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.




    Yes, I once gave a debate presentation about this topic and after all of the extensive research, the conclusion is still that there is not yet a definite conclusion. No one has yet 100% proved it. However, it does not mean you don't have to care about it. You should be more preventive rather than corrective because if unfortunately, it turns out to be that there is a link, then no one can help you at that moment. Be more cautious, minimize your exposure of your head to mobile phones, perhaps the easiest way is to use headphone and you should be fine regardless of the outcome of future research

    Remember, there was no link between smoking and health problems for many years, with some doctors even prescribing it. Just because someone is an "expert" does not mean they know about things that haven't happened yet.

    Well actually Jed, if someone is an expert on a particular topic there is a very good chance that they will know about things that haven't happened yet.
    I'm not willing to use my phone a certain way because of a risk that has not been shown to exist. To the contrary actually, the current evidence and case studies show the lack of any link.

    The reason we keep getting differant results is that there are far to many variables to account for. How can you study the effect of of the phone when there is a litteraly infinite number of EM radiation sources around. A conclusive test would involve hundreds of people living in faraday cages giving an isolated environment We have no control for these tests. What is the basis of relativity?

      sorry about the shocking grammer.

        Can I edit/delete my posts anywhere?

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now