May 20th, 2011
08:00 AM ET

Gupta: Cell phones, brain tumors and a wired earpiece

Learn more about cell phones and the current research into whether they could cause brain tumors, “Sanjay Gupta, M.D.,” Saturday, 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET.

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent

Just about every time I use a cell phone, I plug in my wired earpiece first. Having discussed the use of earpieces on several news shows, people expect to see me using one. If I am walking around the CNN studios, my colleagues often comment on it. In airports, people will stop me in the rare cases I forget to use the earpiece, and remind me about it. Perhaps, they are intrigued because I am a neurosurgeon who openly shows some concern about cell phones.

Truth is, it is a pretty easy thing to do – using an earpiece. Furthermore, my neck doesn’t hurt after being on the phone for a long conference call, and given that many of those calls take place in a car, an earpiece becomes a requirement. Still, though, I don’t want to dodge the obvious question: Do cell phones cause brain cancer?

It may be too early to say for sure. The latency period or time between exposure and recognition of a tumor is around 20 years, sometimes longer. And, cell phone use in the U.S. has been popular for only  around 15 years. Back in 1996, there were 34 million cell phone users. Today there are 9-10 times as many. Keeping that in mind, it is worth taking a more detailed look at the results of Interphone, a multinational study designed to try to  answer this question.

The headline from this study was there was little or no evidence to show an association between cell phones and cancer. Though, if you went to the appendix of the study, which interestingly was available only online, you found something unsettling. The data showed people who used a cell phone 10 years or more doubled the risk of developing a glioma, a type of brain tumor. And, across the board – most of the studies that have shown an increased risk are from Scandinavia, a place where cell phones have been popular since the early 1990s. For these reasons, the whole issue of latency could become increasingly important.

Cell phones use non-ionizing radiation, which is very different from the ionizing radiation of X-rays, which everyone agrees are harmful. Non-ionizing radiation won’t strip electrons or bust up DNA. It's more like very low power microwaves. Short term, these microwaves are likely harmless, but long term could be a different story. Anyway, who likes the idea of a microwave, even a low-powered one, next to their head all day?

And, what about kids? I have three of them, aged 5, 4 and 2. Fact is, they are more likely to lead to my early demise than cell phones. But, as hard as it is to believe sometimes, they actually have thinner skulls than adults, and will probably be using cell phones longer than I ever will.

The first person to encourage me to regularly wear an ear piece was Dr. Keith Black. He also is a neurosurgeon, and makes a living removing – you guessed it – brain tumors. Keith has long believed there is a link, and for some time, his was a lonely voice in this discussion. Nowadays, he has loud and prominent voices accompanying him. Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute,  sent a memo warning staffers to limit their cell phone use. One of the possible consequences, he says, is  an increased risk of brain cancer. The city of San Francisco is trying to pass an ordinance requiring radiation warning labels on all cell phones.  The European Environmental Agency has said cell phones could be as big a public health risk as smoking, asbestos and leaded gasoline. Even the makers of cell phones suggest you don’t place a device against your head, but rather advocate holding it 5/8 to a full inch away.

Many will roll their eyes at this, scoffing at the precautionary principle on display here. Fair enough. Still, I like my wired earpiece, and I don’t have to turn my life upside down to use it. I also text and email a lot more, because my kids rarely allow me to have a phone conversation. Speaking of kids, you will probably see mine using earpieces too, when my wife and I decide they are old enough to use one, which isn’t in the foreseeable future.

With reporting from CNN's Danielle Dellorto

soundoff (1,162 Responses)
  1. jmaze

    "Truth is, it is a pretty easy thing to do – using an earpiece. Furthermore, my neck doesn’t hurt after being on the phone for a long conference call, and given that many of those calls take place in a car, an earpiece becomes a requirement."

    Interesting. Dr. Gupta is worried enough about the still-theoretical dangers of radiation that he uses an earpiece, but not enough about the DECIDEDLY NOT THEORETICAL and MORE IMMEDIATE dangers of driving while talking on a phone.

    May 31, 2011 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff L

      Is there really any difference in safety between talking to someone on a call through an earpiece that's already in place and talking to a passenger in the same car for instance?

      May 31, 2011 at 15:05 | Report abuse |
    • Howard

      The article was about the potential hazards posed by cell phones to the brain. The article was not about the hazards of using a cell phone while driving a car, although that is also a matter of concern.

      May 31, 2011 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
    • Scott of Utah

      Jeff: Yes there is a diference in talking to someone in the same car vs talking to them on the phone in the car. If the person is actually in the car, they can see the same visual cues you can anticipate and spot hazards and if a situation arises, they can quiet down or even help with instruction. A person on the phone can not do this so they will keep on talking at you while you are about to make that left turn in front of a speeding car.

      May 31, 2011 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
    • MLnow

      BUSTED!!!! Good job jmaze. Sanjay stop risking everyone around you with your self important phone use. Sorry dude, but crashing into a someone while blabbing on the phone has no latency period.

      May 31, 2011 at 16:14 | Report abuse |
    • Nunuv Yurbiz

      >>If the person is actually in the car, they can see the same visual cues you can anticipate and spot hazards and if a situation arises, they can quiet down or even help with instruction.-

      Scott, clearly you aren't married. Seriously, though, Jeff, yes there is a difference. I view it as your brain having only one "tuner" and when talking on the phone your brain switches off the direct observations to instead focus on picturing the person you're speaking to. It's the same effect as daydreaming and why people will waive their hand in front of your face to get you to snap out of it.

      May 31, 2011 at 16:57 | Report abuse |
    • mike

      some people can't even drive, let alone drive while on the phone. I'd say the majority of people can't grasp the concept of driving first, talking second. i talk while driving all the time and have a perfect driving record. if you are smart enough to concentrate on the driving part there is no problem talking on the phone.

      And before you argue my point, answer this question. If someone is sitting in the car next to you and you are talking to them, what is the difference?

      May 31, 2011 at 18:16 | Report abuse |
    • jaison

      He got a driver 🙂

      May 31, 2011 at 18:26 | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Thank you. I was going to say the same thing. I commute on a motorcycle and can attest to the fact that cell phone use in a car doesn't only endanger the driver. If I had a nickle for every time someone switched into my lane or made a turn in front of me while talking on a cell phone. And Jeff, Scott of Utah is right. I don't remember anyone ever switching lanes into me or turning in front of me while someone was in the car with them.

      May 31, 2011 at 18:28 | Report abuse |
    • KDT

      If I am a passenger in the car, I am looking at the stuff around us while I am talking to the driver. I also am checking and looking for cars when changing lanes, for example. On the phone with someone on the other end who is driving, I am just talking – not being a second set of eyes for the driver.

      May 31, 2011 at 19:21 | Report abuse |
    • Reader511

      Anyone who can't manage to use a wired headset or bluetooth connection while in their car should then refrain from conversing at all with anyone in the car or listening to the radio. All three are equally as distracting.

      May 31, 2011 at 19:21 | Report abuse |
    • Nature doc

      Wired EAR phone INCREASES radiation to the brain!!! The microwaves from the antenna get picked up in the wire and then they are amplified into the brain. Better to use the speaker phone if nobody is listening or just hold the phone off the ear. Wired ear phone is a greater risk. The problem from electrical fields are not limited to cell phone microwave radiation only. The 50 cycle and the 60 cycle AC hum is also very bad for wellness. and it not just the radiation coming off your phone. The problem is that we are surrounded with electronic fields all the time. When the first radio tower came out with 500k watts of power everything died for 1 mile so the FTC dropped the max to 50k for government reasons. 50k may not be medically safe.

      May 31, 2011 at 19:23 | Report abuse |
    • Chaz

      This article isn't about safely driving while on a call, but since you asked, yes there is a huge differencebetween talking to someone that is physically in the car as opposed to talking to someone on your cell phone. Your "imagination" is out there with the other person rather than in your car. Read on: http://www.wikilaw3k.org/forum1/Cars-Transportation-Safety/If-talking-of-the-phone-is-a-distraction-while-driving-wouldn-039-t-talking-to-a-passenger-in-a-car-create-609444.htm

      May 31, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      Uh yeah. The idea of that earpiece is that it is HANDS-FREE. Hence he is able to use both of his hands to drive instead of one. Why do you think newer cars have a Bluetooth speaker as a standard feature? My new car has it. Duh

      May 31, 2011 at 20:07 | Report abuse |
    • humberto

      thats not all, you figure about 200 million cellphones on in the USA at 1/2 a watt comes out to about 100 million watts per hour. one watt per hour equals about 3.4 btu times a 100 million watts thats 3.4 trillion btu into the atmosphere per hour – not even counting the radiation from cell sites and other sources .

      what about that dollar they collect each and every month for 911 when your unit can find the nearest diner and record it ?

      May 31, 2011 at 22:16 | Report abuse |
  2. dunn

    I have no doubt about these findings, logic tells me something has to make this phone work. I experienced a vibrating in my
    upper thigh were I carried my cell phone. This occured while the phone was in my pocket, and after awhile this occurrence would happen when phone was out of pocket. The phone was stopped being carried in my pocket and vibrating stop, so I fully support this report!!

    May 31, 2011 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Spunky Mcmonkey

      Next time the phone is in your pocket and you feel your leg vibrating, here's what you do:

      1. Remove phone
      2. Press green button, hold to mouth
      3. Say "Hello"?

      May 31, 2011 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
    • Metoo

      I've have the same thing, vibrating in the leg where I usually keep my phone. I still carry it there but take it out as soon as I get somewhere. Dang Blackberry is killing me, I know it.

      May 31, 2011 at 15:25 | Report abuse |
    • neoritter

      Sounds more like muscle memory than anything. I've had it happen too, but it happens when I think I'm getting a phone call or I'm actually getting a phone call. It usually only happens while I'm in the car though. I'll have my cell near my shifter and it'll start vibrating from a call. I won't notice that (consciously at least) and I'll feel my left thigh vibrate (the side where I normally put my phone), I'll check my pocket to find the phone not there, then realize where it is and find I have an incoming phone call.

      The mind has tied a motorary function to an event. If I'm getting a phone call then my left thigh should be vibrating.

      May 31, 2011 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
    • Concerned

      I also get vibrating around the area of my leg near my pocket. It feels just like my cell phone does when it vibrates.

      May 31, 2011 at 16:50 | Report abuse |
    • luvinit

      when my phone vibrates around my thigh, I get turned on and say OH YEAH

      May 31, 2011 at 17:15 | Report abuse |
    • Drew

      The experience of 'phantom vibration' in your cell phone pocket has nothing to do with radiation. There are already studies on that phenomenon. Basically your brain gets used to the sensation of periodic vibrations in that set of nerves, and when they're absent, your brain imagines them. If you move your phone to a new pocket you'll stop getting the phantom vibration in the old location and start getting it in the new one. Nothing to be worried about.

      May 31, 2011 at 19:36 | Report abuse |
    • Dr.GoBlue

      Sounds Pavlovian to me.

      May 31, 2011 at 21:19 | Report abuse |
    • humberto

      You know thoes fiber optic cables they run in, if you mess with them you can burn a nerve in your hand. Then they have to server the nerve in your back to relieve the pain.

      May 31, 2011 at 22:22 | Report abuse |
  3. Erich Schroeder

    When Dr. Gupta refers to an "earpiece" is that a wired one or a Blue-Tooth? Is using a Blue-tooth head set any better? What about the wireless 900MZ phones we have in our homes?

    May 31, 2011 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eric P

      According to wikipedia, a 3G cell phone's typical transmission power is about 500 mW (milliwatts) or 0.5 watts. I looked up my bluetooth headset, which is designated as a Class 2 BT device. That means it has a max transmission power of 2.5 mW or 0.0025 watts. What does this mean? My bluetooth headset pumps out 1/200th the amount of power that my cell phone does, albiet at slightly different frequency. It only has to transmit to my cell phone in my pocket, which then transmits to the tower. Therefore if one were on a long phone call on a bluetooth headset versus having your cell phone against your head, I would guess you are going to see a lot less radiation entering your skull. Not rocket science, right? If you are even more paranoid, use a headset.. but bluetooth is good enough for me. That and texting most of the time instead of calling.....

      May 31, 2011 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
    • Abudum

      An ear piece is not the same as a Bluetooth. An ear piece is just a small speaker transmitting the sound from your phone. A Bluetooth is an actual transmitter that emits the low level radiation like the cellphone.

      May 31, 2011 at 15:52 | Report abuse |
    • Craig

      Yes, Bluetooth is a transmitter, but it's a very small fraction (1/100th) of the power of what a cellphone has to put out.

      -An Electrical Engineer

      May 31, 2011 at 17:05 | Report abuse |
    • Nature doc

      Many years ago they reported that the wired ear phone picks up the microwave from the antenna and shoots it into your ear causing greater exposure.
      The wired choice does not solve any problem.

      May 31, 2011 at 19:29 | Report abuse |
    • David L.

      @Nature Doc –

      I can't think of one thing that would support that claim. I'm no expert, but I did get a degree in electrical engineering. Can you cite any sources to this effect?

      May 31, 2011 at 19:55 | Report abuse |
    • JB

      @NatureDoc - I remember reading this study perhaps 10 years ago. From what I recall - there was a happy medium between holding the cell phone too close to the head (and being exposed to energy from the radio transmitter directly) and using a wired ear piece but not letting the wire between the phone and the ear piece form a completely straight line (at which point the wire acted as some sort of antenna or conductor for the energy). The point of the article may have been to use the wired ear piece but not extended in a straight line... let there be some slack. The article did say the radiation effect was potentially stronger at the end of the ear piece of the wire was taught and in a straight line from the cell phone.

      May 31, 2011 at 21:33 | Report abuse |
  4. CDB

    Time to ban cell phones in all parks and beaches now. I would like to think at a park without getting cancer.

    May 31, 2011 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff L

      I'm not sure the radiation can travel that far at significant levels. I think the issue here is with a cell phone actually held to the side of your head rather than one being used by someone else nearby or a 'passive smoking' type effect.

      May 31, 2011 at 14:57 | Report abuse |
    • CDB

      Do you know how much smoke you actually inhale? No. Do you know how much radiation you get passing by? No. Lets all be honest for a change. The only reason smoking is being baned is because of the smell.. I find it funny that some people are raging about 2nd hand smoke when they drive a car and dont say anything about the pollution from cars in major cities. The air New Yorkers breath is way worse than smoking a pack a day. But studies wont be funded for this because its nearly a need not a want. It all comes down to this. This use to be a free country and I will not allow someone to tell me where I can and cant enjoy myself.

      May 31, 2011 at 15:14 | Report abuse |
    • JWG

      Seriously. At the rate this country is progressing, I guarantee there will be restrictions on indoor cell phone use in public forums within the next 5 years.

      May 31, 2011 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
    • DCJ001


      "This use to be a free country and I will not allow someone to tell me where I can and cant enjoy myself."

      Yeah, you addicts really look to be enjoying yourselves while you're hacking, gagging, and coughing up all sorts of junk.

      May 31, 2011 at 16:58 | Report abuse |
    • Dr.GoBlue

      CDB, the WHO estimates 600,000 deaths worldwide every year due to second hand smoke. It's no longer theoretical.

      May 31, 2011 at 21:25 | Report abuse |
  5. investigation Projects

    There was quite some research done on the electromag properties and intesities on the human head by Concordia University Associate Dean: Chris Trueman http://users.encs.concordia.ca/~trueman/projects.html This was funded by funded by the Communications Research Centre of the Industry Canada and by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

    May 31, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Very Serious

    A loved one of mine has Glioblastoma Multiform which is fatal and the neurosurgeon feels that high levels of cell phone usage may have contributed to it. This person is in the telecommunications field and spent a great deal of time on the cell phone. I'm going to err on the side of caution and buy a wired ear piece (I now use a wireless BlueTooth). Why chance it? Life is too short....why make it shorter?

    May 31, 2011 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • maizieellen

      Thank you. I lost my son to the same disease 2 years ago...primary tumor just above the ear he used ONLY a cell phone on from 1992. Two of his doctors felt that, in their personal opinions, cell phones were the main cause. He gained 100# from the steroids he took to keep his brain from swelling and bursting down his spinal cord. He suffered grand mal seizures. He developed a terrible skin condition from the steroids. That's before he went blind and lived in a state of confusion. It took 10 months from diagnosis to death. He was 44.

      May 31, 2011 at 18:05 | Report abuse |
    • HollyAnnG

      To both of you, my heart goes out to you. Thanks for telling your stories.

      May 31, 2011 at 20:25 | Report abuse |
  7. Bill

    There was an IEEE Research Project, study, and book completed in the late 1980s till early 1990s related to the Biological effects of electromagenetic radiation from electrical and electronic equipment. It had quite a bit of information related to hand held radios and phones dealing with amplitude, frequency, duration and distance from the human body and how it affects cell damage and destruction and cancers such as Lukemia and other cancers. Since I have read this book and did further research, I limit my use of hand held instruments and do not own a cell phone. Anyone with knowledge of electricity, electronics, human anatomy, and the behavior of cells and their destruction know that cancer is not only possible, but is probable. I would also not be surprised if such devices has an impact on immune system problems such as autoimmunity and more so with the diseases and associated cancers. People don't care if it causes disease or cancer until it happens to them. Radiation causes cancer and can also kill cancer. We have a high probability of being in a car accident, but that does not stop us from riding in an automobile or obeying the law by not exceeding the maximum posted speed limit or coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. So we read things we all know and who cares, until you are dying of cancer, and seek to sue the cell phone or automobile manufacturers. Same thing with smoking.

    May 31, 2011 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GS

      Bill, what is the name of the book? I'd like to get my hands on it.

      May 31, 2011 at 16:18 | Report abuse |
    • Rubiya

      It sure does take a villiage on the banks of De'nial River esiclpaley if adult daughters and sons live in a differnet state from thier aging parents. Investing in a Geriatric Care Manager as a safety net is a wonderful way to have a professional, who knows your folks, on the ground where they live. Home Care, even a few hours a week can make a huge poitive difference for an elderly relaitve. It can help provide safety in bathing, better nutrition, some companionship and regular observations of your parent's situation or condition. Here in South Florida there are a lot of resoures, some governmental, community services and for a fee. Technology can also provide some solutions in monitoring. You have to learn about the services available in your parent's villiage. thanks, sherry

      November 15, 2012 at 23:53 | Report abuse |
  8. Diedra

    If non-ionizing radiation doesn't "bust up DNA", then what is the mechanism by which it would result in cancer?

    May 31, 2011 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dah00

      Good question, it's not known. The studies so far show an association but not the mechanism. To show mechanism, you have to do other kinds of research, like animal research, where injury to nerve cells near the radiofrequency source is seen but not sure why. Maybe some local heating effect on proteins and metabolism? Anyway, that's why people are worried even though they are not sure of a causal link.

      May 31, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
    • humberto

      Studies have already been done that prove a higher risk of leukimia in children that live near high voltage wires.

      here's a recent one –


      May 31, 2011 at 23:02 | Report abuse |
  9. John Arevalo

    There seems to conflicting evidence on this issue. Not long ago there was a widely publicized report stating that cell phone WAS NOT harmful. As you read this you are being bombarded by all sorts of electronic radiation. It comes from a myriad of sources. Computers emit it, florescent lamps, communication towers (other than cell phone), FM radio waves, AM radio waves, shortwave communication, all electric motors and many other devices emit radiation. Even the spark plug wires in your car do it.
    The point is you can't just blame cell phones for it since that sort of radiation comes from everywhere.

    May 31, 2011 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • David

      I tend to agree with your "radiation is everywhere" argument. For that reason, I'm not too worried about the 30 minutes a day I spend on the cellphone (which is the only type of phone in our household, that has three kids between 10 and 16). What I do worry about, though, are the 15 and 16 year olds that may spend hours a day on the phone. I have to think that sitting 2 feet away from my computer monitors is far safer for my health than if, say, I had one for a pillow!!!

      May 31, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse |
    • Craig

      There's no comparing the "radiation everywhere" with what your cellphone pressed up against your ear is impinging on your head. The power goes down exponentially with distance, so the power at your head from the millimeters away cellphone is *far* greater than the "other" radio waves cruising around.

      -An Electrical Engineer

      May 31, 2011 at 17:09 | Report abuse |
  10. dah00

    Sanjay, will a wired ear piece protect you? If it's wired, doesn't that wire act like an antenna and won't it feed the radiation right into your ear canal? The answer is: yes, it does. You should wear an air tube headset. Please put that on your next program.

    May 31, 2011 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steven

      The wire is not transmitting radiation - it is only transmitting electrical signals for the earpiece to translate into audible sound through physical vibration. The headphone wires are not acting as antennas or transmitters of radiation.

      Great topic which affects so many of us.

      May 31, 2011 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
  11. Byron Huffman

    What about using the cell phone with a blue tooth headset; does the lessen the radiation, or does the blue tooth have the same radiation concern?

    May 31, 2011 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Craig

      The power output of a Bluetooth headset is roughly 1/100th the power of a cellphone. Remember it only has to go several feet, whereas a cellphone has to transmit to a receiver miles away. Big difference in the required power.

      I'd say as long as you don't wear your Bluetooth 24/7, it's a totally safe solution. I just put mine in when I'm on the phone.

      -An Electrical Engineer

      May 31, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse |
    • blanka

      Yes Craig, but by putting that BT headset away, you don't look near as cool as the dorks wearing theirs all day thinking that they apppear important.

      May 31, 2011 at 23:10 | Report abuse |
  12. becca

    Wow, my dad and fiance have been warning me about this very thing. Soooo very glad i relented and use a wired ear piece to chat and keep the cell as far away from my body as possible. Now, about those TSA body scanners....where do they stand with the WHO?

    May 31, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. RonB

    Thank you Dr Gupta! Now that WHO has changed it's stance on cellphone's potential of being harmless today, and now has catagorized them as a carcinogenic hazard, I hope the parents of all the children that are using these devices pays attention. They are the most vulnerable to being a victim of this product within 10 years.
    My wife used the cellphone avidly for over a dozen years. She would call our daughters that lived in another city, and she would talk to them until the battery went dead, nearly every Saurday and Sunday. Sometimes she would hand me the phone just before the battery was dead-dead, so I could say "I love you", and I couldn't hold onto the phone because it was so hot!
    My wife has no family history of any cancer, so I believe that her consistant uasage of the cellphone over the years is what caused her brain cancer tumor which was in her right temporal lobe area...where the cellphone rested on the side of her head and ear. She was in ideal health prior to this diagnosis until the headaches started, and she had symptoms of a stroke. An MRI revealed the tumor, and it was removed the next day!
    Already, the industry is defending the product...remember what the tabacco industry got away with for many years! The cellphone industry gives a lot of campaign funds to our elected officials, so don't expect them to help get to the bottom of this possible apocalypse. It is estimated that 3/4 of the earths poipulation uses these wireless devices.
    A unbiased scientific study needs to be accomplished as soon as possible. We can't trust the industry to tell us the truth.

    May 31, 2011 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. STLCNNReader

    (DR. GUPTA: I tried multiple times to send this comment to you via the FEEDBACK forum and it keeps on rejecting the comment, saying "The right amount of data was not sent.Your client is not allowed to access the requested object." PLEASE directly address the issues brought up here by me):

    In your varied reports on CNN about the dangers of cellphone use, you (and others) say that one protective approach— and one that you use yourself —is to use a WIRED CELLPHONE HEADSET OR EARPIECE. And yet there are others that I have seen or heard over the last number of years, when talking about this issue, that have made varied claims regarding WIRED HEADSETS OR EARPIECES, such as (1) using a hard wired earpiece acts like a FM antenna (in generating radiation to our heads) and could be even worse in some respects; (2) headsets often INCREASE radiation exposure when not shielded or used properly; (3) headsets might be an ideal solution IF they were used with FILTERS to stop the headset wire from acting as an effective antenna (for instance, one commenter who claims to be an engineering professor and scientist, says that an using an RF CHOKE around the cable of the wired earpiece helps prevent RF from traveling up to the earpiece . . . otherwise the earpiece cable acts like an antenna and actually amplifies the radio signal by the time it reaches the earpiece) . I’ve seen various persons over time address this and similar questions to you over time in CNN comments sections and haven’t seen you address this issue directly (either answering them back in the CNN Comments section or else writing up on this headset or earpiece safety questions issue in a followup article addressing this issue specifically).

    As to point # 2 and 3 above, it appears to me that a goodly number of the parties making claims about headsets being a workable solution IF USED WITH SOME KIND OF FILTER ON THEM are trying to sell a product to you and I can’t tell if their claims are credible and proven, or dubious, or outright frauds. For instance, one of them claims: “RF Safe WireGuards are a simple clip on Ferrite filter for maximum radiation reduction. A headset using an RF Safe WireGuard typically emits only 2-5% of the radiant microwave energy at the earpiece that an ordinary headset device would emit, so like sunblock it offers a precautionary option to reduce microwave exposure. Additional RF Safety measures can be taken, such as using a wired P.H.F utilizing RF Safe earbud shields or most recommended is using an Air-Tube design headset with a WireGuard. Air-Tube Designs further reduce cranial exposure; the RF3 incorporates an acoustic exchange principle like a doctor's stethoscope to eliminate using a wire all the way to a headsets earpiece; this extra distance truly allows RF to drop off at the square of distance.”

    So I have essentially 7 questions for you (in your capacity as a practicing neurosurgeon, professor and scientist): (NOTE: the capital letters are for added emphasis, not meant to be yelling at you . . . as this COMMENTS section doesn’t allow character formatting such as underlining or boldfacing or italics)

    1) Is it a factual (scientifically valid and proven) claim that wired headsets or earpieces are NOT really protection from radiation exposure and, in fact, may be just as bad or even worse (as they may even increase the radiation generated)?

    2) Do cellphones, in fact, generate radiation EVEN WHEN THEY ARE NOT IN THE PROCESS OF RECEIVING OR MAKING A CALL BUT SIMPLY JUST SITTING THERE (while being powered ON instead of OFF, of course)? Therefore, is a cellphone safe just sitting in your pocket or attached to your hip while it is NOT otherwise engaged in an outgoing or incoming call? Or is it a danger EVEN WHEN sitting idle (yet powered ON instead of OFF)?

    3) (As the second part of question # 2): If and only if cellphones ARE, in fact, a danger to whatever part of our body it is adjoining or near to EVEN WHEN JUST IN A IDLE STATE (not engaged in making or receiving a call yet still powered on), then how are we to safely bring them along with us wherever we go without endangering ourselves? (for instance, if I have a cellphone in my jacket or coat or pants OUTER pocket and have the cellphone wholly encircled by sleeping bag-like foam to keep it at a one-inch or larger distance from my body surface, is that good enough? Or, if I have a backbag on my back and the phone is placed inside the backbag or in an outer pocket of the backbag and then has a headset or earpiece attached from it to my ear, is that good enough to protect me? Or if I carry along a foldable canvas shopping bag in my pocket and, when I make or receive a cellphone call, I place the phone inside this shopping bag with an earpiece attached and carry the shopping bag like we normally carry shopping bags [i.e., held by its handle and suspended from our hand]), is this safe enough?

    4) Is the WIRED HEADSET OR EARPIECE that you personally use just used by you “as is” (like it came out-of-the-box)? Or instead, do you attach some other protective items to the headset or earpiece such as some kind of FILTER or TUBING or whatever? Please be specific and detailed in explaning why you take these steps and what benefit they have..

    5) While engaged in a cellphone call, do you yourself carry the phone IN YOUR HAND? Or is is placed IN A CLOTHING POCKET? And is it AN INNER OR AN OUTER POCKET? Or is it placed inside a HIP-ATTACHED CELLPHONE HOLDER? Or else how exactly do you carry your cellphone WHILE IN-USE?

    6) It has been said that BLUETOOTH (WIRELESS) HEADSETS are also not a solution, and they themselves generate radiation to one’s head. Is this scientifically validated? (I have not ever used bluetooth headsets because of this but only wired headsets or earpieces.)

    7) Are CORDLESS PHONES (as used at home) also a safety risk as well? If so, in the same way as cellphones are? And to the same degree? If so, should they also not be held in your hand or against your body while in use? And do they generate radiation even when NOT engaged in an incoming or outgoing call?

    May 31, 2011 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Susie Bennett

    The question I have is, what about those radation filters/blockers that I often see at stores such as Whole Foods? Would they be likely to help at all? They are easier to use than an earpiece. But another thing that I may do is go ahead and get a landline for my apartment so I can use it instead of my cell phone when I'm at home.

    May 31, 2011 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Abudum

    How can you protect yourself from radiation when there are microwaves from WiFi, radios, televisions, cellphones, satellites and anything else that transmits via the airwaves in the air on a constant basis? As a matter of fact there would be life without radiation.

    May 31, 2011 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sebastian

      Simple, look up the inverse square relationship between radio frequency radiation and distance. To simply put the intensity of radio "waves" decreases to a relationship of 1/N^2 where N is distance from source. So simply putting yourself at a further distance reduces the intensity of the radio signal by quite a bit. Now there are some cavets such as antenna designs etc but that's a bit too complicated for most people.

      May 31, 2011 at 23:48 | Report abuse |
    • mark Henriksen

      The radiation your head receives is reduced by roughly the square of the distance between your head and the radiation source. So, if you use a speaker phone held 10 inches from your head, you get 100 times less radiation that if it is held 1 inch from your head. All those sources of radiation you mention are far away. The issue is distance.

      June 1, 2011 at 00:01 | Report abuse |
    • Marlene

      I have never heard the argument why ear pieces are a better option. Wouldn't ear pieces be even more harmful?!It is going directly into the ear/brain and most people have them attached to their head for hours.

      June 6, 2011 at 13:32 | Report abuse |
  17. Richard

    other than mobile phones, what piece of technology do many people use in close proximity human anatomy? laptops! are laptops safe? is there any microwave radiation associated with wireless laptops and what about the electromagnetic radiation?

    May 31, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Joe

    All the media reports focus on the effects of cellphone usage and brain tumors/brain cancer. Since many people carry a cellphone on a belt clip or in a pocket, is there also an increase in testicular (or ovarian) cancer as the result of cellphones or is it just the cells in the brain that are more succeptable to cellphone radiation than other cells in the body?

    May 31, 2011 at 17:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Arthur

    Why is CNN running this same old crap. Years ago this same story made it's rounds in an attempt to scare people. Here we are and yet no proof has been provided that cell phones cause cancer. This is yet another attempt by the crap media to stir the pot for no other reason than to scare people and get attention for headlines. This is pure, unadulterated BS and CNN as well as other news outlets should be more responsible when deciding what story to run. How about real news and not this bogus crap.

    May 31, 2011 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ben

      I absolutely agree. This is non-science. Anyone with a cursory understanding of thermodynamics and heat transfer will know this is nonsense. Being non-ionizing, it does NOT damage the cells the way X-rays and whatnot does. The only way it could cause damage is through heating. Well guess what, your brain is full of more/less water. The heat is not concentrated in one spot causing local heating. The heat will spread out, causing a negligible raise in temperature. If this idea was correct, a fever would cause significant cancer throughout your body. The test setup they used would show how little the temperature would rise in any one spot. If your cells can't handle a fraction of a degree rise in temp, we would be dead already.

      Most doctors are amateur at science at best. Leave science and the effects of electromagnetic radiation to scientists, not doctors. Let's face it, doctors treat symptoms. They can't decide if vitamin D is good for you or not. The ruling opinion is the one who is best funded (Vitamin D council – bias you think?).

      CNN, raise the bar for science, stop lowering it.

      May 31, 2011 at 19:02 | Report abuse |
  20. Kent

    It is a shame that the CNN coverage turns this into an alarming report. It would have been more balanced to also list common items from the same WHO/IARC possible carcinogens list that no one believes is a carcinogen. There were just some weak statistical studies that made an inference while other studies did not have the same finding. This WHO/IARC clasification just means that there is only a possibility. It was not found to be a probable cause. If someone reads the literature carefully, the data is very very weak and the WHO/IARC categories do not allow very very weak data to be categorized as something other than a possible carcinogen.

    May 31, 2011 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Lisa

    The price of gasoline and government taxes are more likely to do us in before our cell phones. I'll take my chances and put my cellphone on speaker to answer calls when I'm not driving and not surrounded by people who would be disturbed by my conversation. Good manners and safety should always be in play in everyday activity. That's my creed.

    May 31, 2011 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Dennis



    Just found an interesting read that states cordless phones may be even more dangerous and another with tips.

    May 31, 2011 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Max Nielsen

    Dr. Gupta,
    As an electrical engineer I am aware that any wire near an antenna picks up the signal and re-transmits it. The strength of the re-transmitted signal depends upon a number of factors such as how close the wire is to the antenna, its orientation relative to the antenna, its length, where along the wire you measure the re-transmitted signal, etc. In some cases the re-transmitted signal is very large.

    The point here is that the wired headset can carry and re-transmit the signal transmitted from the cell phone's antenna, through its cable, to your head. Therefore, while it is probably true that the wired headset reduces your exposure, it does not eliminate it.

    I suspect that a wireless, Bluetooth, headset offers more protection, even though it contains its own (very low power) transmitter.

    Thanks for the very informative report.

    (I use a wired headset.)

    May 31, 2011 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Bob

    Even though it may not be known yet if cell phone use causes brain cancer, it does cause two other things: stupidity and rudeness. I want just one superpower and that's the ability to melt the cell phones of people who are using them stupidly or rudely ... melt them to the point of hurting their stupid little rude ears. Oh, and if I could have a second superpower, it would be to be able to point at cars that are parked on lawns (even if it is your own home) and flip them over!

    May 31, 2011 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. PhysicsPlease

    E=h where is the frequency of the photon. The key is not just the total energy hitting the cells but the frequency of photons hitting them as well. Hopefully biologists consulted with principles of physics (quantum theory) before making deductions. Maybe it is a certain range of frequency of light (EM waves/photons) hitting cells that is more important than just the brute force amount. Maybe, a certain frequency hitting cells causes excitations in atoms causing some biological chain reaction.
    I hate "science" based on statistics rather than using known science laws to derive/observe phenomena.

    May 31, 2011 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • PhysicsPlease

      CNN's brilliant filter took out <nu> so equation is E=h*nu where nu is the frequency of photon.

      May 31, 2011 at 18:30 | Report abuse |
  26. Chad

    " Anyway, who likes the idea of a microwave, even a low-powered one, next to their head all day?"

    It's called your own body heat, Sanjay. Doctors should be required to pass physics class before entering medical school.

    May 31, 2011 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sarah

      It's not body heat Chad. You are an idiot. It is non-ionizing radiation. And, I have little doubt that Dr Gupta, a neurosurgeon, passed physics. How about you?

      May 31, 2011 at 20:17 | Report abuse |
    • Mike Varney


      The unfortunate truth is that most medical students view physics as a subject to get out of the way. They usually do not try and understand the subject, or learn the critical thinking skills the subject can teach. Many med students will cry and whine their way to get a high grade (and if not they drop the class and try and get an easier teacher.)
      One physics class does not make Dr. Gupa an expert in physics no more than one biology class would make you an expert in medicine, yet Gupta is promoting scare tactics based on incomplete knowledge and ignorance of some pretty basic physics.

      Since I am a physicist, and you seem to listen to authority, let me save you a bit of thinking (I know... it is hard isin't it sweetie?) and let me tell you simply that E = h*nu and that microwave radiation does not have the energy to ionize DNA, no matter how many photons (intensity) you shine on them.
      Does that work for you?
      Good! =)
      Your defense of his ignorance does not negate it.

      May 31, 2011 at 20:37 | Report abuse |
  27. Jay

    Give me a break. How many studies have been done and every one has a different result. Lets run a study for 10 to 20 years and then publish the results AND the stats. Quit the scare tactics and get on with our lives

    May 31, 2011 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Jack Campbell, Hendersonville, TN

    Dr. Gupta. You should be embarrassed for two errors you are making in your public statements, made ostensibly as an expert on public health matters. First, the entire subtext of the WHO release is nonsense, as it has been known to be physically impossible for RF energy at these frequencies to cause cancerous mutation in human cells for approximately 100-years. Google "Einstein 1905 cell phone radiation" for guidance on that issue. Your second error is in thinking an earpiece reduces the net EMR being emitted into your brain. The electromagnetic transducer driving the loudspeaker in the earpiece emits approximately 5-times the net near field EMR level of the cellular transmitter in the phone handset. So, if any of this low frequency EMR was in some magical way violating broadly known and understood laws of physics and was creating increased cancer risk, using the earpiece would be about five times riskier. Of course, neither actually do.

    If you want to stake out a responsible, helpful stance on this topic on behalf of CNN, go review basic physics in this area and begin to publish the fact that there is zero impact on human cancer related to the use of cell phones. Zero. Physically impossible. Fact. Provide helpful education not inflammatory speculation for your readers and viewers.

    May 31, 2011 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • George

      Dr. Gupta and Dr. Black are driving people nut without substantiating their claim with proper evidence. I am wondering why the scientific community(other than MD) is not responding to their claim. Until then let us all take precaution.

      May 31, 2011 at 19:30 | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      Jack, the WHO seems to disagree with you. And, just for giggles, I looked up the monograph to which you were alluding from AE Einstein. He also disagrees with you. You might have had one clue Jack: the paper was written at least 70 years before cell phones. You are a troll Jack. Move on from legitimate blogs

      May 31, 2011 at 20:21 | Report abuse |
    • Mike Varney

      Sorry Susan, but your argument does not hold water.
      Assuming you could understand Einsteins Nobel prize winning work on the photoelectric effect, you would not be making asinine claims that because a theory describes a physical phenomena years before it is observed, much less put into practice that it is wrong.
      Add to the mix that you claim that Einstein disagrees with the photo-electric effect? Laughable. You are the troll in this case, displaying the perfect combination of arrogance and ignorance that is a hallmark of your type.

      May 31, 2011 at 20:30 | Report abuse |
  29. william rubin

    william rubin

    The energy produced from your cell phones is microwave radiation. This is one of the weakest forms of radiation in the spectrum and in fact has less energy than red light which as you know will not even expose film in a dark room. There was a recent article in Scientific America that stated that the microwave photon does not have enough energy to alter DNA and therefore could never produce cancer. That does not mean that enough of it cannot cook your brain! It does mean it cannot produce cancer. The energy level required to alter DNA starts in the Ultra Violet range where the photons do have enough energy

    May 31, 2011 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. stu

    why are people so sure that a bluetooth headset doesn't cause cancer? Hmm?

    May 31, 2011 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Raji

    Dr. Gupta,

    I have been using s Bluetooth headset for several years now. My question is, how safe are Bluetooth headsets?


    May 31, 2011 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. George

    I have few questions

    What kind of radiation is emitted by the cell Phone?
    Can it be picked up by Geiger counter?
    Can one of the physicist, especially working in the radiation area comment on it?

    May 31, 2011 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. jeff

    First of all...people should take Gupta's advice with a monumental grain of salt. He is being paid to give shock value to CNN....just like Anderson Cooper is.

    May 31, 2011 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. abby

    when at home or in a private place I use the speaker on my mobile phone - otherwise, use an ear piece - real simple solution...

    May 31, 2011 at 19:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Chaz

    Sadly, there is nothing any researcher could say about how detrimental to our health or how hazardous cell phones are that would ever change anything. Even if they came out tomorrow and said without a doubt that cell phone use causes tumors, brain damage, hair loss and impotence, people would not stop using them. People are completely apathetic to nature in favor of technology. Regardless of the damage it does to themselves, their families or their environment, people will never give up their precious things.

    May 31, 2011 at 19:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Garrett Gross

    1) For most scientific studies published, supplemental data is usually only available online. There is nothing unusual or nefarious about this.

    2) There is some data to suggest potential positive effects from cell phone usage on brain function/physiology. For example, Arendash et al., J. Alzheimer's Disease (2010), 191-210.

    May 31, 2011 at 19:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. MarvinTheParanoidAndroid

    So now I can use my wired earpiece, while keeping the phone on my belt or in my pants pocket. Instead of getting brain cancer I will get liver cancer or colon cancer or testicular cancer. But I will probably get killed in a car accident first.

    May 31, 2011 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. MarvinTheParanoidAndroid

    "this article about cellphone radiation proves there's something there" Get serious. The article does not *prove* anything. Sell your crackpot product somewhere else, please.

    May 31, 2011 at 20:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. P z

    I remember Dr. Gupta a while back saying this wasn't a problem and there has been no increase in brain cacers. New numbers or they same recycled rumors that have been around for years.

    May 31, 2011 at 20:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. ComeOnMan9

    Silly humans worried about your mortality. Gotta die from something. When it's your time it's your time!

    May 31, 2011 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. SchoolGirl

    I am not very tech-savvy. Where can I get what the Dr. refers to as an earpiece?

    May 31, 2011 at 20:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. jimbob

    I have a great idea on how to save this country. Every republican get on a land line and call a liberal's cell phone. Keep them on for a long time by telling them how smart they are and how you need their advise on how to save the country.

    May 31, 2011 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Mike Varney

    Shame on you Dr. Gupta... promoting pseudo-science and scare-mongering.
    Read up on some basic physics, specifically the photo-electric effect and ionizing energy and realize there is no mechanism for cell phones to produce ionizing radiation at microwave frequencies. Standard heating, although able to cook tissue will still not cause cancer, and in any event is well regulated by the body's thermal regulation system.
    I know physics was a class that you had to simply get out of the way in order to get your pre-med degree, but in doing so you short changes yourself on learning some crucial critical thinking skills. However, ignorance is curable, so crack a book please. If you wish, contact me and I will provide a reading list.

    May 31, 2011 at 20:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • phytoplankton

      Mike, note that human cells are not solar cells, i.e., the photo-electric effect is not at issue. I can provide you with reading material, but first you'll need to be educated about dipole rotation. The power absorbed per unit volume of brain material from an emf characterized by an angular frequency (w) of is proportional to the product between w and the imaginary part of the complex permittivity of the tissue and the permittivity of free space multiplied by the square of the electric field strength.

      May 31, 2011 at 23:39 | Report abuse |
  44. Catbert

    Overall, this is a fair article. However, what can those who wear hearing aids do? Bluetooth headsets do not work well with in-the-ear aids. Just an observation....

    May 31, 2011 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. George


    May 31, 2011 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. President Obama

    That's it – I'm getting rid of this Blackberry. I told Joe it was a bad idea...

    May 31, 2011 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. simon

    My toe hurts. I think I pointed my phone at it earlier today. OMG I hope I'm gonna be okay.

    May 31, 2011 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. george

    If you take the RF output from your phone and integrate the differentator across the time decay of the signal-to-noise ratio you can calculate the interpolated output relative to the modulated frequency of the signal itself. If this is higher than 0.26 mEv-g's then your phone is sending out too much radiation. If you exceed that limit, wrap your phone in tin foil before use.

    May 31, 2011 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Alex

    Is there a concern of cancer when a smart phone is attached to a pant belt. The phone is often clipped on for long periods of time and both receives and transmitts on a regular basis.

    May 31, 2011 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. JoAnn

    I,have a cell phone.After,hearing the reports on the news.After,hearing the reports on the news,we could get tumors etc.I,have a medical condition.And,I am thinking of changing,from cell phone to regular phone. JoAnn

    May 31, 2011 at 22:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • blanka


      Based on your post, it appears the damage has been done....better luck next life

      May 31, 2011 at 23:03 | Report abuse |
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.