Electronic Devices Are Unlikely To Cause Cancer

Technology has taken over our lives. From the moment we wake and begin checking emails to the moment we go to bed, computers, tablets, smart phones, and television screens consume our world. While in many ways these devices are enriching our lives, are they also taking a negative toll on our bodies and minds?

Some of the potentially negative short-term effects of use (and specifically overuse) of electronic devices are more apparent than others. The use of electronic devices while driving has been indisputably associated with an increased risk of car accidents. From a physical standpoint, turning up the volume on MP3 players, particularly when using ear buds, has been shown to form the foundation for hearing problems.

In addition, prolonged use of electronic devices has been linked to a more sedentary lifestyle and hence an increased risk for cardiac disease. Academically, children are suffering by relying on abbreviations and slang to get their messages across, even in cases of formal writing. In fact, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that children aged six and under spend an average of two hours per day using screen-based media. These numbers only increase as a child ages.

The data on more long-term health benefits, however, are less clearly defined. An extensive literature review of data published between 2000 and 2010 explored the effects of cell phones on human health. Interestingly, the data were inconclusive with regards to documented negative health effects including cancer. Further review explored the potential link between cancer and other electronic devices, yielding similar results.

An additional report published in the International Journal of Epidemiology corroborated these studies and specifically indicated that there is no increase in risk for either glioma or meningioma as a result of using mobile devices.

From a molecular perspective, this inability to conclusively document linkage between electronic devices and cancer may be explained by the low-frequency radiation emitted by these devices. These low-frequency waves are not strong enough to break the molecular bonds needed to cause mutations in DNA, and hence cause cancer. In fact, cell phones emit less than 0.001 kilojoule per mole of energy. This is far less than the great than 4800 kilojoules per mole of energy known to cause mutations in DNA and related carcinogenic effects.

While these early studies do seem encouraging at lessening the fear of dying from the overuse of electronic devices, additional longitudinal studies are still warranted to explore other potentially deleterious effects of overuse of electronic devices. Either way, we should probably remember to “unplug ourselves” every once in awhile and explore more social, emotional, and physical aspects of human life.


The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers and preschoolers, (Fall, 2003).

Moussa MM (2011). Review on health effects related to mobile phones. Part II: results and conclusions. The Journal of the Egyptian Public Health Association, 86 (5-6), 79-89 PMID: 22173110

INTERPHONE Study Group (2010). Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study. International journal of epidemiology, 39 (3), 675-94 PMID: 20483835

eSkeptic, Do cell phones cause cancer? (2010, 9 June).

Image via Carlos Caetano / Shutterstock.

Norell Hadzimichalis, PhD

Norell Hadzimichalis, PhD, is a trained molecular biologist with postdoctoral research experience in a prominent neuroscience laboratory. She holds a PhD in Molecular Biology from The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She has authored and co-authored multiple peer reviewed research and review articles in journals including Schizophrenia Research, Brain Research, and the Journal of Neuroscience. Her current interests are in commercializing basic scientific findings and exploring methods of moving research from the benchside to the bedside.
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