‘Cell phone use does not cause cancer’

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Stories crop up on social media from time to time claiming that cell phone radiation causes cancer.

As always, experts have been saying that “no biological effects that can lead to cancer has ever been found out” with the use of the cell phone.

Recently, amid the height of the coronavirus pandemic, a 6.32-minute video circulated on social media showing a man and a very young child making a call on their respective cell phones.

A woman moderator in the video raised questions on possible adverse cumulative effects of cell phone use on the brains of the man and the child.

Image from a social media video showing a man calling through a cell phone. The video claims that calling through cell phones cause brain cancer.

It also showed a cell phone on a man’s trouser pocket and alleged that it could affect his reproductive organ.

 Another cell phone was showed tucked inside a woman’s bra. It was claimed that a tumor developed on the breast on the spot “right under where the antenna of the phone was.” It was claimed that the cell phone was kept in the bra for four hours while the woman was driving.


Associate Scientist Dr. Vallerie Ann Samson at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said the most that radiowave and microwave energies could do to the molecules in the human body would be “to produce heat.”

“That’s why these energies up to the visible light [in the electromagnetic spectrum] are essentially called thermal energies,” Samson said in response to the Philippines Graphic’s query on the subject.

These energies are also known as non-ionizing radiation, which produces low energy. This category also includes electric and magnetic fields, infrared, ultraviolet and visible radiation.

Non-ionizing radiation could only make the molecules rotate and move like the water molecule, which comprises 70% of the human body, she said.

This happens when food is placed in a microwave oven. However, the food’s molecule does not change, she explained.

“It is the same food [there is no change]. It [food] just sort of perspires,” according to Samson, who is also in detail at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI).


PHOTO1_Electromagnetic spectrum-092820
Electromagnetic spectrum The electromagnetic spectrum showed the energy from radiowaves and microwaves (on the left half of the spectrum) are very low with the radiowave emitting only an approximately 0.0000001 electron volt (eV) and microwave emitting approximately 0.001 eV, while visible light is only 1 eV to 3 eV. Higher energy is emitted by X-rays and gamma rays (right side). X-ray’s energy is 1,000 eV to 100,000 eV, while the gamma-ray is greater than 100,000 eV and can go as high as 10 million eV. www.ucdsb.on.ca

On the other hand, ionizing radiation has enough energy that during an interaction with an atom, it can remove tightly bound electrons from the orbit of an atom, causing the atom to become charged or ionized, the World Health Organization web site said.

Samson explained that the energies of X-ray and gamma-ray, which emit ionizing radiation, can ionize or “charge the atoms in our body and chemically change it, thus, disrupt chemical processes which can lead to some harmful biological effects,” like cancer.

She added, “these effects are shown by the body if you have cumulatively acquired harmful radiation through time and at dangerous levels.”

“With ionization, some chemical processes can get disrupted and can lead to breakage of some components in the cell or even in the DNA,” she said.


Samson explained the real circumstances of images in the video that circulated on social media.

She said the slide showing a man calling through a cell phone, “was perhaps done by a thermal image scanner.”

“This is a ‘heat scan,’” she said, not radioactive energy.

The heat generated near the ears of the man was a combination of the heat from the microwave/radiowave as they rotate the molecules near the surface of the skin as well as the heat generated by the battery of the cell phone, the DOST-PNRI scientist explained, but which are “not dangerous” as she explained earlier.

She noted the “small” cell phone of the man compared to the bigger phone used by the child.

She added, that “the fingers of the man is protecting his face from the phone” which “reduced the heat [yellow instead of red] generated on the man’s face.”

Image from a social media video which claim that the child calling through a cell phone is in danger of developing brain cancer

On the child’s photo, Samson noted, that “the child has a big phone, with a big battery, which is touching her entire face.”

“What does this image say? There is more heat generated by a bigger phone due to its bigger battery, thus, you have a bigger heat map on the child’s face,” she pointed out.


Samson explained that the intensity of an incoming radiation, whatever energy it has, “will exponentially decrease once it gets absorbed by a certain material [be it tissue, water or solid objects].”

This explains why several layers of thick walls cover the nuclear energy source in power plants, but that is another story.

She added, that “the heat map on the surface of the skin, is definitely not the same intensity heat map inside the skull because the skin has absorbed most of the incoming radiation already.”

Samson said that the penetration depth of microwave energy is approximately one centimeter (cm) on tissue, which means that beyond the one cm, “the intensity of the incoming microwave energy has been reduced.”


(Photo by Bernard Testa)

Using microwave oven energy as an example in transmitting heat, the scientist asked why microwave oven energy can penetrate deep into food and heat a whole chicken up.

Samson said it depends on the intensity or the brightness of the incoming microwave energy.

She noted that the microwave oven emits approximately 800 Watts (W) to 1,000W of energy.

On the other hand, the intensity of the microwave/radiowaves energy from cell phone exposure “is only a fraction of it [microwave oven], perhaps a few watts.”

“Imagine, you only have a few watts as incoming intensity from the cell phone and it will exponentially decrease while traversing the skin, plus the facial tissue, plus the skull [covering the brain],” she said.

She pointed out that cell phone energy is very low that it could not cause an adverse effect on the brain.

Samson said that some major findings on specific absorption rates of the eyes, ears and head due to cell phone exposure include an increase in brain glucose metabolism. But this results only in increased brain activity, which can be because the neuronal tissues are sensitive to such energy or wavelength.

However, “no biological effects that can lead to cancer has ever been found,” Samson pointed out.


Lyn Resurreccion
Lyn Resurreccion
Lyn B. Resurreccion has been a journalist for more than three decades, more than two decades of which was as a science journalist. She has received several awards and recognitions, which include: the Face of Biotechnology Award in 2016; various Jose G. Burgos Jr. Awards for Biotech Journalism, including the Hall of Fame; DOST-SEI Recognition on its 30th Anniversary on Sept. 29, 2017; recognized in the "Science and She" campaign of ISAAA and Searca; Asean Champion of Biodiversity Award from the Asean Centre for Biodiversity for putting up and editing BusinessMirror's Biodiversity page; won for the BusinessMirror the Bantog Media Award for Institutional Category for editing its Science page; Best Journalist, Individual/Professional Category for Print Media from DOST Media Awards in July 2005; Third Prize in Science and Technology Award from the Philippine Press Institute-Philippine Geothermal Inc., March 2001; and Model Senate Employee in 1994.


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