Ask LH: What’s This Newest Study On Mobiles And Cancer Mean? Are They Safe Now Or What?

Dear Lifehacker,

I’m reading in the news that there’s this study finding no link between mobile phones and cancer. That’s good, right? What do I need to know about the study and what should I do now?


Confused by the News

Image: Ed Yourdon.

Dear Confused,

Yes, this latest study — the largest of its kind yet — didn’t find any significant link, so headlines all over are declaring “no cancer link” and “mobile phones don’t increase cancer risk”. But it’s impossible to prove a negative (like you can’t prove there’s no invisible unicorn watching you right now), thus the debate rages on. There’s still no definitive answer and as usual, more research is needed. But here’s some background for you, plus tips on what you can do.

This latest study, published in BMJ, is an update of a nationwide Danish study that covered more than 350,000 mobile phone users. It found no link between owning a mobile phone and tumours in the brain or central nervous system, even after over a decade of mobile phone ownership. Good news, right?

It’s important to note that I said ownership, not use — that was one of the study’s limitations. It substituted subscriptions for usage. A group of experts from several countries are fiercely criticising the study now, saying that it’s flawed based on the choice of individuals in the control group, such as leaving out corporate users, as well as an increased risk found in eight cases of a very rare type of cancer.

Previous studies on the possible link between cancer and mobile phones have been similarly hotly-debated and inconclusive. No one study is definitive. Because of this, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves about the facts: there’s no consistent link proven yet, but mobile phones do emit radio frequency energy. The US’s National Cancer Institute has a good fact sheet on mobile phone cancer risk explaining the key points and current studies, as well as guidelines for the “better safe than sorry” measures you can take:

  • Use a hands-free kit
  • Don’t use your mobile phone for long periods of time near your head

Sometimes, the back-and-forth findings (with experts arguing amongst themselves) can be more confusing than helpful. Still, the more research that is done, the better. We’re sure there will be more studies to read about in the future and take with a grain of salt.



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