Scientists and public health officials assess risks to human health based on the entire body of evidence, rather than individual scientific studies. The evidence is considered by panels of experts in this field. We look to such expert reviews for advice on mobile devices, masts and health. We only consider the opinion of panels commissioned by recognised national or international health agencies, for example, the World Health Organization (WHO), The Health Council of the Netherlands (HCN), The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) (formerly the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority - SSI) and Public Health England (formerly the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Since 2001, there have been a significant number of expert reviews of scientific research studies into mobiles, masts and health published by expert panels around the world. This page contains a summary of reviews published from 2006 to date. See the table of expert reviews for a complete list of reviews meeting our standards of scientific rigour.
In May 2011, an expert group from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency within the World Health Organization (WHO), announced its cancer hazard assessment for radiofrequency signals (RF), including those from broadcast, mobile communications, microwaves and radar.
IARC classified RF as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use”. The full findings of the group's work were published on 19th April 2013, in IARC Monograph 102, and confirmed the 2B classification from May 2011.
The WHO will produce an RF health risk assessment based on a review of the scientific evidence for all potential health effects of exposure to RF fields, which will be informed by the IARC classficiation and is anticipated in 2015/16.
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), a non-governmental organisation formally recognised by the World Health Organization, provides guidance on limiting human exposure to RF fields. See their 1998 guidelines which, in August 2009, the ICNIRP confirmed were still valid.
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)
In July 2009, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) published a review “Exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields, biological effects and health consequences (100 kHz-300 GHz)”. This review is an important input to the WHO health risk assessment process and forms the basis for a thorough re-evaluation of ICNIRP’s science-based guidance on limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields.
In this review, extending to more than 350 pages, ICNIRP provides its detailed analysis and discussion on the implications for health of studies published after release of their 1998 exposure guidelines.
This review is consistent with earlier expert review findings that, apart from RF heating, there is still no convincing evidence for adverse health effects from the low level RF fields from mobile devices and base stations.
ICNIRP’s full conclusions on experimental studies of RF biological effects can be found in section II.6.2 of the review, here are some extracts:
“... Whilst it is in principle impossible to disprove the possible existence of non-thermal interactions, the plausibility of various non-thermal mechanisms that have been proposed is very low.”
“Concerning cancer-related effects, the recent in vitro and animal genotoxicity and carcinogenicity studies are rather consistent overall and indicate that such effects are unlikely at SAR levels up to 4 W kg-1...”
“The evidence from double-blind provocation studies suggests that subjective symptoms, such as headaches, that have been identified by some individuals as associated with RF exposure, whilst real enough to the individuals concerned, are not causally related to EMF exposure.”
“The experimental data do not suggest so far that children are more susceptible than adults to RF radiation, but few relevant studies have been conducted.”
ICNIRP’s full conclusions on epidemiology can be found in section III.8 of the review, here are some example extracts:
“Results of epidemiological studies to date give no consistent or convincing evidence of a causal relation between RF exposure and any adverse health effect. On the other hand, these studies have too many deficiencies to rule out an association ...”
“Although the likelihood is low that fields emanating from base stations would create a health hazard, because of their weakness, this possibility is nevertheless a concern for many people ... On the one hand, results from valid studies would be of value in relation to a social concern; on the other hand, it would be difficult to design and conduct a valid study, and there is no scientific point in conducting an invalid one ...”
The Swedish radiation safety authority (SSM – formerly SSI)
In May 2013, the Swedish radiation safety authority published the eighth in a series of annual updates prepared by its Scientific Council on Electromagnetic Fields. With recent major scientific reviews as starting points, these annual reports consecutively discuss and assess relevant new data and put these in the context of already available information. The result will be a gradually developing health risk assessment of RF exposure. The group began its work in autumn 2002 and presented its first report in December 2003. The following extracts from the May 2013 report relate to RF fields:
“Effects from use of mobile phones
Subsequent to the last Council report published in 2010, IARC in 2011 classified radiofrequency electromagnetic (RF) fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) based on an increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannoma associated with wireless phone use). Since then, numerous epidemiological studies on mobile phone use and risk of brain tumours and other tumours of the head (vestibular schwannomas, salivary gland) have been published. The collective of these studies, together with national cancer incidence statistics from different countries, is not convincing in linking mobile phone use to the occurrence of glioma or other tumours of the head region among adults. Although recent studies have covered longer exposure periods, scientific uncertainty remains for regular mobile phone use for longer than 13-15 years. It is also too early to draw firm conclusions regarding children and adolescents and risk for brain tumours, but the available literature to date does not indicate an increased risk.
The most consistently observed biological effect from mobile phone exposure is an increase of the power in the alpha band in the electroencephalogram in human volunteer studies. The observed effect is weak and does not translate into behavioural or other health effects. Recent studies suggest that considerable inter-individual variation exists in the possible reactivity of the human brain to RF electromagnetic fields. The underlying mechanism is not yet understood.
Health risks from transmitters
Recent research on exposure from transmitters has mainly focused on cancer and symptoms, using improved study designs. These new data do not indicate health risks for the general public related to exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from base stations for mobile telephony, radio and TV transmitters, or wireless local data networks at home or in schools.
Self-reported electromagnetic hypersensitivity
While the symptoms experienced by patients with perceived electromagnetic hypersensitivity are real and some individuals suffer severely, studies so far have not provided evidence that exposure to electromagnetic fields is a causal factor. In a number of experimental provocation studies (mostly with radiofrequency fields), persons who consider themselves electromagnetically hypersensitive as well as healthy volunteers have been exposed to either sham or real fields, but symptoms have not been more prevalent during real exposure than during sham exposure in the experimental groups. Several studies have indicated a nocebo effect, i.e. an adverse effect caused by an expectation that something is harmful.”
See the full report for a more detailed analysis.
See Table of expert reviews for links to all eight of the annual reports.
European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR)
SCENIHR published an updated opinion on the ‘possible effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) on human health’ on 19 January 2009, following public consultation. Its opinion is that:
"It is concluded from three independent lines of evidence (epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies) that exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans. However, as the widespread duration of exposure of humans to RF fields from mobile phones is shorter than the induction time of some cancers, further studies are required to identify whether considerably longer-term (well beyond ten years) human exposure to such phones might pose some cancer risk.
Regarding non-carcinogenic outcomes, several studies were performed on subjects reporting subjective symptoms. In the previous opinion, it was concluded that scientific studies had failed to provide support for a relationship between RF exposure and self-reported symptoms. Although an association between RF exposure and single symptoms was indicated in some new studies, taken together, there is a lack of consistency in the findings. Therefore, the conclusion that scientific studies have failed to provide support for an effect of RF fields on self-reported symptoms still holds. Scientific studies have indicated that a nocebo effect (an adverse non-specific effect that is caused by expectation or belief that something is harmful) may play a role in symptom formation. As in the previous opinion, there is no evidence supporting that individuals, including those attributing symptoms to RF exposure, are able to detect RF fields. There is some evidence that RF fields can influence EEG patterns and sleep in humans. However, the health relevance is uncertain and mechanistic explanation is lacking. Further investigation of these effects is needed. Other studies on functions/aspects of the nervous system, such as cognitive functions, sensory functions, structural stability, and cellular responses show no or no consistent effects.
Recent studies have not shown effects from RF fields on human or animal reproduction and development. No new data have appeared that indicate any other effects on human health.
From the risk assessment perspective it is important to recognise that information on possible effects caused by RF fields in children is limited. Furthermore, there is a lack of information on diseases other than those discussed in this report."
The Health Council of the Netherlands (HCN)
In June 2013, the HCN published the first of three reports which together will form a “systematic analysis” of the scientific evidence regarding mobile phones and cancer in response to the IARC monograph 102 findings. The final part of the overall conclusion states:
“Based on the available epidemiological evidence described in this report and taking into account the quality of the different studies and their strengths and weaknesses, the final conclusion from this systematic analysis is that there is no clear and consistent evidence for an increased risk for tumours in the brain and other regions in the head in association with up to approximately 13 years use of a mobile telephone, but such risk can also not be excluded. It is not possible to pronounce upon longer term use.”
The committee’s report (in Dutch and English) contains more detailed analysis and can be obtained here.
The Irish Independent Expert Group
This report, published in March 2007, gives the conclusions and recommendations of an independent expert group appointed by the Irish Government. The expert group reviewed the scientific evidence for adverse health effects in the RF range 300 Hz to 300 GHz, as well as conducting a consultation with central and local government, concerned citizens and industry.
The report makes a number of scientific conclusions and recommendations. In relation to adverse health effects from mobile devices and base stations, the Irish Expert Group concludes:
“So far no adverse short or long-term health effects have been found from exposure to the RF signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters. RF signals have not been found to cause cancer. However research is underway to investigate whether there are likely to be any subtle, non cancer effects on children and adolescents. The results of this research will need to be considered in due course.”
Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation
The Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR), reports to the UK government’s Health Protection Agency. Formed in 1990, the group’s remit is to ‘review work on the biological effects of non-ionising radiation relevant to human health’.
In April 2012, AGNIR published a report on the health effects of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields, providing an update to their previous review of research in 2003.
Following a review of hundreds of scientific research studies, AGNIR concluded that:
- There is no convincing evidence that RF exposure, below guideline levels, causes adverse effects in adults or children
- There is increasing evidence that people cannot detect the presence of RF fields and that such exposure does not cause symptoms
- The review recognised that there is little information on risks beyond 15 years from first exposure and that it is therefore important to continue to monitor the evidence and medical trends, noting that so far these have given no indication of any risk.
More information about AGNIR and their research is available here.
UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme
The Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHR), published in September 2007, was conducted under the direction of an independent scientific management committee established by the UK Government. It formed the first part of a larger UK research programme.
The report concludes "none of the research supported by the programme and published so far demonstrates that biological or adverse health effects are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones". The report also notes that measurements of radio signals from base stations show that exposures are well below international guidelines, as well as recognising that no further research is required in certain areas. The MTHR website provides information on the proposed areas for the next phase of research and the full MTHR report.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
The WHO has published a number of factsheets on electromagnetic fields (EMF) and public health, including those on:
- Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones in June 2011
- Base stations and wireless technologies in May 2006
- Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (where people report a variety of symptoms which they attribute to EMF exposure) in December 2005.
The most recent WHO factsheet published in June 2011 concludes that:
"Research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or electromagnetic hypersensitivity.”
“Eidemiological research examining potential long-term risks from radiofrequency exposure has mostly looked for an association between brain tumours and mobile phone use.”
"To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”
"While an increased risk of brain tumors is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk."
The factsheet on base stations and wireless technologies states that:
“Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer
The full findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency within the World Health Organization (WHO), evaluating the carcinogenic hazard of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) to humans, were published on 19 April 2013. Click here to see the full Monograph 102.
The IARC Working Group originally met in May 2011 to classify the cancer hazard of RF-EMF, including those from broadcast and mobile communications, microwaves and radar. This process resulted in RF-EMF being classified as "possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use". A summary of their findings was published in The Lancet Oncology, which concluded that there is "limited evidence in humans" for the carcinogenicity of RF-EMF. The full report, Monograph 102, confirms the 2B classification, which was originally made in May 2011.
The IARC Working Group recognised that "mobile-phone technology has transformed the world, making wireless communication rapidly available, especially in less developed countries, with important benefits to society". However, it also noted that "an increasingly large population will be exposed, and for longer and longer periods of time" and that "undoubtedly, questions will continue to arise about the health risks of mobile-phone use and possibly other emerging sources of exposure to RF radiation".
The full IARC report (or "Monograph") states that it "is focused on the potential for an increased risk of cancer among those exposed to RF radiation, but does not provide a quantitative assessment of any cancer risk, nor does it discuss or evaluate any other potential health effects of RF radiation".
The Monograph explains that it provides a "comprehensive review of the currently published evidence that also identifies gaps in the available information. These gaps should be resolved with further research if on-going concerns about the health risks of mobile-phone use are to be addressed with greater certainty."
Dr Jack Rowley, Senior Director of Research and Sustainability for the GSMA, said of Monograph 102, "Although this is not new research, the full report provides important details about IARC's assessment, including how it relates to the overall health assessment of mobile phone technologies and health."
The IARC classification only considers whether there is a possible link between long-term heavy mobile device use and cancer, it does not assess the likelihood of this link arising. To understand the likelihood and therefore the potential risk posed, the WHO will carry out a wider health risk assessment, which will take into account all the available science relating to RF and health including the IARC classification and work done by ICNIRP, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2015/6. Based on this assessment, the WHO, governments and public health authorities will decide what further advice, if any, is needed.
The latest WHO fact sheet published in June 2011 concluded that to date, no adverse health effects had been established as being caused by mobile phone use.
Vodafone recognises that people may wish to consider reducing their exposure to RF EMF, and continues to offer advice on how to do this.