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Does radiation from 5 G cellphones, X-rays increase the risk of developing cancer?

Adverse effects of radiation from device use or diagnostic procedures are very rare. That, however, does not rule out judicious use, says Dr Delnaz Dhabhar, Consultant Palliative Medicine, Masina Hospital, Byculla, Mumbai

There are many factors that determine the exposure to radiation like the amount of time the person is on phone, holding the phone close, the distance and path to the nearest cell tower. (Representational image)

Written by Dr Delnaz Dhabhar

Since 1990, when cellular phones became widely available, first in the US and then with a larger population using them across the globe, there has always been a debate whether those radio frequency waves cause brain cancer or any other type of cancer in the body. But cell phones emit radiation in the radio frequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Second, third, and fourth-generation cell phones (2G, 3G, 4G) emit radio frequency in the frequency range of 0.7–2.7 GHz. Fifth-generation (5G) cell phones are anticipated to use the frequency spectrum up to 80 GHz. These frequencies all fall in the non-ionising range of the spectrum, which is low frequency and low energy.


Mobile phones emit radio-frequency radiation, which comprises non-ionising radio waves just like microwaves. In response to public health concerns, the World Health Organisation (WHO) established the EMF (Electric and Magnetic Field) project in 1996. Since then extensive research and studies have been carried out to know the possible health effects of exposure to this wave. Numerous studies of cell phone radiation and cancer have been conducted over the years to address this issue. If we go with the study conducted in 2016 by the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, or the MSKC one in 2019 or studies conducted by Cancer Research Society, there is no such harm to the human body by using cell phones. Only one study conducted in the UK raised concern, as it showed that cell phone radiation can cause a brain tumour called glioblastoma multiform. But it was inconclusive in the end.

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It is wrong to attribute the increasing number of cancer cases to increasing use of cellular phones. That’s not correct as there are a lot of other causative factors like lifestyle, addiction, exposure to UV radiation from sunlight, and many other viral infections.

There are many factors that determine the exposure to radiation like the amount of time the person is on phone, holding the phone close, the distance and path to the nearest cell tower, amount of cell traffic, model of phone and so on.


Besides cellular devices, imaging tests that are frequently used these days to get an early diagnosis, also emit ionising radiation, which is harmful and causes tissue damage. Theoretically, this can increase the risk of developing cancer at a later stage. X-rays or CT chest scans, the most used tests, can also be harmful according to studies. According to the US FDA, “When an X-ray beam is passed through the body, a portion of the X-rays are either absorbed or scattered by the internal structures, and the remaining X-ray pattern is transmitted to a detector (e.g., film or a computer screen) for recording or further processing by a computer.” One x-ray usually exposes an individual to 0.2 msv of radiation. There is no safe limit to the number of X-rays one can undergo, but if required and if prescribed by your doctor, one should not shy away from these tests. The safest among all the radiation tests is MRI, as it has no radiation exposure and even pregnant women can undergo an MRI if needed.

The US National Cancer Institute says that adverse effects from radiation doses absorbed in diagnostic practice are rare. “For example, the radiation dose absorbed from a simple X ray examination such as a chest X ray or an X ray of the skull, abdomen, pelvic region, arms, shoulder or knees is quite low and is smaller than that received annually from natural sources. Even at these low levels of radiation exposure, it cannot be excluded that the dose could cause cancer or genetic effects. There is no practical evidence of such effects from any human studies to date, but the theoretical possibility cannot be ruled out. There are no prescribed limits on radiation doses to patients. This means that no amount of radiation is considered too much for a patient when the procedure is justified by the doctor… A principle known as ALARA – As Low as Reasonably Achievable – guides practices. An examination that serves no medical purpose is inappropriate, no matter how small the dose.”



It is rightly said, everything in excess is opposed to nature. So it’s recommended to limit screen time, not to use cell phones while the battery is draining and to be cautious. It’s recommended to use a hands-free headset, use speaker phone more often, as studies show the power of radio-frequency rapidly wanes with increasing distance. Luck runs out but safety is good for life, thus using mobile phones judiciously is always recommended.

First published on: 09-11-2022 at 20:11 IST
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