Survey: 20% of People Worry Cellphones Cause Cancer

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Last Modified June 25, 2021
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Are cancer-causing cellphones an urban legend or scientific fact? Researchers from across the globe have spent decades studying potential radiation risks from cellphone technology, yet the answer remains murky. Contradictory findings over the years created more confusion.

A new survey of 3,000 Americans from The Mesothelioma Center at examined the respondents’ perspectives on the correlation between technology and cancer. Results reveal that almost 80% of the general public largely believes there is no link between cellphones and cancer, but fears persist for the remaining 20%.

Here we will explore the latest facts from medical experts and take a look at the emotional conversation revealed in survey findings. We will also discover some easy tips for using your cellphone safely, or you can skip to our infographic below.

Number of people who do not think there is a link between cancer and technology use

Understanding Cellphone Radiation

When in use, all cellphones emit low levels of radio frequency, or RF, which is a form of nonionizing electromagnetic radiation. Sitting at the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum, this radiation is the same type found in FM radios, microwaves, AirPods, Wi-Fi routers and cell towers.

In contrast, the ionizing radiation on the other end of the electromagnetic spectrum, found in X-rays and ultraviolet light, has the power to create cellular and DNA damage that can cause cancer.

While the nonionizing radiation is not strong enough to damage your DNA, the human body does actually absorb some of the radiation when it’s physically near the phone’s antenna.

This absorption factor becomes a possible concern when you realize we often hold our phones close to our heads when making and receiving calls. One long phone call at your ear creates a prolonged exposure of low-level radiation directly to the head, neck and ear.

Percentage of women and men who fear technology is causing cancer

Do Cellphones Cause Cancer?

Concerns about possible brain tumors developing after repeated exposure to low-level radiation seem to be the driving force behind substantial research into the health impact of cellphones. With the number of cellphone subscribers in the U.S. now over 400 million, statistical proof of such dangers would have major mortality implications.

The good news is there is currently no definitive evidence that cellphones can cause cancer. As stated by the Food and Drug Administration in 2020, “To date, there is no consistent or credible scientific evidence of health problems caused by the exposure to radio frequency energy emitted by cellphones.”

It’s important to note that studies are ongoing and the FDA, Federal Communications Commission and World Health Organization continue to monitor for the newest data.

Does 5G or Bluetooth Cause Cancer?

One of the challenges in securing definitive data on the cancer risks of cellphones is the fact that the popular technology has only been in use since the early 1990s. Cancers often take many years of ongoing monitoring to reveal themselves.

There has been even less time to study the potential impact of newer technologies such as 5G and Bluetooth. But there are a few key points that are helpful to note.

One recent study examined the power density exposure (the rate of power an electromagnetic field produces per unit area) of Bluetooth headsets in comparison to cellphones. It revealed that the Bluetooth headsets had 10–400 times lower power density exposure than cellphones.

The FDA has verified that 5G products remain within the current FCC radiation exposure guidelines. It continues to monitor 5G as it becomes more readily available across the country.

Percentage of Millennials and Gen Z who think cellphones may cause cancer

Mixed Emotions About Cellphone Cancer Dangers

The potential direct risks to brain health created by the technology we are reliant on in our daily lives adds a layer of intimacy to this debate. Many of us are never far from the reach of our cellphones; some consider it an extension of themselves.

Anxiety around the risks associated with cellphones and advancing digital technologies has some interesting generational implications. Our survey findings show that millennials (aka Gen Y, adults ages 25–40) are three times more likely than Generation Z (young adults ages 18–24) to believe that cellphones may cause cancer. And when asked to consider making changes to their behavior in order to limit potential exposure, only 2% of Gen Z are willing to significantly decrease their daily screen time or switch to only using hands-free devices.

While 79% of Americans believe there is no correlation between excessive technology use and cancer, our survey findings confirm it’s an emotional topic for some. Women are more likely to fear this unknown, with 23% of women surveyed believing that technology such as cellphones, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth may cause cancer (compared to 15% of men).

Why Is There No Clear Answer?

Extensive studies have been done to explore the topic, but results have been drastically different. Adding to that are some built-in weaknesses in methodology that can create data inaccuracies. According to the National Cancer Institute, those may include:

  • Recall Bias: People don’t always clearly recall how long they’ve done something such as using a cellphone.
  • Morbidity and Mortality: Participants who may have potentially related brain cancer diagnoses such as glioma may not live long enough to complete the research.
  • Participation Bias: People who don’t use cellphones often are less likely to join studies about them, which can skew data.
  • Changing Technology and Methods of Use: Both change so rapidly in terms of the time needed to scientifically study them appropriately, impacting results.

As shown by the extensive efforts researchers have made to study cancer risks from cellphones, the popularity and constantly evolving status of the technology create challenges in data collection, leaving us with mountains of inconclusive evidence.

Safety Precautions for Using Your Cellphone

Even with no concrete proof that cellphones are cancer-causing, we can be more mindful of how we interact with our phones. The main concern is the frequency and proximity of the phone to our bodies. These simple steps should mitigate the biggest potential risk factors.

  • Make fewer calls and use text instead.
  • Use the speaker option, headphones or some other hands-free kit when making a call.
  • Keep the calls you do make short to decrease exposure time.
  • Charge your phone overnight on your nightstand.
  • Keep your phone in your pants pockets or tucked into your bra.
  • Store your phone under your pillow while you sleep.

Cellphone usage has increased exponentially since the phones hit the market in the early 1990s. They have become an integral part of the daily lives of most Americans. While many questions remain about potential health risks that come with their presence, researchers are working diligently to find the answers we need.

Cellphones and Cancer infographic

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This study consisted of three survey questions conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. The surveys ran during May and June 2021.