Health – Cancer

Brain tumours are proliferations of cells in the brain. They rank among the rarer tumour diseases. Tumours of the brain and spinal cord make up 1.5% of all new tumour diseases diagnosed within a year and can affect both adults and children. The tumours are classified into different types according to the type of cell, the kind of tumour and its severity (from benign to extremely malignant). The two most important groups are:

  • Glioma (tumour of the brain tissues; upper picture)
  • Meningioma (tumour of the cerebral membrane; lower picture)

Investigations into a possible connection between the use of mobile telephones and the risk of cancer frequently also look into the rather infrequent acoustic neurinoma, a benign tumour of the acoustic nerve’s connective tissue. The causes of brain tumours are still largely unknown but are probably related to a combination of genetic factors and environmental influences.

The influence of electromagnetic fields

The head is subjected to increased high frequency EMFs originating from the mobile telephone’s antenna when making a telephone call from a mobile handset. Therefore it is of interest to know if the use of a mobile handset changes (increases) the risk of being taken ill with a tumour in the head. Researchers analysed whether persons (almost exclusively adults) suffering from a brain tumour had used the telephone more frequently in the past than healthy control persons in a large international study (the so-called Interphone Study) of the World Health Organisation (WHO). If this was the case, use of mobile handsets could be interpreted as a possible risk factor.

Results to date show:

  • On the whole there is no connection between the use of a mobile telephone (also long term up to 12 years) and an increased risk of being taken ill with a brain tumour.
  • An increased risk for very frequent mobile telephone users was calculated, however, the data is not very robust (few cases) so that, at the moment, there is no total clarity. 
  • No reliable statements about possible effects from mobile telephone usage for a longer period than 10-12 years and/or about very intensive use can yet be made.

Based on these findings, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radiofrequency EMF as possibly carcinogenic in 2011.

A new international investigation under the leadership of the University of Basle (the so-called CEFALO Study) showed that the results detailed above are also applicable to children and youths. However, this evidence has not yet been confirmed by other studies.

In respect of low frequency fields, until now no connection between exposure in the home or at the working place and the risk of a brain tumour could be proved, whether in adults or children and youths.  The results are irregular but on the whole do not show an increased risk of a brain tumour. However, for people heavily exposed to ELF magnetic fields, some studies show slightly (10%-20%) increased risks of statistical significance in selected sub-analyses.


Until now there is no scientific evidence that electromagnetic fields increase the risk of a brain tumour. There is a suspicion that long term use of mobile telephones could increase the risk of being taken ill with a brain tumour. From a precautionary perspective it is recommended that the radiation exposure from mobile telephones is kept at a low level, for example by the use of a headset.

Selected literature (overviews)

Literature List 2019 on RF Exposure and Brain Tumours

BioInitiative Working Group (2012). Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. BioInitiative Report, www.bioinitiative.org. Section 11.

Aydin, D., Feychting, M., Schüz, J., Tynes, T., Andersen, T.V., Schmidt, L.S., Poulsen, A.H., Johansen, C., Prochazka, M., Lannering, B., Klaeboe, L., Eggen, T., Jenni, D., Grotzer, M., Von der Weid, N., Kuehni, C.E., Röösli, M. (2011). Mobile Phone Use and Brain Tumors in Children and Adolescents: A Multicenter Case-Control Study. J Natl Cancer Inst, 103,16, 1264-1276.

Bundesamt für Umwelt (BAFU) (2007). Hochfrequente Strahlung und Gesundheit. Bewertung von wissenschaftlichen Studien im Niedrigdosisbereich. Bern: BAFU.

Dürrenberger, G., Leuchtmann, P., Röösli, M., Siegrist, M., Sütterlin, B. (2015). Fachliteratur-Monitoring "EMF von Strom-Technologien". BFE, Bern. Publication 291030, section 3.3.2.

Hug, K., Röösli, M. (2013). Strahlung von Sendeanlagen und Gesundheit. Bewertung von wissenschaftlichen Studien im Niedrigdosisbereich. Stand: Dezember 2012. Umwelt-Wissen Nr. 1323. Bern: BAFU.

IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) (2013). Non-ionizing radiation, part 2: radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. IARC Monograph 102, Lyon.

Independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) (2012). Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.  U.K. Health Protection Agency, Oxfordshire. Chapter 8.3.2, 282-316.

Kheifets, L., Ahlbom, A., Crespi, C. M., Feychting, M., Johansen, C., Monroe, J., Murphy, M. F., Oksuzyan, S., Preston-Martin, S., Roman, E., Saito, T., Savitz, D., Schuz, J., Simpson, J., Swanson, J., Tynes, T., Verkasalo, P., Mezei, G. (2010). A pooled analysis of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and childhood brain tumors. Am J Epidemiol 17, 7, 752-761.

SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks) (2015). Opinion on Potential Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF). Brussels: European Commission. Sections 3.6.1 and 3.8.1.

Schuz, J. (2011). Exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and the risk of childhood cancer: update of the epidemiological evidence. Prog Biophys Mol Biol, 107, 3, 339-342.

Swerdlow, A.J., Feychting, M., Green, A.C., Kheifets, L., Savitz, D.A., International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection Standing Committee on Epidemiology (2011). Mobile Phones, Brain Tumours and the Interphone Study: Where Are We Now? Environ Health Perspect. doi:10.1289/ehp.1103693 

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