No, Cell Phones Don't Cause Cancer. Probably.

woman on mobile phone

Photo: Cisco

It’s highly unlikely that cell phones cause cancer, but it’s impossible to know for sure.That’s the bottomline of a long NYT story that goes through the lawsuits, the science and (perhaps most importantly) the statistics of that recurring question.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The first lawsuit alleging a link between a brain tumour and cell phones was in 1993, and research has been going on since then.
  • It’s highly unlikely that cell phones cause cancer because they emit “non-ionizing radiation” which is very weak and doesn’t really affect living cells.
  • It’s impossible to be sure, however, for the simple reason that we don’t know what causes cancer. Period.
  • They way we “know” that some things “cause” cancer is merely through statistical inference: we see that the ratio of smokers who get lung cancer is really high versus a control group, for example.
  • That makes settling the mobile phone/brain tumour question really hard because: a- brain tumors are really rare, so it’s hard to get a big enough sample, and to tease out other causes; b- most everyone uses a cell phone these days so it’s hard to do a control group; c- cell phones haven’t been widely used for that long so it’s even harder test the possibility that they cause cancer over a really long time period.

So there you go. In all likelihood, you have nothing to worry about. But it’s impossible so far to be 100% sure.

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