Is Cell Phone Radiation Really Harmful to Your Health?

Is Cell Phone Radiation Really Harmful to Your Health?

Experts believe there isn’t a proven link—so why have some states put out guides to reduce your exposure?

For nearly as long as there have been cell phones, there have been concerns about cell phone radiation, and its potential effects on your health. There is no scientifically proven, definite answer as to whether using a cell phone could cause cancer or any other health condition. Back in June 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information saying as much. In fact, it's still their official position.

Still, many have never shaken their worries—and some states have been addressing radiation health concerns by issuing their own guides. In one 2015 guide, the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s Environmental and Occupational Health Assessment Program said that cell phone radiation could be absorbed by parts of the body where the phone is held. In December 2017, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released a similar guide, offering suggestions for adults and teens to reduce their radiation exposure from smartphones.

What we mean by "cell phone radiation"
When we talk about the radiation emitted by cell phones, we're talking about radiofrequency (RF) energy, which is also given off by other telecommunication devices, like tablets, laptops and portable wireless devices.

“Radiofrequency energy is a form of non-ionizing radiation due to its low frequency or low energy, and is not known to cause direct cell or DNA damage,” says Tony J. Wang, MD, a radiation oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “This is in contrast to ionizing radiation, which has high frequency and high energy, such as x-rays.”

He explains that, as indicated by the CDPH—as well as by the CDC, the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization—the science is still evolving. Still, it hasn't been proven that RF energy directly brings about health problems, like cancer. “There are several epidemiologic studies that have examined the association between cell phone use and cancer, and in brief, the results have been inconclusive or no association were found,” says Dr. Wang.

Tips to reduce exposure
While there is currently no solid evidence confirming radiation from smartphones and other telecommunication devices causes adverse health effects, Dr. Wang says it’s “reasonable” to take safety measures. “I think people should follow simple precautions and not be alarmed,” he adds.

To reduce your exposure to RF energy, try these simple tips:

  • Use a landline for longer phone conversations.
  • Talk over speakerphone or use a hands-free device, such as a wired headset.
  • Place the phone at least several feet away from your bed while you're sleeping.
  • Carry your smartphone in a purse, briefcase or backpack. One 2014 meta-analysis of 10 studies suggested that sperm mobility and viability may decrease in men who carry their cell phone in their pants pocket.
  • Reduce your time on the phone when the signal is weak. Weak signals encourage the phone to work harder, causing it to emit more RF energy.
  • Text instead of talking.
  • Turn off your phone when possible.

You can also avoid using radiation shield items for your phone. While these products claim to protect you from radiation, they can actually increase your amount of RF energy exposure by making your phone work harder to get a connection.

Medically reviewed in January 2018.

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