The largest case-control study to date finds no link between radiation from mobile phones and brain tumours in young people

Mobile phones have become a central part of teen life. They are important for connecting with friends and building social networks that help teenagers cope with the many stresses of adolescence. The multiple apps can also help teens stay organised and remember grandma’s birthday, for instance. But, as often is the case, too much of a good thing can be bad. Most teens exceed the recommended limit of two hours of screen time per day, and there is a growing body of evidence that excessive mobile phone use can lead to impaired cognitive function and mental health problems.

Another growing concern is that the radiation emitted by wireless communication devices (mobile and cordless phones) may increase the risk of brain tumours in young people, whose nervous systems are still developing. These devices are a source of exposure to radiofrequency fields and extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields, both of which have been classified by the WHO as possibly carcinogenic.

The vast majority of adolescents (70%-80%) exceed two hours per day of screen time

Good news…

The European-funded MOBI-Kids study analysed the relationship between the use of mobile and cordless phones and the risk of brain tumours in young people from 14 different countries. It used data from nearly 900 young people aged 10-24 years with brain tumours—mainly gliomas—and 1,900 matched controls. Participants completed a questionnaire (with the help of their parents) with detailed information on their use of wireless devices, including exposure during early years of life. This information was validated by records from mobile phone operators and an app to measure device use over four weeks.

The analysis showed no evidence of a causal association between wireless phone use and brain tumours in young people.


“The number of subjects in each subgroup may have been too small to evaluate possible associations, for example, in certain time windows, in certain age groups and in different anatomical locations of tumours,” warns Gemma Castaño, lead author of the study.

“Our results are in line with what has been published so far, but more research is needed,” adds Elisabeth Cardis, head of the Radiation Programme.

For now, it seems that the main risk to the health of adolescents is not the radiation emitted by the mobile phones, but rather the psychological effects (sleep deprivation, anxiety, stress, addictive behaviour) associated with their excessive use.

Castaño-Vinyals G, Sadetzki S, Vermeulen R, et al. Wireless phone use in childhood and adolescence and neuroepithelial brain tumours: Results from the international MOBI-Kids study. Environment International. 2022.

Photo: Robin-Worrall