10 years doubles risk of brain cancer", my first respose was to search …


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  1. Sceptical Bastard

    What brain?

    It is already too late for many users of mobile phones to judge by the inane babble they inflict on everyone within earshot - most people using mobile phones on public transport are already brain dead.

    More seriously, the scientific jury is still out on the carcinogenic effects of wireless telephony. However, good science doesn't stop the torrent of psuedo-scientific Jeremiads in the popular press. But if the effect of this ill-informed hysterical journalism is to discourage just one chav motormouth shouting rubbish into their mobile on the train, I'll be well pleased.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps I'm wrong...

    Perhaps I'm wrong, but at least in the US, the max power output (legal) of cellphones is (and used to be) around 3 watts, not 6 or 7. Other than that, a good article I think, if nothing new.

  3. Anonymous Coward



  4. Dave Rutt

    Bang on

    You've hit this right on the money. There are so many scare stories about this, and so much bad science, it's not funny any more.

    No FUD here - just good, accurate comment. Cheers!

  5. Nicolas Fanget

    How about testicles?

    Like I imagine most guys, I carry my mobile in my pocket, dangerously close to my reproductive organs. So following the "research" that shows the deleterious effects of microwave radiations, should we expect a stiff increase in the amount of testicular cancer? Likewise, are we going to observe a sharp increase in the amount of genetic defects in the newborn, Chernobyl-like?

  6. Dan
    Thumb Up

    Good article

    We need this man on Panorama. I'm glad someone has finally mentioned the TV transmitters in the frequency band just below GSM900 pumping out 20kW+ (100 - 1000x the power of a GSM cell site!!) - no mass hysteria here in case it interrupts eastenders.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Oh Noes

    Each year about 20,000 people in the USA are diagnosed with brain cancer. So if your chance of getting brain cancer was doubled you would have about 0.013% chance of getting brain cancer in a year!

    Of course other studies have found no link between mobile phones and brain cancer. Maybe mobile phones causes paranoia and fear of disease.

  8. Jamie Kitson

    I Keep My Brain In My Trousers

    To be honest I am far more worried about the effect that my phone has on my balls, most of the time it is far closer to them than my head :)

  9. Anonymous Coward

    re: How about testicles?

    Well according to the article, you'll just end up with hot balls, which should place the mobile in the same danger range as thongs, skinny jeans and Dell laptops.

  10. Tony

    TV transmitters

    I think the 20kW is the heat wasted, the transmitters radiate 980kW which is considerably more than a mobile cell.

  11. Sceptical Bastard

    @ Nicolas Fanget

    Quote: "...should we expect a stiff increase in the amount of testicular cancer?"

    Stiff? Probably flaccid, given the circumstances.

  12. xnfec
    Thumb Up


    If you are not sure what to believe then the answer is to see what the insurance companies are doing. If they are doing nothing then no worries. If on the other hand they are treating this as the next asbestos then you should probably consider changing your behaviour.

  13. Malcolm

    Your ideal bluetooth headset?

    Are you aware that your 'ideal' bluetooth headset already exists in the form of the Sony Ericsson HBH-DS220?

  14. Simon Neill


    It smacks to me like the old "power lines cause leukemia" theory. There was some spurious link to substations/power lines and leukemia because of the magnetic field. Of course, the researchers forgot to work the other way and look at what happens to powerplant workers near much bigger magnetic fields all day. Same with this, pick on the phone ignore all the other radiation out there. Heck, you get EM emissions every time you flip the light switch.

    Also - have a google search for magnetic bracelets to help with arthritis.

    And Nicolas, don't worry about your genitals - phones only really transmit a lot when making a call, so unless you use a hands free kit from your pocket you should be fine. (Not that I admit for one second that cellphones are dangerous)

    Heres another source for you, how about CB radios and all similar devices? I know a CB can legally put out 4W. I also used to know people who mod them to more than that....

  15. Ian Ferguson

    TV masts

    I'd be interested to know if there was a public health outcry when TV masts started popping up around the country. Or, for that matter, analogue radio transmitter masts, or overhead power lines, or telephone cables, or steam trains...

    I'm guessing the panic will die down as soon as the public eye finds something else in new technology to worry about. Probably in-car HUDs frying your eyeballs, or futuristic silver spacesuits being carcegenic.

  16. Chris Miller
    Thumb Up

    Correlation != Causation

    Even if further study doesn't invalidate the statistical link, we still lack a plausible mechanism by which non-ionising radiation could damage DNA, thus giving rise to cancer. For this type of damage to occur you need ionising radiation or a chemical carcinogen, such as smoke or tar - which is why the initial statistical link between smoking and lung cancer sent out strong warning signals about the dangers of smoking.

    A further point - these types of cancer are rare. Doubling a 1 in 100,000 risk is still a very unlikely 1 in 50,000 risk, even though it *sounds* quite scary.

    I don't think I'll be investing in a tin foil hat just yet.

  17. Anonymous Coward


    We can't expect people to try and understand simple concepts like cause and effect, let alone the difference between correlation and causation. I went to a good school and the philosophy of science wasn't taught until post O-levels. Psotulate, theorem, hypothesis/null hypothesis. Not easy to teach in the face of the non-rational world view peddled by the mass media: spend money on the lottery; it will make you happy!


  18. Dave
    Thumb Up

    Cooked nuts anyone ?

    Quote "To be honest I am far more worried about the effect that my phone has on my balls, most of the time it is far closer to them than my head :)"

    I can second this, I used to carry my old, analogue mobile phone in my right pocket all the time, with headset plugged in (an old Nokia 101). I developed a (fortunately) non-cancerous tumour at precisely the point where the antenna stuck out of the phone.

    Since then I am MUCH more careful about where I keep my phones, I, for one, don't fancy the thought of nuke bollocks.

  19. oxo

    Eh.. 98% of a MW?

    "Modern transmitters can be incredibly efficient, with efficiencies exceeding 98 per cent. However, a broadcast transmitter with a megawatt power stage transferring 98 per cent of that into the antenna can also be viewed as a 20 kilowatt electric heater."

    98% of a megawatt is 980 kw where I come from. 20kW is the heat lost in the amplifier, not radiated.

  20. James

    @Ian Ferguson

    Yup there was indeed hysteria over the introduction of the steam train. Many articles ran in the press about how the human body could not be propelled along at 20 miles an hour without the person suffering ill health. Also many farmers complained that the fields close to tracks would become useless for food production.

    A lot of people are just plain scared of what they don't understand. In time the focus will move from wireless technology to yet some other better-than-sliced-bread invention.

    I actually approve of people asking questions, however silly, as it does at least force the relevant bodies to check that stuff is safe simply to get them to shut-up and move on. One day the scaremongers might get it right...

  21. oldsparks


    Let's get back to some basic physics. Radio waves are electromagnetic waves. Light is also electromagnetic waves, but of a much higher frequency than that used by cellphones. In general, the higher the frequency of the propagated wave, the greater the energy of that wave.

    The output of a cellphone (or wifi router for that matter) is measured in milliwatts (thousandths of a watt). A person would get a greater dose of electromagnetic radiation standing right in front of a car headlamp. But perhaps a better comment is that the energy of the electromagnetic radiation in sunlight is enormously higher than that from a cellphone, and few people seem to give that much thought.

    I spent my whole career working with electromagnetic transmitters at a range of frequencies up to 10GHz. Many of these transmitters put out hundreds of thousands of times greater power than a cellphone. There are certain dangers with extremely high power outputs, but everybody is regularly bathed in electromagnetic fields far higher than those of the cellphones in their pockets or a cellnet base station (whose fields are minuscule at ground level).

    All this worry about mobile phones is caused by a misunderstanding of the word "radiation" by ill-educated people and a totally irrational fear of what they do not understand.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Dear oxo

    "20kW is the heat lost in the amplifier, not radiated."

    Yep. That's why the bit you were quoting says " can also be viewed as a 20 kilowatt electric heater". They're talking about where the other 2% goes. They aren't /denying/ that it can also be viewed as a 980 kilowatt *transmitter*.

  23. John Murgatroyd

    Cordless phones ?

    I decided to wade through the file (

    The risk seems significantly insignificant.

    In one stated case the risk factor for digital phones was smaller than for cordless phones.

    How much more of this do we have to pay for ?

  24. Nìall Tracey

    Scientific integrity.

    "There's one final area worth focusing on: The effects of wireless transmissions on naked flesh vary according to spectrum."

    So why use TV and other microwave transmissions as evidence that these emissions are harmless? They're on different wavelengths!

    If you're going to knock others for being unscientific, you must be scrupulously scientific yourself. Leave holes and they'll only be picked at!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fully Insured ? Not quite.

    xnfec said - "... see what the insurance companies are doing. If they are doing nothing then no worries. If on the other hand they are treating this as the next asbestos then you should probably consider changing your behaviour".

    Well, insurers and the re-insurance industry have withdrawn cover from the Mobile Operators for claims arising from radiation induced illness from their products and installations. The Operators are now self-insuring with govt. approval on the basis of their substantial revenues and undertakings to maintain largeish deposits, but these will be irrelevant when the crunch eventually comes.. Similar story with gm crops.

    Broadcast transmitters harmless ? - published Studies by Dolk (uk), Hocking et. al. (Australia) and O. Johansson et al (Sweden) show interesting increased cancer patterns around broadcast transmitters. Correlates with power output and distance to homes.

  26. JeffyPooh


    Get a small magnet, one of those very powerful types. Grasp it tightly in your hand. Turn on your electric stove top burner element to max and (quickly, before it gets too hot) pass your hand over the element. Don't burn your hand. You'll feel a VERY strong vibration from the field. If you hold it just right (loose but secure), you might even be able to get it to flop about inside your hand. Turn off the stove.

    Now, go stand beside your window and look at the scary frightening mysterious power lines. Hold the magnet towards the window. Feel anything?

  27. Ermie Mercer

    Mobile Phone Power Output

    My recollection is that the typical hand-held mobile phone of a decade ago had a power output of 600 milliwats (0.6 watts), not "six watts to seven watts."

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  29. Andy Bright

    Thankyou for Smoking

    Anyone else seen this excellent movie? Right at the end when he leaves the tobacco lobby and joins up with the mobile phone industry.

    He asks the CEOs if cell phone use leads to cancer, and after a few mumbles and excuses..

    "Repeat after me.. Although there is no current evidence that links cell phone use to cancer, we are continuing to study this issue.."

    Remember those words, just about everyone from the department of agriculture in the US to the nuclear fuel treatment plants in the UK have said something similar. It doesn't actually say everything is fine, it just appears to. It doesn't say they'll tell anyone if they find out something bad, it just appears to. It doesn't even say they've hired real scientists to do the research, it just appears to.

  30. Andy Dent
    Black Helicopters

    Powerlines and Schools underneath - epidimiology and toxins?

    Regarding the oft-raised stories of increased cancer rates from kids on schools built underneath Powerlines in the USA, the thought just occurred to me - I wonder if anyone did a deep analysis of what chemicals they may use when clearing the land for the powerline run?

    I can even, donning conspiracy-theorist cap here, see a savvy lawyer for the power companies seeding the rumours about the powerlines themselves being the cause, knowing it's refutable, so as to divert attention (literally) away from the ground!

  31. Andy Pyne

    Good Effects?

    I don't know about you, but we live in a world bombarded with radiation, and despite the prevelance of Wi-Fi and mobile phones and it being over 20 years since Chernobyl - whay aren't there any superheroes yet? Radiation problems. Pah!

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Andy Bright

    It's antiscientific pronouncements like yours that feed the masses' paranoia. All that can ever be said about the issue is that there is no evidence of harm. How much looking does it take before there's ao much lack of evidence of harm that you can decide it's actually *not* doing any harm? For the irrational luddites out there, there is no level of lack of evidence that will suffice, because they can't understand that there's no coupling mechanism between the cause they suspect and the effects they believe in.

  33. Robert Mack


    Premature birth is the #1 cause of newborn death. It has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., endangering the lives of more than half a million babies. And it's growing at an alarming rate.

    The UK's Stewart Report, Rats and Mice subjected to an increased exposure to EMF radiation (like a mobile phone / mast). suffered symptoms like a significant increase pre-mature birth, still birth and birth deformaties.

    Section 5: Scientific Evidence.. Look for tables with test results done on animals;

    Children with Birth defects in the UK is sky-rocketing.. nobody knows why....

    Research has found that one in every sixteen babies born in rural mid Devon in 2002 had at least one defect recorded by the Office of National Statistics [ONS], compared with less than 1 in 630 babies born in London’s Islington during the same year.

    Mobile Phones, Mobile Masts or Genetically Modified Food???

  34. Simon Densley

    Look at the research before you comment

    I have recently finished reviewing a huge amount of scientific research on this subject. There are hundreds of peer reviewed published studies which I been going through and study after study concludes that mobile phone radiation does affect our biology. Some show it increases headaches, others shows how it damages cellular function or DNA or causes tumours, etc. Around 56% show results that link this radiation to ill health of some sort and even some of the ones that do not find health problems specifically say that major health problems could still come to light in years to come. 80% of epidemiological studies have found an increase in ill health amongst people living near phone masts. The industry is hell bent of burying and discrediting this evidence. Many of the posts here seem to have been written by phone industry PR employees trying to offer some elaborate explanation as to why research like this would be made up or falsified whereas the people with the biggest incentive to falsify evidence is the mobile phone operators themselves. A simple arithmetic calculation shows how research funding affects the results and conclusions: In studies funded by the industry 72% show mobiles are safe and 28% show a links with ill health. In studies without industry funding 33% show mobiles are safe while 67% show links with ill health. If anything the media has shown an awful lot of pro bias towards the mobile phone industry. However this is not surprising when you consider the money they make directly from this industry in advertising revenue.

  35. jonathan

    @Robert Mack

    Those are both non-useful examples.

    1) The US medical establishment tracks every pregnancy and considers virtually every child that survives past the first trimester as viable. This means that any abnormality in later prenatal development can lead to a "save" (premature delivery) or "attempted save" (failed premature delivery or delivery with defects). Less advanced medical establishments do not even count those attempts as viable births...they all go into the miscarriage category. Premature deliveries are thus rising because higher technology allows us to save babies earlier and earlier whereas in the past they would have just died and been called miscarriages. That's a measurement change not an actual change.

    2) Similarly, your conspiracy theory on studies just shows bidirectional bias. The proper comparison is not "industry funded" vs "not-industry-funded" it is source vs. this case industry vs. government. Funding bias, when it occurs, *always* tilts toward the result that will win more funding. Industry-funded studies thus bias towards "there is no problem" (invites more industry funding) and government-funded studies bias towards "impending national crisis" (governments have to continue study of impending national crises of course).

  36. Sparky

    One myth needs correcting

    I go along with the sentiments of the majority of contributors but there is is one persistent myth in Guy's commentary:

    Water molecules do not resonate at 2450 MHz and microwave ovens need not operate at that specific frequency. In fact, ANY radio frequency from 3 kHz to 300 GHz will heat in a similar fashion if enough power is applied. Indeed folk or a certain vintage will remember a medical deep tissue heating treatment called diathermy which operated at 27 MHz (CB territory!). This is why TV transmitters (470 - 860 MHz) operate on low power when some poor souls have to climb the mast to paint it or replace the bulbs in aircraft waring lights.

    Microwave ovens for domestic use operate at 2.45 GHz because

    a) A licence free slot is available there worldwide for ISM (Industrial, Scientific, Medical) use.

    b) The RF circuitry eg the magnetron frequency generator are relatively cheap and easy to mass produce at that frequency.

    c) The internal dimensions of the cavity in which the heating takes place and the waveguide feed are convenient for domestic equipment.

    Some professional ovens however work at 915 MHz (GSM mobile phone territory!) where the functioning parts are pro-rata larger.

    The basic mechanism of the heating is the same as for conventional infrared ie vibration due to absorbed energy except that in the case of microwave ovens this is accomplished due to the propensity of bipolar water atoms and some fat molecules to twist in the applied electromagnetic field leading to friction.

  37. Angela Flynn

    The BioInititiative Report

    Check out

    The BioInitiative Report (Publ. 8/07) puts together all of the peer reviewed published studies which demonstrate the nonthermal bio effects from radio waves. Some of these studies demonstrate harm. Others do not. Most of the studies do demonstrate that the electromagnetic radiation from wireless devices cause cellular change. Again please note that this is for the non thermal effects. The standards set by industry and government only apply to the thermal effects.

    This technology is being used in therapy. In therapy use it is controllled as to the frequency and the dosage and the beneficial effects are from the nonthermal effects. Our exposure to cell masts and wi-fi is not limited to a possible therapeutic level. The advice I have is to keep your cell phone off when not using it. Use a wired headset and keep the phone at least a foot from your body when it is on. Turn the wi-fi off. And get masts away from our homes and schools.

    As someone who gets a full body muscle ache if I am exposed to wireless emissions for over a few hours I know it is causing me harm. Please keep in mind that the brain does not have pain receptors. Brain tumors are now the leading cause of cancer death in children in the U.S.A. At the very least, if you do not want to limit your own use, please do not expose children to cell phone, wi-fi and other wireless emissions.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    Who's ill-educated?

    I've got a Ph.D. in physics from Berkeley, and years of publications.

    Back in the 60's Allan Frey explained that frequencies in the 500 MHz-5 GHz

    range penetrate skin and skull much better than your car headlight ever will.

    The big about fat molecules above is probably a bit off. It's the water molecules

    that are in contact with fat that will heat the quickest. They don't have hydrogen bonds holding them in place. So the water right at the cell membranes reaches near boiling temperature. This of course causes a heat shock response, which has been documented in recent published papers (ERK1/2 response). What happens next?

    Note that the rate of Alzheimer's started climbing by a factor of 10 a few years (1978-1983) after the first million microwave ovens were sold (1975). It then leveled off (thank god). But, starting in 2000 (five years after the first sale of 1 million cell phones) is going up again. It's going up significantly after correction for growth of the older segment of the population.

    And, by 2050, Alzheimer's is projected to bankrupt the USA.

    I like the comment about PR firm employees. Read the book "Toxic Sludge is Good For You" for more on that.

  39. Paul Doyon

    UV and Microwave Radiation

    Actually, UV radiation inflicts its damage by the creation of the highly reactive singlet oxygen (O), a reactive oxygen species (ROS) (though not technically a free radical), via the breakage of the bonds of diatomic oxygen (O2) found in the skin. The singlet oxygen ROS will then wreck havoc by damaging DNA, mitochondria, and the cell wall, and can very well bring about the death of a cell. The damage caused by a single hit of the singlet oxygen ROS is autocatalytic in nature in that it will set off a chain reaction where more and more (hundreds of) free radicals are created, which hence cause more damage.

    It is said that 80% of vitamin C stores in the skin are depleted after just half an hour in the sun. Since vitamin C is also an antioxidant preventing free radical damage, its depletion can very well lead to skin cancer.

    Interestingly, there is ample evidence to suggest that the now ubiquitous exposure to UV's cousin, microwave radiation, causes the same kind of reactions in the body - since microwaves are in fact used specifically to create singlet oxygen in technical applications - and perhaps on a much deeper level since we know that microwaves can penetrate the body deeper than UV.

    Research has actually shown very clearly that exposure to microwave radiation caused the formation of free radicals while also depleting the body of its vitamin C stores, on top of depleting the body of a number of its natural antioxidants like superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione, CoQ10, and melatonin.

    Actually, one of the major mechanism's by which nuclear radiation causes damage is by the creation of a flood of what is called they hydroxyl (OH) ROS when water in the body undergoes ionization after being subjected to ionizing radiation.

    So, what can one do to protect oneself? Well, eating lots of tomatoes, which contain lycopene, one of the most powerful singlet oxygen quenchers is one important strategy. And since we also know that vitamin C is depleted, taking it in large doses is should help to replenish what is being lost just by living in this world.

    Taking lots of other kinds of antioxidants would also probably be a very good idea since there are a number of different kinds of free radicals/ ROS (Superoxide O2-, Hydrogen Peroxide H2O2, Lipd Peroxyl LOO, Nitric Oxide NO, Alkoxyl RO, Peroxyl ROO, and Peroxynitrite ONOO) formed in the body and specific antioxidants are known to be good at mopping up these specific free radicals.

    Some antioxidants shown to have protective abilities are grape seed extract, gingko biloba, vitamin E, milk thistle, bilberry, blueberry, leutein, zeaxanthin, carotene, astaxanthin, CoQ10, and ALA to name a few.

    Since microwave radiation has also been shown to lower counts of a white blood cell called natural killer (NK) cells - which are the body's first line of defense against pathogens and known to attack and destroy both cancer and virally-infected cells - it might also be a good idea for those concerned about their health to take a natural product called Transfer Factors, shown to considerably boost NK cell counts.


    paul doyon

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