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14 January 2015

Cell Phone Radiation Cancer Risk: What is the American Cancer Society's Position?

Cell Phone Radiation Cancer Risk: What is the American Cancer Society’s Position?
Electromagnetic Radiation Safety, 13 January 2015

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently revised a 58-page document entitled, “Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults” and updated its website page on “Cellular Phones.”

Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults

“Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults” dismisses the potential cancer risk from using cell phones and refers readers to the ACS web site for further information:

Cell phone use

"This has been the subject of a great deal of debate in recent years. Cell phones give off radiofrequency (RF) rays, a form of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum between FM radio waves and those used in microwave ovens, radar, and satellite stations. Cell phones do not give off ionizing radiation, the type that can cause cancer by damaging the DNA inside cells. Still, there have been concerns that the phones, whose antennae are built-in and therefore are placed close to the head when being used, might somehow raise the risk of brain tumors.

Some studies have suggested a possible increased risk of brain tumors or of vestibular schwannomas with cell phone use, but most of the larger studies done so far have not found an increased risk, either overall or among specific types of tumors. Still, there are very few studies of long-term use (10 years or more), and cell phones haven’t been around long enough to determine the possible risks of lifetime use. The same is true of any possible higher risks in children, who are increasingly using cell phones. Cell phone technology also continues to change, and it’s not clear how this might affect any risk.

These risks are being studied, but it will probably be many years before firm conclusions can be made. In the meantime, for people concerned about the possible risks, there are ways to lower your exposure, such as using an earpiece to move the phone itself away from the head. For more information, see our document Cellular Phones." (p. 15)

Can brain and spinal cord tumors in adults be prevented?

"The risk of many cancers in adults can be reduced with certain lifestyle changes (such as staying at a healthy weight or quitting smoking). But other than radiation exposure, there are no known lifestyle-related or environmental causes of brain and spinal cord tumors, so at this time there is no known way to protect against most of these tumors." (p. 17) http://bit.ly/1y8vS9B.

Cellular Phones

The ACS web site reviews the research on cell phone radiation and downplays the cancer risk from long-term exposure to cell phone and cordless phone radiation.

Although the ACS seems skeptical there is any cancer risk from cell phone use, they recommend "several things that people who are concerned about RF [radio frequency] waves can do to limit their exposure":

"Use the speaker mode on the phone or a hands-free device such as a corded or cordless earpiece. This moves the antenna away from your head, which decreases the amount of RF waves that reach the head. Corded earpieces emit virtually no RF waves (although the phone itself still emits small amounts of RF waves that can reach parts of the body if close enough, such as on the waist or in a pocket). Bluetooth® earpieces have an SAR value of around 0.001 watts/kg (less than one thousandth the SAR limit for cell phones as set by the FDA and FCC).

Texting instead of talking on the phone may be another option to reduce your exposure. But it may not be a good option in some situations, especially if you are driving. For safety reasons, it is especially important to limit or avoid the use of cell phones while driving.

Limit your (and your children’s) cell phone use. This is one of the most obvious ways to limit your exposure to RF waves from cell phones. You may want to use your cell phone only for shorter conversations, or use it only when a conventional phone is not available. Parents who are concerned about their children’s exposure can limit how much time they spend on the phone.

Some people might consider choosing a phone with a low SAR value. Different models of phones can give off different levels of RF waves. But as noted above, according to the FCC the SAR value is not always a good indicator of a person’s exposure to RF waves during normal cell phone use. One way to get information on the SAR level for a specific phone model is to visit the phone maker’s website. The FCC has links to some of these sites here:www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/specific-absorption-rate-sar-cellular-telephones. If you know the FCC identification (ID) number for a phone model (which can often be found somewhere on the phone or in the user manual), you can also go to the following web address: www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid. On this page, you will see instructions for entering the FCC ID number.” http://bit.ly/1z7mZNm

After reviewing and dismissing the growing body of scientific evidence which finds that long-term cell phone phone use is associated with increased brain cancer risk, the ACS makes the following recommendation:

"With these limitations in mind, it is important that the possible risk of cell phone exposure continue to be researched using strong study methods, especially with regard to use by children and longer-term use." http://bit.ly/1z7mZNm

Since virtually everyone in the U.S. uses a cell phone and all are exposed to cell phone radiation, one might wonder what the ACS has done to ensure that there is adequate funding for strong research on the cancer risk. Has the ACS devoted any research funding to the study of this environmental risk? Has the ACS used its influence to ensure that Federal agencies prioritize health and safety research regarding this risk?


American Cancer Society. Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults. Last revised Jan 7, 2015. URL: http://bit.ly/1y8vS9B.

American Cancer Society. Cellular Phones. Last revised Dec 12, 2014. URL: http://bit.ly/1z7mZNm.


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