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Cell Phones and Health: Does cell phone radiation really negatively impact one’s health?




Allison Piazza

Health Psychology 268

October 10, 2008





I.    Why Examine Cell Phone Usage’s Impact on Health?: Widespread Use

Cell phones are increasingly being used on a wider scale throughout the world. An article from Newsweek states that in the first half of 2007, Americans used more than 1 trillion cell phone minutes. In addition, more and more people are now doing away with land lines and using cell phones as their primary source of communication. This increased use of cell phones creates a great concern among the scientific community due to speculations that long-term cell phone use may increase a number of health risks ( Therefore, there is a great need for research and evaluation of how cell phone usage will impact global health in years to come. This paper attempts to compile a large amount of the information and scientific studies currently available in order to determine whether or not cell phone usage threatens the world’s future health; it specifically examines correlations between cell phone usage and brain tumors and male infertility.  


II.  Why are some medical and scientific professionals concerned about too much cell phone use?

1.   Cell Phone Functioning: Basis for Concern:

Cell phones produce radiation from their antennas when they communicate with their base stations ( The radiation emitted is a form of electromagnetic radiation, meaning it has an electric and a magnetic field, which has a low frequency and long wavelength. Specifically, its wavelength is between 1 mm-1 m, and its frequency is between 0.3 GHz- 300 GHz. This radiation produces waves that are similar in wavelength and frequency to the radiation emitted by a microwave (  It has already been proven that high-frequency radiation, such as gamma radiation and X-rays, causes cancer. However, scientists are still trying to determine if the low-frequency radiation produced by cell phones is damaging to health (

Some observational and epidemiological studies have been performed that imply a strong correlation between cell phone usage and a number of health risks (mentioned below), while others show no correlation. It is difficult to determine at the current moment the exact danger of cell phones because they have only been in use since the 1980s and have only been used to such a large extent since the 1990s ( Therefore, long term observational and clinical studies are difficult to perform. The information presented in this paper stems from studies and articles that derive their information from the most recent data. However, these articles demonstrate a correlation between cell phone usage and certain health issues, as opposed to stating that cell phone usage causes certain health issues. The inability to imply causation is due to the limited amount of time in which cell phone usage has been widespread and, therefore, studied.

2.   Possible Health Risks Caused by Cell Phones

Many articles from news and medical information websites can be found on the World Wide Web that show possible health consequences of too much cell phone use, such as an increased risk of brain tumors and male infertility. These websites present this information in order to educate the public and give it reason to take caution when using cell phones. Websites, such as Nokia or AT&T, that thrive off of cell phone consumerism would not present the public with the same sort of information in order to keep their revenue high. Because news and medical information websites are not benefited or harmed by the presentation of such information, their goal is to inform the public so that people can make appropriate choices for their health.

a.  Increased risk of brain tumors








  MRI of brain tumors

An article from Newsweek states, “A handful of small studies have indicated that using a cell phone for an hour each day over a 10-year period can increase the risk of developing a rare brain tumor and that those tumors are likely to be on the side of your head that you use to talk on the phone” (

An article from Fox News: Health Blog written by Dr. Marc Siegel MD states, “An ongoing multi- center trial in 13 European countries examining the cell phone use of more than 5,000 people with brain tumors appears to show an increased incidence in brain tumors in those who used cell phones. Further, the side of the brain affected appears to correlate with the side the cell phone was used” ( ).

An article from, a website that educates the public about certain diseases and their causes, refers to a study from the American Journal of Epidemiology that mentions the likelihood of developing tumors in one’s salivary gland if one uses a cell phone for many hours a day.  ( This study is evaluated below in the scientific research section.

An article from Medical News Today refers to a case-control study from the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health that determined that using cell phones over many years for at least an hour a day increases one’s risk of developing a brain tumor by 240% (  The study is evaluated below in the examination of scientific research section.

b.  Increased risk of male infertility

An article from refers to an observational study from the journal Fertility and Sterility that shows a correlation between increased cell phone usage and decreased sperm quality. The authors measured this decrease in sperm quality by average sperm count, motility, viability and normal morphology ( This study is evaluated below in the scientific research section.

Scientific professionals suggest that using hands-free devices, such as ear phones and Bluetooths may decrease one’s risk for developing brain tumors possibly caused by cell phone usage. However, an article on WebMD refers to another study from Fertility and Sterility in which sperm samples placed close to an in-use cell phone experienced an increase in damaging free radicals, a decrease in sperm motility, and a decrease in sperm viability. The assumption is that if men use hands-free devices, they will keep their cell phones in their pants pockets and, therefore, at a very close distance to their genitalia. ( This study is evaluated below in the scientific research section. However, there seems to be reason to believe that hands-free devices may not be as helpful as they seem in reducing cell phones’ damaging effect on health.

III. What do these medical and scientific professionals suggest?


1.      The FDA suggests using hands-free devices, such as headphones and speaker phones, to minimize the contact of a cell phone with one’s head ( However, it seems that using hands-free devices and placing the cell phone in one’s pocket may damage a male’s fertility, so this bit of advice may be contradictory.                      

Text Box:

2.      Dr. Sami David, a New York endocrinologist, tells his male patients to take antioxidants in order to reverse “oxidative stress” on sperm caused by keeping in-use cell phones close to their testicles ( 

3.      Some scientists suggest limiting the use of cell phones in order to prevent significant harm to one’s health (

4.       Dr. Marc Siegel, an internist and associate professor of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine, states, “Cell phones are a key part of an unhealthy lifestyle. Americans these days are far too sedentary; we spend thousands of hours a month at our computers, or on our cell phones and BlackBerries, talking and texting. Even if the small amounts of radiation won’t kill us, the inactivity certainly might” (

IV.       Why do some believe there is no need to be concerned about too much cell phone use?

Dr. Marc Siegel MD, the same doctor who describes many of the possible dangers of cell phones, states that the effects of the waves emitted by cell phones have been studied on animals and that these waves have “NOT been found to damage cells or cellular DNA, generally considered a necessary precursor for cancer” ( Therefore, it could be that brain tumors associated with cell phone use may be more of a coincidence. He also states that cause and effect relationships have not yet been established between cell phone usage and certain health risks. Therefore, more data needs to be found before further advice can be given.                             

V.What does the scientific research say?    






1.   Research on Cell Phones and Increased Risk of Brain Tumors

The first scientific paper evaluated is a meta-analysis of cell phone use and the risk of developing brain tumors. Kan, Simonsen, Lyon, and Kestle (2008) looked at 9 different studies with a total of 5,250 cases of primary brain tumors and 12,074 controls. Overall, they found that cell phone users have no increased risk of developing brain tumors. In addition, they separated the types of tumors the cases developed into different subtypes. They based this separation on the assumption that if cell phones increase the risk of developing a tumor, the case would develop a specific type of tumor in an area of the brain close to where he or she talked on the phone the most. However, they found no increased risk for any particular type of tumor among cell phone users (Kan et al., 2008). An increased risk of tumor development was found for long-term cell phone users. This evaluation, however, could have had confounding factors because most of the long term-cell phone users used analog phones for a longer period of time, which produce more radiation. Currently, companies make cell phones that use digital technology. “Although the risk of brain tumor development may be slightly higher with analog phone use than with digital phone use, no increased risk of brain tumors was found in either analog or digital phone use when compared with the unexposed group” (Kan et al., 2008, p. 77). The authors concluded that people who use cell phones have no higher risk of developing brain tumors than non-users. However, because long-term use might increase one’s risk of developing tumors, Kan et al. (2008) note that further studies need to be done to determine if a causal relationship exists between long-term cell phone usage and the development of brain tumors.


The case-control study mentioned earlier from the American Journal of Epidemiology specifically focuses on this effect of long-term cell phone usage on the development of parotid gland tumors, PGTs. The parotid gland is the largest of the salivary glands and is located closest to the ear, where cell phone exposure is greatest ( Sadetzki et al. (2007) collected data from the Israeli population through personal interviews with many specific questions about how often people diagnosed with brain tumors used cell phones, on which side of the head they usually held their phone, how long their calls lasted, etc. They divided the people into a case group and a control group and matched certain cases to certain controls. The authors also tried to determine if more brain tumors occurred on the side of the head where phone use was greatest, defined as ipsilateral exposure, or if the brain tumors occurred on the opposite side of the head as phone use, defined as contralateral exposure (Sadetski et al., 2007). The final study included “402  benign and 58 malignant incident cases of PGTs diagnosed in Israel at age 18 years or more, in 2001-2003, and 1,266 population individually matched controls” (Sadetski et al., 2007, p. 457). 

Tumor in parotid gland       

Overall, Sadetski et al. (2007) did not find an increased risk of developing PGTs for any of the exposure measures that they tested, such as “regular use, time since start, duration of use, cumulative number of calls, and cumulative call time” (Sadetski et al., 2007, p. 460) for any of the cases studied. However, “significant increases were found in relation to heavy use of cellular phones, even among shorter-term use in analyses of ipsilateral and rural use and in analyses restricted to regular users only” (Sadetski et al., 2007, p. 465). Sadetski et al. (2007) mentions that phones in rural areas, where base stations are farther apart, tend to emit more radiation, possibly explaining why there was an increased risk associated with cell phone use and PGTs when the cases lived in rural areas. Sadetski et al. (2007) concluded that there is a positive association between cell phone use and PGTs but say additional studies must be done if causality is to be determined. Based on the statistical methods used in this study and the effort taken to exclude confounding variables, its results seem legitimate.   

The article from Medical News Today, mentioned earlier, refers to a study from the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health in which two case control studies containing malignant brain tumors that were diagnosed between 1997-2003 were pooled for analysis. This study is evaluated here. According to Hardell, Carlberg, and Mild (2006), the final number of cases was 905, and the final number of controls was 2,162, all between the ages of 20 and 80. The researchers sent 20-page questionnaires to the subjects that asked questions about health and behavior history as well as about cell phone usage, such as when the subject first started using a cell phone, what type of phone it was, how many minutes the subject had spoken daily on the phone over the years, if the subject used a hands-free device, or which ear the subject held the phone to most often (Hardell et al., 2006). In addition, supplementary phone interviews were given and copies of medical records pertaining to tumor diagnosis were obtained. For statistical analysis, Hardell et al. (2006) divided the cases and controls by what type of phone they used: analogue, digital, or cordless, noting that cordless telephones also produce a large amount of radiation. They also divided the cases into three different time periods, depending on when the cases first started using a cell phone and when they first developed a brain tumor. These periods were >1-5 years, >5-10 years, or >10 years (Hardell et al., 2006).

Hardell et al. (2006) found that there was an increased risk for malignant brain tumors when the cases used cell phones for greater than 10 years. Odds ratios “increased with cumulative number of hours of use of analogue and digital cellular and cordless phones” (Hardell et al, 2006, p. 638). The authors also found that the odds ratio was highest for ipsilateral use. The scientists mentioned that they are concerned about the risks for developing brain tumors for people who are below age 20 because of the increased usage of digital and cordless phones. However, they note that it is too early to tell if there is a higher incidence of cancer in this age group and state that more studies need to be done (Hardell et al., 2006). This study took extra precautions in their statistical analyses and methods to exclude confounding variables and seems to have found a legitimate association between long-term cell phone use and the development of brain tumors.



2.   Research on Cell Phones and Male Infertility

The observational study mentioned earlier from Fertility and Sterility is evaluated here. In the study, Agarwal, Deepinder, Sharma, Ranga, and Li (2008) wanted to determine how cell phone use affects sperm among patients at a male infertility clinic. The study had 361 men, and those subjects “with a history of smoking, chewing tobacco, alcohol consumption, orchitis, varicocele, tuburculosis, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension were excluded from the study (Agarwal et al., 2008 p. 125). Semen samples were collected and examined based on eight parameters. These parameters were volume, liquefaction time, pH, viscosity, sperm count, motility, viability, and percentage normal morphology (Agarwal et al., 2008). The different subjects were divided into four different groups based on how often and for how long they used cell phones. The four groups were no cell phone use, cell phone use for less than 2 hours a day, cell phone use for 2-4 hours a day, and cell phone use for greater than 4 hours a day. The authors also divided the subjects into two groups based on their sperm count; these subjects were then divided into two groups based on whether they used cell phones for less than our greater than four hours a day. One group was normospermic with greater than 20 million sperm/mL, and one group was oligospermic with less than 20 million sperm/mL (Agarwal et al., 2008).

After analysis, the results showed a decrease in sperm count, motility, viability, and normal morphology as amount of time spent on a cell phone each day increased (Agarwal et al., 2008). In addition, there was a significant difference in sperm motility, viability, and normal morphology between the two different sperm count groups. The authors still found a significant difference in sperm motility, viability, and morphology between the sperm count groups depending on whether they had used the cell phones for greater or less than 4 hours a day. Agarwal et al. (2008) determined, therefore, that cell phones’ effect on sperm quality isn’t dependent on the semen quality of the men. After the study was completed, Agarwal et al. (2008) concluded that men who use cell phones have a decreased sperm quality that correlates with how long they use cell phones each day but noted that more studies need to be done to determine causation.

The in vitro study mentioned earlier from Fertility and Sterility is evaluated here as well. Agarwal et al. (in press) wanted to determine if sperm are negatively affected by cell phone radiation when the cell phone is in close proximity to the testicles. This examination is important because men who use hands-free devices theoretically place their cell phones in their pockets, close to their testicles. Agarwal et al. (in press) took semen samples from 23 healthy sperm donors and 9 patients from an infertility clinic. The samples were “allowed to liquefy completely for 15-30 minutes at 37ºC” (Agarwal et al., in press, p. 2). Agarwal et al. (in press) then divided the samples into a control group that was not exposed to cell phone radiation and an experimental group that was exposed to cell phone radiation. The authors placed a cell phone in talk mode for one hour 2.5 cm from the samples, assuming that this would be the approximate distance of a cell phone to a man’s testicles.

After statistical analysis, Agarwal et al. (in press) determined that there was a significant increase in reactive oxygen species production in samples exposed to cell phone radiation as well as a decrease in sperm motility, viability, and reactive oxygen species-total antioxidant capacity score (ROS-TAC score) in exposed samples. The details for how the ROS-TAC score was determined using statistical analysis is detailed in Agarwal et al. (in press). The authors did not find a significant difference in sperm integrity or total antioxidant capacity between the two groups. Based on Agarwal et al.’s (in press) evaluation of different studies, Agarwal et al. (in press) determined that the increase in reactive oxygen species production was probably due to stimulation of the sperm plasma membrane by the electromagnetic waves produced by the cell phones. Usually, antioxidants can neutralize these oxygen species. However, if reactive oxygen species production “exceeds the capacity of antioxidants, a state of oxidative stress is created” (Agarwal et al., in press, p. 6). Due to the decrease in the ROS-TAC score in this study, Agarwal et al. (in press) determined that there was probably an increase in oxidative stress in the sperm samples exposed to cell phones, which could have caused the decrease in sperm motility and viability. These results conclude that cell phone radiation negatively affects sperm quality. However, because sperm in vivo are separated from cell phone radiation by many tissue layers, the authors noted that it is difficult to apply their results to in vivo conditions (Agarwal et al., in press). Therefore, more studies need to be done to determine causation with regard to sperm in real-world conditions. Additional studies also need to be done in order to see if a phone in stand-by mode has the same effect on sperm quality, or if increasing the distance of the radiation from the sperm will decrease the negative effects of the radiation on sperm quality. However, because Agarwal et al. (2008) concluded that cell phone radiation emitted by cell phones held up the ear also decrease sperm quality, it is likely that an increase in distance of the radiation to the sperm samples will have a similar, negative effect.                                

VI.           Summary of Findings

Due to the recent widespread use of cell phones over the past two decades, scientific and medical professionals have increasingly become concerned about how the phones will impact our health. The electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones has been correlated to certain health risks, specifically an increased risk for the development of brain tumors and male infertility. A lot of research has been done on cell phones’ effect on these health issues, but little determinative evidence can be drawn from it.

This paper has evaluated specific research studies that examined cell phones’ effect on the development of brain tumors. While causative evidence could not be drawn from the studies, all of the studies said there is a correlation between long-term cell phone use and an increased risk for developing brain tumors, especially on the side of the head where the phone is used most often. However, it is difficult to perform research studies on long-term users since cell phones have only been used commonly for about two decades. Therefore, in times to come, further research needs to be done to determine if the development of brain tumors can be causatively linked to large amounts of cell phone use over a long period of time.  For now, it might be in one’s best interest to limit cell phone usage as much as possible and to talk on speaker phone or use hands-free devices in order to limit the amount of electromagnetic radiation in direct contact with one’s brain.

The same hands-free devices that might prevent one from developing a brain tumor might cause a man to have infertility problems. One of the research studies evaluated in this paper examined whether increasing amounts of cell phone use had an increasingly negative impact on sperm quality. The authors found a strong correlation between high amounts of cell phone usage and decreased sperm quality. In addition, the research study that examined the effect of cell phone radiation on semen samples determined that cell phone radiation has a negative impact on semen quality. Therefore, men must use caution when using hands-free devices because if one places his in-use cell phone in his pocket while using a device such as a Bluetooth, his sperm may be damaged by the radiation. However, it seems that using a cell phone for long periods of time at all has a negative impact on sperm quality, no matter what part of the body the phone is close to.

It is difficult to determine if cell phones cause these negative effects on health because of the short time cell phones have been in widespread use. However, because certain health risks have been associated with cell phone use, people should attempt to limit cell phone usage until definitive results can be found.

VII.       References

Agarwal, A., Deepinder, F., Sharma, R. K., Ranga, G., & Li, J. (2008). Effect of cell

phone usage on semen analysis in men attending infertility clinic: an observational study. Fertility and Sterility, 89(1), 124-128.

Agarwal, A., Desai, N. R., Makker, K., Varghese, A., Mouradi, R., Sabanegh, E., et al.

            (in press). Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic waves (RF-EMW) from cellular

            phones on human ejaculated semen: an in vitro pilot study. Fertility and Sterility, 1-8.

Hardell, L., Carlberg, M., & Mild, K. H. (2006). Pooled analysis of two case-control studies on

use of cellular and cordless telephones and the risk for malignant brain tumours diagnosed in 1997-2008. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 79(8), 630-639.

Kan, P., Simonsen, S. E., Lyon, J. L., & Kestle, J. R. W. (2008). Cellular phone use and brain

tumor: a meta-analysis. Journal of Neuro-Oncology, 86(1), 71-78. .

Sadetzki, S., Chetrit, A., Jarus-Hakak, A., Cardis, E., Deutch, Y., Duvdevani, S., et al. (2007).

Cellular Phone Use and Risk of Benign and Malignant Parotid Gland Tumors—A Nationwide Case-Control Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 167(4), 457-467.



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