Content provided by Parkway Cancer Centre

Do mobile phones cause cancer?

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We have been told to avoid using our mobile phones as they may increase our chances of cancer. How true is this?

To answer this question, first, one has to briefly understand how a mobile phone system works.

Most mobile phones operate by communicating with a field installation known as a telecommunications structure. Together, they act as a two-way radio, producing a form of radiation known as radio frequency (RF) in the process.

The amount of RF emitted is also contingent on quite a number of factors. These include the phone model, proximity of the phone being in contact, signal strength, type of use, duration of use, etc.

Presently, some studies have shown that using a mobile phone for as little as 10 minutes can cause changes in the red blood cells (RBC) by a process known as rouleaux formation. However, the changes appear to be temporary and their long-term effects have yet to show any lasting damage.

So does that mean mobile phones are safe? Yes – for now.

In 2012, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, former Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said that the levels of mobile phone radiation permitted in Singapore comply with the international standards and are considered safe.

Dr Zee Ying Kiat, a medical oncologist at Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) says: “According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whose guidelines are closely followed by health authorities worldwide, most human epidemiologic studies have [so far] failed to find a consistent link between cancer and the RF waves emitted by mobile phones.”

However, Dr Zee also understands that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a component of the World Health Organization (WHO), has recently classified RF fields as “possibly carcinogenic for humans”.

He concludes: “The bottom line is that more research is needed, especially since mobile phone technology and how we use these devices are constantly evolving.

So what can be done in the meantime to reduce RF exposure? Dr Zee suggests trying to take shorter phone calls, texting and limiting calls for important matters only.

Moreover, avoid holding the phone to your ear. This can be facilitated via the use of mobile phone accessories such as headphones, microphone attachments and hands-free car kits.


For further references on the studies cited in this article, click here.

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