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Cell phones and cancer


Since the 1990s, when cell phones first became widely available in the United States, their use has increased dramatically. According to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, there were more than 400 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S. in 2017. In addition, the number of cell phone calls per day and the amount of time people use cell phones has also increased. 

Cell phones (including smartphones) give off a form of energy known as radiofrequency (RF) waves. Many factors can affect the amount of RF energy to which a person is exposed, including: 

  • The amount of time the person is on the phone. 
  • Whether the person is using the speaker mode or a hands-free device.  
  • The distance and path to the nearest cell phone tower. Cell phones adjust their power to use the minimum amount for a good signal. Being farther away from the tower requires more energy to get a good signal, as does being inside a building. 
  • The amount of cell phone traffic in the area at the time. Higher traffic may require more energy to get a good signal. 
  •  The model of phone being used. Different phones give off different amounts of energy. 

Since cell phones are usually held near the head, the main concern has been whether they might cause or contribute to tumors in this area. Many studies have been done to determine whether cell phones might cause cancer, with mixed results. 

It’s not clear at this time whether RF waves from cell phones cause harmful effects in people, but there are a number of ways people can minimize their exposure to RF waves, such as using speaker mode or a hands-free device such as earphones; texting instead of talking; limiting your (and your children’s) cell phone use; and choosing a phone with a low Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value. 

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