Spending 17 minutes a day on a mobile phone increases cancer risk, study claims

Using a mobile phone for as little as 17 minutes per day over 10 years increases the risk of developing cancerous tumours by up to 60 per cent, a surprising study found.

The controversial research involved statistical analysis of 46 different studies into mobile phone use and health around the world, by experts from UC Berkeley.

They found that using a mobile for 1,000 hours, or roughly 17 minutes per day over a ten year period, increased the risk of developing cancerous tumours by 60 per cent. 

Researchers say that radiation from mobile signals ‘interfere with cellular mechanisms’ and can result in the creation of stress proteins that cause DNA damage, tumours and even cell death in extreme cases.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) denies any link, saying there is ‘no consistent or credible scientific evidence of health problems caused by the exposure to radio frequency energy emitted by cell phones.’

Berkeley experts examined earlier studies carried out in the US, Sweden, UK, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand to get a broad picture of mobile use and health.

The rate of mobile phone ownership is increasing, with studies showing a rise from 87 per cent of homes having at least one device in 2011, to over 95 per cent in 2020. 

Study author Joel Moskowitz said people should minimise time on mobile phones, keep them away from their body and use a landline for calls where possible. 

Using a mobile phone for as little as 17 minutes per day over 10 years increases the risk of developing cancerous tumours by up to 60 per cent, a surprising study found. Stock image


Joel Moskowitz has been studying the health impact of mobile phones for decades and offered tips to reduce exposure:

Minimise: Use a landline whenever possible. If you do use a cellphone, turn off the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if you’re not using them. 

However, when near a Wi-Fi router, you would be better off using your cellphone on Wi-Fi and turning off the cellular because this will likely result in less radiation exposure than using the cellular network.

Distance: Keeping your cellphone 10 inches away from your body, as compared to one-tenth of an inch, results in a 10,000-fold reduction in exposure.  

Store your phone in a purse or backpack. If you have to put it in your pocket, put it on airplane mode. 

Text, use wired headphones or speakerphone for calls. Don’t sleep with it next to your head – turn it off or put it in another room.

Signal: Use your phone only when the signal is strong. 

Cellphones are programmed to increase radiation when the signal is poor, that is when one or two bars are displayed on your phone. 

For example, don’t use your phone in an elevator or in a car, as metal structures interfere with the signal.

SOURCE: UC Berkeley News

Studies examining a link between mobile phone usage and cancer are controversial, said Moskowitz, who said it is a ‘highly sensitive political topic’. 

He said there are significant economic ramifications for the powerful mobile phone industry, which also funds a number of studies into the subject. 

The Berkeley team conducted the research with the South Koreas National Cancer Center and Seoul National University.

‘Cell phone use highlights a host of public health issues and it has received little attention in the scientific community, unfortunately,’ said Moskowitz.

However, the Food and Drug Administration in the US says on its website there is ‘no consistent or credible scientific evidence of health problems caused by the exposure to radio frequency energy emitted by cell phones.’ 

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive said that the review looks at findings of previous research into the health impact of mobile phones.

She said the results were mixed,’ adding that ‘there are some important limitations with some of the studies used. 

‘For example some were done in animals, while others compared people who already had cancer and asked them to remember past mobile phone use rather than tracking people over time. 

‘Research is still on-going into the longer-term effects, but overall, the best scientific evidence shows that using mobile phones does not increase the risk of cancer.’

A Public Health England spokesperson reiterated that sentiment.

Adding: ‘There is no convincing evidence that exposure to electromagnetic fields has adverse health effects provided exposures are below recommended guideline levels.’

Moskowitz says many of the studies showing no link have been fully or part funded by the mobile phone industry, adding there is obvious evidence of a link if you look at the wider picture, and compare multiple studies to look for a trend.

He said many experts who support a link say the modulation of wireless devices makes the radiation energy more ‘biologically active’. 

‘This then interferes with our cellular mechanisms, opening up calcium channels, for example, and allowing calcium to flow into the cell and into the mitochondria within the cell, interfering with our natural cellular processes and leading to the creation of stress proteins and free radicals and, possibly, DNA damage.’

‘And, in other cases, it may lead to cell death,’ he added. 

‘A big reason there isn’t more research about the health risks of radiofrequency radiation exposure is because the US government stopped funding this research in the 1990s,’ he said.

One exception was a $30 million rodent study published in 2018 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program, which found ‘clear evidence’ of carcinogenicity from cellphone radiation.   

However, the FDA dismissed the findings of that study, saying the findings don’t apply to humans, calling them ‘over-hyped‘.

Moskowitz says the FDA is ‘controlled by the telecom industry,’ with a revolving door between membership of the FCC and people working in telecom. 

The controversial research involved statistical analysis of 46 different studies into mobile phone use and health around the world, by experts from UC Berkeley. Stock image

The controversial research involved statistical analysis of 46 different studies into mobile phone use and health around the world, by experts from UC Berkeley. Stock image


The term ‘smartphone addiction’ has often been criticised in the scientific literature. 

Some experts argue the lack of severe negative consequences compared to other forms of addiction make the name misleading. 

Some say the issue isn’t with the smartphone, but it is merely a medium to access social media and the internet. 

Alternative terms such as ‘problematic smartphone use’ and concepts have been proposed instead. 

Despite the controversy on the term ‘smartphone addiction’, as described above, it is still the prevailing term in the scientific world. 

Additionally, the psychometric instruments used in many studies explicitly refer to the concept of ‘smartphone addiction’. 

 In the upcoming years, a shift away from the term ‘smartphone addiction’ towards more appropriate terms, as discussed above, might be seen.     

‘The industry spends about $100 million a year lobbying Congress,’ he said.  

Over 250 scientists who have researched health effects of non-ionising electromagnetic fields from mobile devices, have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal, which calls for health warnings and stronger exposure limits. 

‘So, there are many scientists who agree that this radiation is harmful to our health,’ explained Moskowitz.

A number of studies have tried to settle the debate over cell radiation. Rates of a particular kind of heart cancer do seem to be linked to greater cell phone usage, but the number of people with the rare disease is small. 

The UC Berkeley team worked to apply statistical analysis to 46 different studies conducted in multiple countries to see if there was a consistent outcome.

They found a mixed set of results, but when focusing on those with ‘high quality methodology’ they found a ‘clear link’ between mobile phone radiation and increased risk of developing tumours.

Specifically, spending 17 minutes per day on average using your mobile phone over a decade increased the risk of cancerous tumours by 60 per cent. 

‘Most recently, on March 1, 2021, a report was released by the former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which concluded that there is a “high probability” that radiofrequency radiation emitted by cellphones causes gliomas and acoustic neuromas, two types of brain tumors,’ Moskowitz said.

He recommends people minimise their use of mobile and cordless phones in order to reduce their radiation exposure time. 

He said you should ‘use a landline whenever possible’ and if you do use a mobile ‘turn off the WiFi and Bluetooth if you’re not going to use them’.

‘Distance is your friend,’ the study author added, saying that keeping the phone 10 inches from your body results in a 10,000-fold reduction in exposure – so make a call using the speaker rather than hold it to your ear. 

‘Further studies using the exact data on the time spent on cellular phones are warranted to confirm our findings,’ the authors wrote.    

The findings have been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.  


Cancer cells initially stay within the body tissue from where they developed, for example the breast ducts.

They then grow and divide to create more cells, which end up being a tumour. A tumour may contain millions of cancer cells.

All body tissues are surrounded by a membrane that keeps its cells inside. If cancer cells break through this layer, the tumour is called invasive.

As a tumour grows, its centre moves further away from the blood vessels in the area where it is growing.

This causes the centre to have less oxygen and nutrients, which cancer cells cannot live without. They therefore send out signals, called angiogenic factors, that encourage new blood vessels into the tumour.

Once a tumour has its own blood supply, it can rapidly expand by stimulating the growth of hundreds of new capillaries to bring it oxygen and nutrients. 

As it grows, the mass puts pressure on surrounding structures. But how it enters these tissues is not fully understood.

One theory is it forces itself into normal tissue. This blocks blood vessels, which causes the healthy tissue to die and makes it easier for the cancer to continue to spread.

Many cancers also contain high levels of enzymes that break down healthy cells and tissues. 

They also produce a mysterious substance, which growing research suggests stimulates them to move, however, this is unclear.

Source: Cancer Research UK 

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