Lentis/Cell Phones and Cancer in Britain

Mobile phones have experienced rapid growth in recent decades. In the United Kingdom, 2015, 93% of adults personally own and use a mobile phone, adding up to nearly 90 million mobile subscriptions[1]. The extensive use of mobile phones has raised public concerns about possible adverse effects on human health, specifically relating to the phones’ emissions of radio frequency (RF) waves and to the base stations through which phones communicate. While some public claims attributed mobile phone technology to minor health issues such as headaches, sleep disturbance, and stress, RF exposure has been linked by medical experts to serious long-term conditions such as cancer.

In May 2011, 30 scientists met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, to assess the carcinogenicity of RF electromagnetic fields. Though the studies they reviewed were susceptible to bias, the IARC could not dismiss the findings, and deemed it possible that RF radiation could be linked to causing brain tumors. The majority of the scientists supported the classification of RF radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.[2]” Upon publication and release of this conclusion, worldwide attention was brought to the possible hazard of mobile phones and base stations.

Method of Communication and RadiationEdit

Individual mobile phones operate by communicating with fixed installations called base stations. The stations have limited range, so mobile phone operators have to establish national base station networks to achieve wide coverage. While mobile phones emit RF radiation when in use, base stations constantly emit radiation, sending signals to the main telephone network to be delivered to the receiver of the call. Radiation is not a new concept introduced by cell phones. Radiation consists of electromagnetic waves, which make up all forms of light, including visible light. There are two classifications of radiation, which depend of the energy of the waves: ionizing or non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation, including ultraviolet and x-rays, contains enough energy to displace an electron from an atom, which can damage biological tissue and even genes. Damage to the genes could take several years to develop into a real threat such as cancer. The RF waves emitted by mobile phones is non-ionizing, which has been believed to be harmless at low intensities. However, just as too much visible light can be damaging to the eye, non-ionizing radiation at high intensities can be dangerous. Basic guidelines are therefore recommended, and in some countries, required, to ensure that mobile phone manufacturers do not allow their products to reach these high intensities.[3]

Base station in the U.S.

Government InvolvementEdit

In 1999, UK ministers received almost 600 letters from citizens relating to public health issues of mobile phone technology. Health Ministers in the House of Commons answered 85 letters on the same topic from members of parliament writing on behalf of constituents. Public concerns over RF radiation have caused the Minister for Public Health announced the formation of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) in 2000. She stated

“In recent years research interest in the effects of mobile phones has increased. To date there has been no consistent evidence suggesting risk to health, but there is continuing public concern about the possibility. It would be wrong to ignore that concern.”

The Expert Group conducted a full investigation on the background of mobile phone technology and on available research on the health effects of RF radiation. They concluded that current studies did not definitively support that mobile phones and base stations cause adverse health effects, yet the Expert Group advised government bodies to adopt a “precautionary approach” due to the uncertainties.[4] The National Health Services website offers recommendations for “safe use of mobile phones.” These safety measures include making short calls, restricting use by children, keeping the phone away from the body when in standby mode, and using a hands-free kit to keep the phone away from the head. [5]

Academic Research and ResultsEdit

The Interphone StudyEdit

The Interphone Study was the largest interview case-control study conducted between 1998 and 1999 in 13 countries including the United Kingdom. It investigated the effect of mobile phone use on the different types of brain tumor. Until the mid-1990’s, mobile phones were mainly restricted for business purposes. As a result, eligible participants ranged from being 30 to 59 years old. All participants were residents of the study region and were diagnosed during the study period with a confirmed primary Glioma, Meningioma or Acoustic Neuroma. Trained interviewers interviewed consenting subjects face-to-face using a computer-assisted personal interview (CAPI) questionnaire that covered demographic factors, mobile phone usage, occupational exposure to ionizing radiation and the subject’s personal and familial medical history. This study found no link between brain tumor and mobile phone use. However, Acoustic Neuroma is usually a slow growing tumor. As a result, the interval between introduction of mobile phones and occurrence of the tumor might have been too short to observe an effect. Additionally, brain tumor could have affected some participants’ memory and hearing while other peoples’ answers may have been subconsciously affected by their beliefs about mobile phones and cancer, making this study less reliable. [6]

The Million Women StudyEdit

The Million Women Study is a UK prospective cohort study that examined the relation between mobile phone use and incidence of intracranial central nervous system (CNS) tumors and other cancers in middle-aged women. Between 1996 and 2001, 1.3 million women were recruited through the UK National Health Service (NHS) Breast Screening Program into the Million Women Study. They completed a postal questionnaire about sociodemographic, medical and lifestyle factors. The study population is resurveyed approximately every 3–4 years. 1 in 4 women in the UK in the target age group are now participating in the study. This study found no link between the use of mobile phones and brain tumors or 18 other types of cancer. But an increased risk of Acoustic Neuroma was seen in women who had used mobile phones for at least five years. Since Acoustic Neuroma is so rare, it could be due to chance or it could be that women using mobile phones were more likely to be investigated for the tumor, because the disease can cause hearing loss. Researchers in this study will continue to monitor tumor risk in relation to mobile phone use. [7]

Cancer Research UKEdit

Between 1999 and 2001, Paul Elliot and his research team from the Cancer Research UK organization, looked at 1,397 children under the age of five who were diagnosed with cancer. They specifically focused on cancers of the brain and Central Nervous System, Leukemia and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. The study covered all of Britain, measuring the effect of base stations in three different ways and considering a wide range of childhood cancers. Each child was compared with four children of the same sex and birthday but who didn’t have cancer. Elliott’s team gathered the home address of every child at their time of birth and location of any mobile phone base stations that were close by. For each antenna, they took detailed information from the four mobile phone operators who were active at the time. After compiling all this information, the team found no association between mobile phone base stations and the risk of cancer. [8]

Specific Absorption RateEdit

A SAR-Tick logo ensuring that a product is SAR safe.

In 1998, Europe adopted the recommendations made by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. This required that all specific absorption rate (SAR) information for all models created after October 10, 2001 must be reported to consumers. SAR is the measure of radiation energy (in, watts, W) absorbed per kilogram of tissue while using a cellular device. Higher SAR values indicate more radiation is being absorbed. All cellular devices in Europe must have a SAR value of 2.0 W/Kg in 10g of tissue or less. [9]Manufactures were required to have their devices' SAR ratings in the owner's manual or on a spreadsheet.[10] This regulation applies to adults using cell phones only and parents are advised to not allow their children to use these devices very long.[9]

In a response to the concerns of RF waves potentially causing cancer, mobile manufactures within the Mobile Manufactures Forum (MMF), including Apple and Samsung, created SAR-Tick. SAR-Tick was created in order to help users understand and interpret SAR values. The SAR-Tick approval check mark will even be included in cell phone user manuals to ensure users know their device is safe.[11]

Legal ActionEdit

Mobile phone companies are often compared to tobacco companies before the lawsuits that added regulations on cigarette manufacturing.[11] The way they advertise colorful cell phones to children even though children more easily absorb RF waves is comparable to how cigarette companies advertised to younger age groups. [12] Cell phone companies are facing pressure from cancer patients that believe their cancer was caused by cell phones. [13] These patients have developed brain tumors around the area someone usually holds their phone. [13] Female patients that often carried their cell phones in their bras believe that it may have contributed to their breast cancer.[13] Judges have often thrown cases like these out of court due to lack of evidence. [13] There aren't any studies proving that cell phones will cause cancer but there also aren't any studies proving that it won't cause cancer either.[8]

Reynard v. NECEdit

David Reynard filed the first law suit against a mobile company in 1995. [14] He alleged that the cell phone Susan Reynard, his wife, used either created or accelerated the growth of a brain tumor, which led to her death. [14] Reynard's case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The doctor that examined the brain of Susan Reynard could not determine if the cell phone was the cause of the tumor.[14] Most test needed to be conducted but at that time they did not have the technology to do so. [14] Reynard did not receive the compensation that he was fighting for but nonetheless, this case got the topic of cell phones possibly causing cancer rolling. [14]


The cancer and mobile phone case is very similar to the case of fan death in South Korea, where people believe that running an electric fan in a closed room can lead to death by hyperthermia, hypothermia and asphyxiation. Therefore, the case of mobile phones and cancer is inconclusive because even though researchers have been unable to prove that mobile phones cause cancer, they have also been unable to disprove the claim. It can be summarized by the Thomas Theorem stated below:

"It is not important whether or not the interpretation is correct — if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."


  1. Ofcom. Facts & Figures. http://media.ofcom.org.uk/facts/
  2. Baan, R., Grosse, Y., Lauby-Secretan, B., El Ghissassi, F., Bouvard, V., Benbrahim-Tallaa, L., . . . Straif, K. (2011). Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. The Lancet Oncology, 12(7), 624-626. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70147-4
  3. Section 4. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20101011032547/http://www.iegmp.org.uk/documents/iegmp_4.pdf
  4. Section 3. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20101011032547/http://www.iegmp.org.uk/documents/iegmp_3.pdf
  5. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Mobile-phone-safety/Pages/Recommendations.aspx
  6. Wild, D. (2011, October 3). IARC Report to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) on the Interphone Study. Retrieved from http://interphone.iarc.fr/UICC_Report_Final_03102011.pdf
  7. THE MILLION WOMEN STUDY: Study Progress. (2015, April 1). Retrieved from http://www.millionwomenstudy.org/study_progress/
  8. a b Mobile phones, wifi and power lines. (2015, March 24). Retrieved from http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/cancer-controversies/mobile-phones-wifi-and-power-lines
  9. a b UK Specific Absorption Rate Regulation http://sarvalues.com/what-is-sar-and-what-is-all-the-fuss-about/
  10. RF Safe. Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR – FCC Cell Phone Radiation Exposure Limits https://www.rfsafe.com/specific-absorption-rate-sar-fcc-cell-phone-radiation-exposure-limits/
  11. a b Raphael, D. Cell Phones: the Next Tobacco?. http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.nahmma.org/resource/resmgr/imported/Raphael%20Cell%20Phone%20Radiation-NAHMMA.pdf
  12. Morgan, L., Kesari, S., & Davis, D. (2014). Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults: The consequences. Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure, 197-204. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213879X14000583
  13. a b c d Garrison, D. (2014, January 13) Cancer Victims are Lining Up to Sue Cell Phone Manufacturers. http://freedomoutpost.com/2014/01/cancer-victims-lining-sue-cell-phone-manufacturers/
  14. a b c d e Leagle. (1995, May 17 )REYNARD v. NEC CORP. http://www.leagle.com/decision/19952387887FSupp1500_12185/REYNARD%20v.%20NEC%20CORP.