Cellphones in bras: cancer risk or coincidence?

In today’s information age, many of us look to the Internet and social media for health and medical information. This can be good (the more we know, the better). It also can be not-so-good (sometimes we see or hear things that are untrue, or only half-true).

In today’s information age, many of us look to the Internet and social media for health and medical information. This can be good (the more we know, the better). It also can be not-so-good (sometimes we see or hear things that are untrue, or only half-true).Recent stories that claim carrying a cellphone inside a bra causes breast cancer would likely fall in this second category.

“No credible research — the gold standard kind that’s been peer-reviewed, published and repeated — links the use of cellphones to cancer,” said breast surgeon Tiffany S. Berry, M.D., Norton Surgical Specialists.

History shows that what we know about health issues and risks changes over time. It often takes years of research — even decades — to collect, verify and publish data that provide a clear picture of what causes health problems and how they can be prevented or treated.

What do we know?

The use of cellphones has zoomed over the past 20 years. Not only do far more people own and use cellphones, the amount of time spent daily on digital devices is skyrocketing. A 2013 Nielsen cross-platform study found people in the United States spend 11 hours a day with electronic media.

The Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that 91 percent of adults in the United States owned a cellphone. The International Telecommunication Union estimates 5 billion cellphone subscriptions exist worldwide.

Cellphones and many other common communications and household devices (including fire and police radios, televisions and microwaves) use radiofrequency radiation (RF) to send signals. According to the Federal Communications Commission, RF is different from the type of high-powered, high-energy radiation used for X-rays and medical treatments. RF is a very low-frequency and low-intensity part of the electromagnetic spectrum and is not known to cause damage to human cells or DNA. The American Cancer Society reports RF exposure is not considered a cancer risk.

Most experts agree RF is safe, yet concerns continue to be raised. In light of the relatively new trend of such widespread cellphone use, the big question is: What risk, if any, does heavy RF exposure pose over long periods of time?

For now, what should we do?

That depends on how worried you are about a risk that is unproven but also not yet disproven. If you’re in the “very worried” or “why risk it?” camp, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences offers some common-sense tips:

  • Reduce the amount of time spent using your cellphone.
  • Use speaker mode or a headset to place more distance between you and your cellphone.
  • Find a place to keep your phone other than a bra or pocket that puts it in constant close contact with your body.

“I personally keep my cellphone in my jacket’s breast pocket. If you’re still concerned despite the lack of evidence, a better-safe-than-sorry approach is generally good advice,” Dr. Berry said. “Until research can prove or disprove any risks, for some people it makes sense just to keep cellphones away from close contact with your body, especially soft tissue such as your breasts.”

As you chat about health issues with family and friends, or sift through health and medical information online, keep in mind it’s important to look to credible resources for credible information. Your primary care physician is a great go-to, as are other licensed, accredited or certified health care professionals.

Remember that as ongoing research is done, it’s not unusual for conflicting messages and advice to emerge. Smoking, now a major baddie in everyone’s book, was once advertised as having “health benefits.” Butter has regained favor over margarine, its trans-fat cousin. Wine and chocolate, once blasted as health no-no’s, are now hailed as health woo-hoo’s (in moderation of course).

While coincidence, anecdotal reports and personal experience make for interesting water cooler (or Facebook) talk, they are not the same as facts. So, for now, perhaps the best advice is to take what you hear about cellphones causing breast cancer with a grain of salt (whether that’s iodized, noniodized, sea or kosher).


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