The human brain has a tremendous inclination towards finding an association. One won’t be wrong in saying that the foundation of our cerebral evolution was laid down on its capability to establish associations. 

Could cellular (mobile) phones cause cancer? Do patients often ask whether excessive use of these devices increases their chances of developing cancer in general, and brain tumors specifically? And I was dumbfounded, to be honest. In all those years of“conventional” oncology training, because the evidence is so scanty, we are hardly ever taught about the association between cellular phones and cancers. We spend most of the time thinking about either tobacco, alcohol, or genetics. And here I am, as an oncologist, facing one of the simplest and yet most unnerving questions about a seemingly harmless device of modern lifestyle. That’s similar to asking an astronomer “do extraterrestrial life exist?”In this article, I would try to address this specific question, the underlying curiosity/concern, and maybe, an answer that might help the reader.

The concern

Cellular phones have practically existed for only 30-40 years, and have gained widespread popularity for the last two decades only. It has become an irreplaceable part of our daily lives, and now that we cannot (neither do we plan to) get rid of it, we grow a very basic concern. Is it safe for us? As we dive deeper into our psyche to investigate its safety, we come to associate it with our scariest trepidation. The risk of Cancer.

The device

Cellular phones communicate with each other via radio-frequency waves. These devices are considered a very weak source of radio-frequency (a type of electromagnetic radiation similar to “cancer-causing” ionizing radiation such as X-ray and gamma rays, but far less energetic). Considering how long we keep them close to our bodies, even these weak sources become significant biologically. The “radiation” they emit and their proximity to the brain form the basis of the suspicion that these devices may actually be a cause of cancer! These waves are absorbed into the body parts in the vicinity and may bring about detrimental changes. We are not sure about the true nature of these changes, and whether these changes could be a starting point of a tumor formation.

The research

 Unlike the very energetic ionizing radiation, radio-frequency waves are not an established, the direct cause of cancer. Based on all the data that has been gathered from various studies concluded to date, almost all the agencies working on cancer have categorized radio-frequency waves(and thus cellular phones) as either non-carcinogenic or “probably” carcinogenic. This uncertainty in the categorization is due to the lack of a sufficient amount of data that is needed for a precise conclusion and risk estimation. As mobile phones are used by more people in the future, it is expected that we will reach an unambiguous conclusion in a decade or two. Remember, it took us over 300 years to put definite scientific blame on smoking as a cause of cancer!

The solution 

We surely can’t stop using mobile phones. We can comfortably put them in the category of “necessary evil”. But we can reduce exposure to the radio-frequency wave emissions by some of the following measures while using them.

1- Use it for a lesser duration.

2- Avoid using a cell phone when the signal is weak.

3-Use it over speakers.

4- Use headphones rather than putting it directly over the ear.

5-Keep cell phones away from your body when not in use (avoid keeping it in pockets).

6- Providing children with a mobile phone as late in life as possible. 

Making the call

Nevertheless, there is sufficient proof supporting cellular phones to be a cause of non-cancer conditions like anxiety, sleep, and attention, societal and cognitive disorders. The choice is finally yours to make. Do you want to limit cellphone use considering these already proven harmful effects? Or do you want to wait until it is established as a sure cause of cancer?