No Link Between Cell Phones and Cancer? Riiiiiiiight.

A new Danish study released on October 20 claims that to have found no link between radio-frequency radiation emitted by cell phones and cancer of the brain or central nervous system. What a surprise.

I wish I could tell you that this is the last word on cell phone safety, and you’re just fine carrying your phone in your pocket or putting it next to your head for hours on end, but I can’t.

Dr. Devra Davis, director of Environmental Health Trust and author of Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family, mustered a counter-response from colleagues from around the world who are concerned about cell phone safety. Many of you will remember that Dr. Davis was the subject of an in-depth interview on cell phone safety in our January/February 2011 issue of the Green American.

The new Danish study looked at 358,403 mostly male cell phone subscribers over the age of 30 during the period 1990-2007.  The report is a follow-up to an earlier Danish analysis of the same group when the average use of cellphones was less than a decade that also reported no cell phone-cancer link.

As she did with the original Danish study, Davis calls the new study “deeply flawed.”

Davis and her colleagues criticize the study on the following grounds:

  • The study excluded 300,000 business users, who would have been among the heaviest cell phone users for the 17 years in which the study took place.
  • It defined a user as someone who made one call a week for an average of six months, “ ignoring the fact that phone calls were more expensive and shorter years ago, [which] reduces the group’s average exposure and makes it very unlikely to find any evidence of increased risk.”
  • The report analyzed the rates of brain tumors in those who began using cell phones after 1987, and compared them to a “control group” made up of those who were not using them in 1990, when the study started. This also understates the risk, say Davis and her colleagues, because most of the people in the control group became cell phone users later on and accumulated almost as many cell phone hours as the “exposed” subscribers.
    In comparing these two similar groups, therefore, one wouldn’t see much of a difference between them and could conclude that the cell phones posed little extra risk of brain tumors.
    “When Michael Kundi and colleagues from the Medical University of Vienna mathematically corrected for this concern in the earlier Danish study, they found a significantly increased risk for brain tumors,” note Davis and her colleagues.
  • “Cell phone users who began using cell phones after 1995 and those under the age of 30 were not considered ‘subscribers’ in the study (as with the business users and pay-as-you go users), thus significantly diluting the results and underestimating the risk.” As most people are aware, cell phone use didn’t really boom until the late 1990s and early 2000s,and young people were among the earliest adopters.

Dr. Denis L Henshaw, Emeritus Professor of Human Radiation Effects, University of Bristol in U.K., says, “This seriously flawed study misleads the public and decision makers about the safety of mobile phone use. I consider that their claims are worthless.”

As we noted in a recent Green American, the World Health Organization recently declared cell phone radiation a Class 2b carcinogen, putting it in the same category as lead and the dry cleaning chemical perchloroethylene.

So I urge you, be just as careful with your cell phone as you are with lead exposure. The simple step of keeping your cell phone away from your  head and body can reduce your exposure to radio-frequency radiation from cell phones considerably.

Once more with feeling:

1)     Get a headset and use it—always. Hollow-tube corded headsets are the safest option, but corded and Bluetooth headsets will also reduce your exposure –a lot. Pick whichever one you like best. (Personally, I like the corded headsets because I can hear just fine, and I don’t have to remember to charge them.

2)     Don’t carry your cell phone in your pocket or bra. Keep it in a purse or bag (or on a table in front of you) with the back (antenna) pointed away from you.

3)     If you let a child play with the cell phone (or tablet computer, for that matter), put it in airplane mode, so it isn’t emitting radiation.

4)     Don’t keep it next to your bed or under your pillow. Away, away, away from your head. It’s okay to turn your phone off, especially at night!

5)     Remember, the same rules apply to cordless phones. Get a headset for those, too, or just pick up some corded models. (They’re super cheap at secondhand stores!)

If you don’t have our cell phone issue of the Green American, you can find the whole thing here.

Have you modified your cell phone practices since reading about the dangers? Or are you still skeptical? What have you done to reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation?


  1. Thank you for this report. It would be great to know for sure if the cell phone is save to use, but I think people have gotten so used to it now, that even if they are harmful, it will be very hard to give up, just like the cigs.

    • Majella, sadly, you’re right. But people don’t have to give them up–just use a headset instead of putting them by their heads, and carry them in a bag instead of right on your body. But yes, I’ve met people who are very resistant to the mere idea that their cell phones could cause harm.

    • Personally, I prefer the Sensation for two reosnas: higher display resolution (540 x 960 vs. 480 x 800) and the Sensation has a dual-core processor. On the other hand, the G2x has a little better camera and a purer version of Android 2.3. But I’d go with higher resolution and more power first.Bob at Wirefly

  2. Why do you say “the same rules apply to cordless phones”? Have there been any studies at all linking cordless phone use to cancer risk? (I couldn’t find any.) Or is this just extrapolating from cell phone studies (i.e., some studies show a link between cell phones and cancer, and certain types of radiation emitted by cordless phones are similar to that emitted by cell phones, so ergo, cordless phones must be just as dangerous)?

    As for the latest “deeply flawed” study, can’t it at least be taken as evidence that very light use of cell phones (such as my emergency-only use, less than one call per month) is highly unlikely to kill you?

    • Amy, good question! Dr. Devra Davis and her colleagues at Environmental Health Trust have extrapolated from the cell phone studies because they say cordless phones emit the same type of radio-frequency radiation. I bought a headset for my cordless phone, as well as my cell phone. And I have to say, using the cordless phone with a headset is much more comfortable!

      And yes, you could certainly say that light use of cell phones is unlikely to kill you. But as more and more people get rid of their land lines (people make fun of me for still having one!) and turn to cell phones exclusively, it’s more important for us at Green America to get the message out that everyone should just make it a habit to use a headset and not carry a cell phone in a pocket or bra.

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