These are some of the frequently asked questions about cell phones and health. For more in-depth information go to our Resources section for links to websites and reports.
What do we know about the safety of using a cell phone?
The World Health Organization (WHO) points out on its website that “a large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk.”
That research has been assessed by leading health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute, and the two U.S. government regulatory agencies with authority over cell phones, the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration.
Each of those organizations has reached the same basic conclusion: the weight of the scientific research has not linked the use of cell phones with any health effects. See Assessments of the Health Research
The FCC says on its website:
“All wireless phones sold in the United States meet government requirements that limit their RF energy to safe levels.”
According to the FCC, any cell phone that meets its requirements “...is a 'safe' phone, as measured by these standards.” http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/specific-absorption-rate-sar-cellular-telephones
What do we know about the safety of children using cell phones?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states on its web site under the topic Children and Cell Phones:
“The scientific evidence does not show a danger to any users of cell phones from RF exposure, including children and teenagers.”
A study published July 2011 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examined mobile phone use among children and adolescents (ages 7 – 19) diagnosed with brain cancer in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. Aydin, D. et al. “Mobile Phone Use and Brain Tumors in Children and Adolescents: A Multicenter Case-Control Study.” (July 2011).
An accompanying editorial in the Journal by two leading epidemiologists examines and analyzes the study in detail and describes it as showing “no convincing evidence” that mobile phone use increases brain cancer risk among children and adolescents. http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/07/27/jnci.djr285.full
Have brain cancer rates increased along with the dramatic increase in cell phone use?
No, according to a 2010 study by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and a 2011 study in the U.K. Both reported no increase in brain cancer rates during the period cell phone use dramatically increased.
The National Cancer Institute reports on its website that its researchers found:
“ ... no increase between 1987 and 2005 in the age-adjusted incidence of brain or other nervous system cancers despite the dramatic increase in the use of cellular telephones.” (see 5th bullet in answer to question 5 on NCI website)
They concluded from their 2010 study “overall the data do not provide support for the view that use of cell phones causes brain cancer.” (Inskip et al. 2010). NCI also notes on its website that “[m]ore research is needed because cell phone technology and how people use cell phones have been changing rapidly.”
The 2011 U.K. study found that the data provide “no evidence of an increasing trend in the incidence of brain cancers” during the time cell phone use there increased from 17% to 79%. (Vocht et al. 2011). The lead U.K. researcher was quoted as saying: “If it was a population-wide problem, it would have shown up by now."
Three earlier studies in Scandinavia reached the same result as the U.S. and U.K. studies. Johansen et al. 2001, Schuz et al 2006, and Deltour et al. 2009.
What are radio frequency fields and how do they relate to cell phones?
Cell phones are small two-way radios that that work by using low level radio frequency waves to transmit and receive the sounds of our voices. Radio frequency (RF) energy is another name for radio waves
. The area where these waves are found is called a field. Cell phones therefore have low levels of radio frequency fields around them.
How is RF energy measured, and what are the U.S. Standards?
Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is a measurement of RF energy, indicating the relative amount of RF energy absorbed by the body.
The FCC sets the maximum-allowed SAR level for all cell phones sold in the United States. It is 1.6 watts per kilogram of tissue.
Testing is conducted on every handset model to ensure it complies with the FCC safety standards. The testing is conducted at the device's highest power level.
According to the FCC: "Any cell phone at or below these SAR levels (that is, any phone legally sold in the U.S.) is a 'safe' phone, as measured by these standards.” http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/specific-absorption-rate-sar-cellular-telephones
How can I find out the SAR of my cell phone?
The FCC maintains a SAR database, and to start checking on your device you'll need its FCC ID number. It's usually on the case of the cell phone, although you might have to remove its battery pack to find the number. Once you have the number, you can go to the FCC web site
and follow the instructions. Most manufacturers also include the information in their product manuals as well as on their Web sites. Other sites also provide access to the SAR levels of cell phones, including http://reviews.cnet.com/cell-phone-radiation-levels/
What can I do to reduce my exposure to RF?
While every cell phone in the United States must comply with the FCC's safety standards which limit RF exposure to what the FCC has found are “safe” levels, if you have concerns you can take some steps to further reduce your exposure. For example, you can use an earpiece or a headset or the speaker function, keep your cell phone away from your body when it's on, and limit the amount of time you hold the cell phone next to your head. The FCC points out on its website: “The FCC does not endorse the need for these practices.” http://www.fcc.gov/guides/wireless-devices-and-health-concerns
Some marketers offer “shields” they claim protect a user from RF energy. The Federal Trade Commission has successfully prosecuted marketers for making false and misleading claims about these shields.
Are cell phone base stations and towers safe?
The FCC sets safety limits for cell phone base station towers. The FCC says on its website:
“Measurements made near typical cellular and PCS installations, especially those with tower-mounted antennas, have shown that ground-level power densities are thousands of times less than the FCC's limits for safe exposure.*** Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students.” http://transition.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety/rf-faqs.html
Does RF energy from cell phones interfere with pacemakers?
The FDA addresses this subject on its website, which includes the following information:
“Radiofrequency energy (RF) from cell phones can interact with some electronic devices. This type of interference is called electromagnetic interference (EMI). For this reason, FDA helped develop a detailed test method to measure EMI of implanted cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators from cell phones. This test method is now part of a standard sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). This standard will allow manufacturers to ensure that cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators are safe from cell phone EMI.
FDA continues to monitor the use of cell phones for possible interactions with other medical devices. Should harmful interference be found to occur, FDA will conduct testing to assess the interference and work to resolve the problem.***
Still, people with pacemakers may want to take some simple precautions to be sure that their cell phones don't cause a problem.
- Hold the phone to the ear opposite the side of the body where the pacemaker is implanted to add some extra distance between the pacemaker and the phone
- Avoid placing a turned-on phone next to the pacemaker implant (e.g. don’t carry the phone in a shirt or jacket pocket directly over the pacemaker).”
What do expert health organizations think the health effects studies show, and how consistent are their views?
The World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Cancer Institute have all reached the same basic conclusion: the weight of the scientific research has not shown that the use of cell phones causes adverse health effects. For what each says, go to Assessments of the Health Research