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Cell phones and radiofrequency fields

Radiofrequency fields are a type of non-ionizing radiation (energy) used by cell (mobile) phones and cell phone towers, radio and TV broadcasts, satellites, and wireless Internet (WiFi) to transmit and receive information. Microwave ovens and radars also use radiofrequency energy.

  • How you’re exposed to radiofrequency

    Many of the things we do in our daily life expose us to radiofrequency fields. You’re exposed whenever you use your cell phone, heat something in the microwave, watch TV, surf the net in a coffee shop or drive through an area of cell phone towers. The strength of a radiofrequency field is highest close to its source and it gets weaker as you get further away.

    Cell phones are often held next to the body and represent the greatest exposure. The number of cell phone users in Canada and around the world has grown a lot in recent years. Many people have questions about how safe they are.

  • Cell phones and cancer

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency fields (including those from cell phones) as a possible cause of cancer in 2011. Find out more about how cancer-causing substances are classified.

    Because of the conflicting evidence, more conclusive research is needed to be sure:

    • A small number of studies show a link between cell phone use and cancer.
    • Most research done so far does not show a link. IARC created a large international research project called INTERPHONE to study whether cell phones increase the risk of certain types of cancer. They collected data from 13 countries, including Canada. The results from the INTERPHONE study found no increased risk of brain cancer (glioma and meningioma) from using a cell phone. Other research groups have also conducted studies that don’t show a link.
    Children and cell phones

    There isn't very much research on cell phone use and health effects on children, whose bodies are still developing.

    Cell phone towers

    In 2005, the World Health Organization organized a workshop on base stations and wireless networks to review the health risks associated with radiofrequency energy. They decided that current evidence doesn’t show any short-term or long-term health effects from the signals produced by cell phone towers. However, ongoing research is still looking at the relationship between cancer and radiofrequency exposure from all sources.

    We will continue to watch this area of research and update our information as needed. 

  • Tips to reduce your exposure

    If you’re concerned about the impact of cell phone usage on your health, you can:

    • Choose not to use a cell phone.
    • Use a headset (wired or wireless) instead of holding the phone to your ear.
    • Reduce the amount of time you use a cell phone.
    • Limit your child’s cell phone use.
  • Suggested links for more information

    General information about cell phones and radiofrequency radiation
    Learn more about radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones, the potential health risks associated with exposure to RF, and the role of government in setting guidelines for the safe use of radiation-emitting devices in Canada and internationally.

    Health Canada – Safety of cell phones and cell phone towers
    American Cancer Society – Cellular phones
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US) – Frequently asked questions about cell phones and your health
    World Health Organization – Electromagnetic fields and public health

    Science-based evaluation of radiofrequency: the INTERPHONE study
    Coordinated by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the INTERPHONE study is an international research project with participation from 13 countries, including Canada, to assess whether exposure to RF is associated with cancer risk.

    IARC press release – IARC classifies radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (PDF)
    IARC – The INTERPHONE Study
    International Journal of Epidemiology – Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case–control study

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