Your Cell Phone Company May Affect Your Risk of Brain Cancer

Regardless of your carrier, always keep your cell phone away from your head and your reproductive organs. Children's cell phone use should be very limited.
BERKELEY, Calif. - March 27, 2013 - PRLog -- A new study found that the average amount of microwave radiation your head absorbs when you use your cell phone for voice communications is greater if your phone company employs GSM technology (i.e., AT&T or T-Mobile) than if it uses CDMA technology  (i.e., Verizon or Sprint):

• "... the dominant factor for SARs during use is the time-averaged antenna input power, which may be much less than the maximum power used in testing. This factor is largely defined by the communication system; e.g., the GSM phone average output can be higher than CDMA by a factor of 100." (1)

The Telecom industry and consumer organizations ignore cell phone carrier differences and focus only on the Specific Absorption Rate or SAR of different cell phone models when they provide precautionary safety information to the public.

SAR is the maximum amount of energy absorbed in 1 gram of tissue in a simulated model of a large male adult's head in a laboratory setting. However, under normal use, your cell phone company may matter more in terms of your microwave radiation exposure than which cell phone you own.

The Federal government regulates cell phones based on the SAR. The maximum legal SAR, 1.6 watts per kilogram of tissue, established in 1996, protects users from overheating body tissue. However, it does not protect users from the subthermal, harmful effects observed in hundreds of laboratory studies.  The government needs to establish a biologically-based safety standard for microwave radiation.

Although the Telecom industry has known for over a decade that GSM emits more microwave radiation under normal use than CDMA, the public has been kept in the dark. Perhaps, this is because such knowledge could have major ramifications for the industry should people decide to switch cell phone companies to reduce their microwave radiation exposure.

The new study was published online in the journal, Bioelectromagnetics, by Sven Kuehn and four colleagues who are employed by several industry technical organizations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided technical oversight to this study which was funded by the CTIA--The Wireless Association.

(Side note: CTIA spokespersons have argued in legislative hearings in the U.S. that they do not fund research.)

Two years ago, I issued a news release based on the available research because I was concerned that people who use GSM cell phones may be at greater risk for brain cancer. Also, I wanted to encourage the Federal government to fund comparative health effects studies on the different carrier technologies. Although there was some media coverage of this story(2-4), no new research studies were funded.

Following are key points from my 2011 news release:

• Currently in the U.S., we can choose between two 2G technologies for voice communication: CDMA and GSM. CDMA phones (e.g., Verizon, Sprint) emit less radiation on average than GSM phones (e.g., AT&T, T-Mobile). A study conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area found that GSM phones emitted 28 times more radiation on average than CDMA phones (Kelsh et al, 2010). Cardis et al (2011) assumed that GSM phones emit 15 times more radiation on average than CDMA phones based on Canadian research.

In contrast, the highest SAR phones available in the U.S. have a maximum SAR that is about eight times greater than the lowest SAR phones. Hence, the cell phone carrier may matter more than the cell phone model in terms of average exposure to cell phone radiation.

• Perhaps, even more importantly, unlike CDMA, GSM is pulsed at extremely low frequencies (217 Hertz, 8 Hertz and 2 Hertz) which may increase its bioactivity. In 2001, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classified this extremely low frequency electromagnetic radiation (EMR) (3-3000 Hertz) as a possible carcinogen (Group 2B).

• In 2011, the IARC classified cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen (Group 2B) based heavily on human studies of glioma risk. The exposures in these studies were largely due to analog and GSM technology and not CDMA technology.

Thus, we have two reasons to be concerned that GSM phones are more likely to be bioactive compared to CDMA: greater average power output and emission of extremely low frequency EMR.

• A review of toxicology study abstracts that examined 2G technology found that 43% (n=16) of 37 GSM studies reported bioactivity as compared to 15% (n=5) of 33 CDMA studies.

After the IARC 2011 meeting, news stories cited Robert Bann of IARC  who stated that 3G technology emits 100 times less energy than 2G technology. He implied that 3G may be much safer than 2G.  However, ...

• A review of toxicology study abstracts that examined 3G technology found that 30% (n=6) of 20 UMTS studies reported bioactivity as compared to 0% (n=0) of 9 W-CDMA studies. UMTS is the successor to GSM, and W-CDMA is the successor to CDMA. 3G does not appear to be safer than 2G. Again, the specific carrier technology seems to matter greatly.

• I did not find any studies that examined the health effects of 4G technology. Yet, the major cellular companies plan to move voice communications to 4G (i.e., LTE) in the near future despite the absence of health studies.

Although the evidence may still be circumstantial, some cell phone carrier systems appear to be safer than others. We need to provide precautionary health warnings to the public to promote harm reduction.

Finally, the government should fund a major research program to develop biologically-based safety standards and safer wireless technologies. A nickel a month cell phone fee could generate $180 million per year in funding for research on wireless technologies.

Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D.
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley


(1) Sven Kuehn, Michael A. Kelsh, Niels Kuster, Asher R. Sheppard, Mona Shum. Analysis of mobile phone design features affecting radiofrequency power absorbed in a human head phantom. Bioelectromagnetics. Published online first, Mar 26, 2013.

(2) Electromagnetic Health Blog, Radiation risk to humans differs between GSM and CDMA cell phone technology, says UC Berkeley’s Joel Moskowitz, PhD, Director of Family & Community Health. June 1, 2011.

(3) Natalie Wolchover. Radiation Risk: Are Some Cellphones More Dangerous Than Others? LiveScience, June 23, 2011.

(4) Heather Knight. S.F. Puts Cell Phone Radiation Law on Hold. San Francisco Chronicle: May 6, 2011, page A - 1.

For more information about electromagnetic radiation safety, see and
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