Study Alleges Cellphone-Cancer Link

A new study says that radiation from cellphones is potentially as harmful a carcinogen as DDT and automobile exhaust:

An international panel of experts says cellphones are possibly carcinogenic to humans after reviewing details from dozens of published studies.

The statement was issued in Lyon, France, on Tuesday by the International Agency for Research on Cancer after a weeklong meeting of experts. They reviewed possible links between cancer and the type of electromagnetic radiation found in cellphones, microwaves and radar.

The agency is the cancer arm of the World Health Organization and the assessment now goes to WHO and national health agencies for possible guidance on cellphone use.

The group classified cellphones in category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans. Other substances in that category include the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

Last year, results of a large study found no clear link between cellphones and cancer. But some advocacy groups contend the study raised serious concerns because it showed a hint of a possible connection between very heavy phone use and glioma, a rare but often deadly form of brain tumor. However, the numbers in that subgroup weren’t sufficient to make the case.

The study was controversial because it began with people who already had cancer and asked them to recall how often they used their cellphones more than a decade ago.

In about 30 other studies done in Europe, New Zealand and the U.S., patients with brain tumors have not reported using their cellphones more often than unaffected people.

Because cellphones are so popular, it may be impossible for experts to compare cellphone users who develop brain tumors with people who don’t use the devices. According to a survey last year, the number of cellphone subscribers worldwide has hit 5 billion, or nearly three-quarters of the global population.

People’s cellphone habits have also changed dramatically since the first studies began years ago and it’s unclear if the results of previous research would still apply today.

Since many cancerous tumors take decades to develop, experts say it’s impossible to conclude cellphones have no long-term health risks. The studies conducted so far haven’t tracked people for longer than about a decade

So, there may be less here than meets the eye. Nonetheless, it would seem that further study is warranted, although I guess it’s up to every individual to decide if this study means they should change their phone habits. Personally, I’ve been using a Bluetooth or similar headset for some time now for most calls only because I find holding a phone up to my ear for extended periods of time to be uncomfortable and inconvenient.

FILED UNDER: Health, Science & Technology, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Trumwill says:

    I, too, use Bluetooth the vast majority of the time for reasons of convenience, but I’m not convinced it’s actually safer. You’re still dealing with signals close to the brain, in many cases even closer to the brain and active for longer periods of time.

  2. Ernieyeball says:

    Before cell phones and before cordless phones and still today people use corded, landline telephones. These instruments have been used by countless humans around the globe for over 100 years.
    In most US telephone systems the voltage present in the receiver next to the users ear is about 48 volts DC when talking or dial tone and 96 volts AC when ringing or in busy signal.
    My question is where are all the cancer victims of the electromagnetic fields generated by these telephone circuits so close to callers brains?
    There should be corpses everywhere!

  3. Ben says:

    Wait a second. So, in essence, this story says that they were not able to show any actual link whatsoever, but that they THINK that it’s POSSIBLE that there’s a link, but they can’t prove it. Oy vey. This is what science writing has come to?

  4. Ben Wolf says:


    The difference in the old landline and today’s cell phone is that the latter generates microwave radiation, which is known to have a deleterious effect on brain cells. Specifically, it inhibits the ability of the mitochondria to function properly in producing ATP.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Welcome to the precautionary principle. No decent study (including the one referred to in the article) has ever found a relationship between cellphone usage and cancer, the cancers that people have suggested might be caused by cellphone usage aren’t increasing in frequency despite huge increases in cellphone usage, but some future study might turn up a linkage. Whoo-hoo.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    I use an iPhone with headphones. The phone itself is usually in my back pocket. Has there been any increase in ass cancer?

    And can I get credit for the term iTumor if I mention it here?

  7. Ernieyeball says:

    Ass Cancers???
    U mean the field of Republican Presidential candidates?

    (u knew this was coming didn’t u?)

  8. Richard Gardner says:

    As has been briefly touched upon, the technology has been continually changing. Ten years ago most US cell phones could work both in digital (CDMA, TDMA, GSM, iDen) and analogue (AMPS) modes ~850Mhz. AMPS was turned off in Feb 2007. The analogue phones broadcast with much greater power than the average digital phone (think up to 10x, why the battery died). The PCS band 1900Mhz has seen increased usage over the past decade too (Sprint was always on it). The Nordic countries had a similar analogue, NMT (usually on the 450Mhz band).

    There are too many changing variables.

    I do wonder at their classification of DDT as a carcinogen – their data is from? DDT is scary so it was brought up. The CFLs in my house are probably about as dangerous.

    @MR – many men keep their phones in their front pocket near their gonads.

  9. Southern Hoosier says:

    Ernieyeball says: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 15:08

    My question is where are all the cancer victims of the electromagnetic fields generated by these telephone circuits so close to callers brains?
    There should be corpses everywhere!

    How do you know it is not happening?

    Cancer Trends During the 20th Century

    Of course there are so many other factors associated with the industrial age that we live in. Electromagnetic radiation from phones is just one of them.

  10. I think this is kind of issue is nonsense. The WHO is mistaken. Cell phones do not produce enough radioactive energy to do any damage. And as far as I know, no study has ever shown any negative impact from cell phone use. If there were any danger of cancer, we’d have seen a huge spike in such cancers given the increased cell phone usage over the last two decades. There has been none. I can’t explain the WHO announcement, but will wait for more know legible people to comment. Right now, I think its garbage.

  11. Eileen Alana says:

    Please know, back in the mid 1990s, I worked at a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) facility with a very experienced group of co-workers i.e., Radiologists, Interventional Radiology Techs, MRI Techs and RNs, many of whom had all worked in Medical Imaging for 20 plus years. What I recall, most clearly, were my co-worker’s newfound fears associated with a specific type and location of tumor they began to find on MRI imaging. As I recall, they were quite perplexed by the tumor’s location in and around the EAR (most often, the right ear) and/or also in and around the abdominal beltline, where men had often attached their cell phones to their belts. The suspect tumors were unusual in that they appeared to be associated with cell phone use.

    At the time, I recall researching and reading everything I could possibly find on the subject and absolutely NO research had been conducted in the US. Most likely because, at that time, the Communications Industry had pretty much been headquartered here in the US and any form of brain tumor/cancer research associated with cell phone use would likely prohibit industry PROFITS.

    Of interest, at that time, I did find one (1) research study that had been performed and financed by a small country in Europe. In fact, the study was actually used by a US physician as the basis for his highly publicized US lawsuit wherein he claimed that his brain tumor (cancer) had been caused by his cell phone use.

    Sadly, but NOT surprising, the physician’s legal opposition included hours of US televised testimony from the ENTIRE US Communications Industry. Of course, the Industry’s claim was that … there was absolutely NO research available to support the MD’s claim (See Court TV archives).

    Strangely enough, a few years AFTER the lawsuit, the US Communications Industry began a silent campaign to change the actual cell phone structure and location of the cell phone ‘Antenna” which was eventually placed further away from the brain.

    Eileen, RN