Radiowaves and cancer

Does radiofrequency radiation from mobile phone towers, TV, radio and other broadcast antennas contribute to cancer? In this feature we take a focused look at this controversial, but highly relevant, issue.

For some years cancer clusters have been reported around communications antennas worldwide, raising questions about the safety of radiation emitted.

In April this year a tumour cluster was reported among academics working on the upper two floors at Victoria’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) beneath several mobile phone towers. Also, in July several breast cancers were reported at Queensland’s ABC studio, bringing to 11 the number of women stricken with the disease in the past 11 years.

In both cases the levels of radiation exposure complied with Australian and international standards. So is there a connection between cancer and environmental levels of radiation?

Governments and international agencies have denied that environmental levels of radiofrequency radiation cause cancer. However, a number of international studies have found evidence of a connection.

Some of the studies that have found a connection between exposure to radiofrequency radiation and cancer in exposed populations are described opposite. However, these are by no means an exhaustive list of the relevant research.

There are also a number of laboratory studies that shed some light on the connection and these are discussed overleaf.

In considering this research, it is important to keep in mind that not all studies have found a connection between radiofrequency radiation and cancer and that there are those that have failed to do so.

TV and leukemia survival, Western Australia

During the 1970s several Western Australian researchers conducted a study into the connection between TV signals and chronic granulocytic leukemia with the support of the Cancer Council of Western Australia. They compared the survival rates for leukemia in groups of patients diagnosed before and after the operation of several TV transmitters in Perth.

They found that survival among those people who were diagnosed in earlier years was “significantly longer” than those diagnosed in later years.

In 1951-1959 fifty percent of patients survived for 55 months;

In the 1960s fifty percent of patients survived for 21 months.

Discussing their results, the authors observed, “This bias towards poorer survival coincides with the start of 3 Television Transmitters, one broadcasting 100 kw day and night.” 1

TV and childhood leukemia

Australian Dr Bruce Hocking found a correlation between childhood leukemia and the radiation from three television broadcast towers in Sydney. He compared the incidence of and mortality rates from cancer in people living in 9 municipalities in northern Sydney from 1972 to 1990. He found that, in the areas closest to the towers, there was increased incidence and mortality from childhood lymphatic leukemia.2

TV and leukemia survival, Sydney

In a follow-up study, Dr Hocking analysed the survival rates for childhood leukemia in patients diagnosed between 1972 and 1993. He found that children living closest to the TV towers had double the mortality rate of those living further away. For those living closest to the towers, 55% survived for five years and 33% survived for ten years. For those living further away, the rates were 71% survival for five years and 62% for ten years. 3

Mobile phone towers and cancer

German medical doctors have observed an increased incidence of cancer around mobile phone antennas. In a study of approximately 1000 patients, the doctors reported “the proportion of newly developing cancer cases was significantly higher among those patients who had lived during the past ten years at a distance of up to 400 metres from the cellular transmitter site, which has been in operation since 1993, compared to those patients living further away.”

The study also found that after five years of exposure, people had three times the risk of developing cancer compared to those living further from the transmitter. 4

RF and Malignant Melanoma

Malignant melanomas have increased in various countries around the world during the past century, according to Australian research. J Elwood and J Lee found that the incidence of malignant melanoma was lower in women living in the 1800s but increased with each successive generation. They suggest that “the factor causing the higher rates was inactive in those born before 1903, was fully active in those born after 1923, and showing increasing effects between those times.” 5

This period, of course, coincided with the development of radiocommunications worldwide.

FM transmitters and malignant melanomas

Swedish researchers O Hallberg and O Johansson compared the prevalence of FM broadcast towers to the incidence of malignant melanoma in Sweden between 1958 and 2002. Their results showed that “the total incidence in different municipalities was found to be a strong function of the number of covering FM transmitters.” 6

AM transmitters and cancer

In Korea, S Park calculated the incidence of cancer mortality between 1994 and 1995 in RF-exposed areas (areas that had an AM broadcast tower emitting over 100 kW) and low RF-exposure areas.

The study found that exposed areas had a higher rate of cancer and leukemia deaths, especially leukemia deaths among people aged under 30 years. 7

Radio transmitter and leukemia, Rome

Communities living near the high powered Vatican radio transmitter in the north of Rome have reported high rates of cancer. In 2002 P Michelozzi analysed cancer data in the area and found approximately twice the usual rate of childhood leukemia within 6 km of the radio station. The incidence of both childhood leukemia and adult male leukemia decreased with distance from the transmitter. 8

Some other population studies on cancer and RF

A higher rate of cancer was found in women exposed to RF radiation in a plastic sealing factory.9

Amateur radio operators exposed to RF were found to have a higher rate of death from leukemia. 10

Children living within 2.6 miles of a radio tower in Hawaii were found to have an increased rate of leukemia. 11

Women working as radio and telegraph operators had an increased rate of breast cancer. 12

Polish military personnel exposed to RF had higher than usual risks of brain cancer. 13

Laboratory studies

In addition to the population studies, laboratory studies conduced on cells and animals have found a range of different effects consistent with cancer. These include single– and double-strand DNA breaks, effects on DNA repair, cell proliferation, expression of heat shock proteins and effects on different genes.

In some laboratory studies, RF radiation has been shown to promote cancers. For example, animals exposed to RF radiation and a carcinogen have been repeatedly shown to have a higher incidence of cancer than cells exposed to either the carcinogen or RF radiation alone.

RF standards

International standards for RF radiation protect against “established” effects - that is those that have been unequivocally demonstrated by research. These are primarily the heating or thermal effects of radiation. It is well-known that when radiation causes a temperature rise of approximately 1.0° C and more, health problems occur.

However, when it comes to the non-heating or athermal effects of radiation, the safety debate kicks in. And this is the kind of exposure we receive from TV and radio transmitters, masts and other communications antennas.

International standards do not protect against these effects on the basis that they have not been conclusively proven to cause health problems. Moreover, scientists have yet to prove there is a mechanism to explain just how these lower levels of radiation could cause health problems.

Critics argue that there are literally hundreds of studies showing harmful effects from nonthermal, environmental levels of exposure. Granted these effects have not been conclusively proven, they argue, but this is because there are so many variables that affect the way this radiation impacts on the body. And several possible mechanisms to explain the effects have been advanced, if not conclusively proven.

Cancer is a conductor

One of the interesting features of cancer cells is that they conduct electricity.

Professor W Joines has repeatedly shown that malignant cells - in different parts of the body - absorb more radiation than normal cells over a range of frequencies.

This suggests that cancer cells are more vulnerable to RF emissions. 14

Official Views

While researchers debate the connection between environmental levels of radiofrequency radiation and cancer, many international agencies have taken the view that there is no risk.

World Health Organisation: “Current scientific evidence indicates that exposure to RF fields, such as those emitted by mobile phones and their base stations, is unlikely to induce or promote cancers.&rdquo (Fact Sheet 193 -

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) - Australia: “Current research indicates that, at the exposure levels indicated above, RF radiation is not known to have any adverse health effects.&rdquo (

Health Protection Agency - UK: “IEGMP* concluded the balance of evidence to date suggests that exposures to RF radiation below NRPB and ICNIRP guidelines do not cause adverse health effects to the general population.” *Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (

Food & Drug A (FDA) - US: “Some studies have also examined the possibility of a link between RF and microwave exposure and cancer. Results to date have been inconclusive. While some experimental data have suggested a possible link between exposure and tumour formation in animals exposed under certain specific conditions, the results have not been independently replicated. In fact, other studies have failed to find evidence for a causal link to cancer or any related condition.” (


1. Woodliff, JH and Dougan, L, “Survival in chronic granulocytic leukaemia:, Presented at the 16th International Congress of Haematology, Kyoto, Japan, 1976.

2. Hocking, B et al, Med J Aust 165(11-12):601-605, 1996.

3. Hocking, B and Gordon, I, Annual Scientific Meeting of Royal Australian College of Physicians, Adelaide 2-5 May, 2000.

4. Presentation by Dr Horst Eger to Workshop on “Are RF-fields able to raise the risk of cancer?” 15-17.11.2004.

5. Elwood, JM and Lee, JAH, Seminars in Oncology 2(2), 1975

6 .Hallberg, O and Johansson O, Electromag Biol Med 24:1-8, 2005.

7. Park, S, Int Arch Occup Environ Health July 31, 2004.

8. Michelelozzi, P et al, Am J Epidemiol 155(12):1096-103, 2002.

9. Lagorio, S et al, Bioelectromagnetics 18(6):418-421, 1997

10. Milham, S Jr, Am J Epidemiol 127):50-54, 1988

11. Maskarinec, G et al, J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol 13133-37, 1994

12. Tynes, T et al, Cancer Causes Control 7(2):197-204, 1996

13. Smigielski, S, Sci Total Environ, 180(1):9-17, 1996.

14. eg Joines, WT et al, Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 6(6):681-7, 1980

[We are grateful to Dr J Holt for information contributed to this article—Ed]

from 'EMR and Health' Sept 2006, vol 2 no 3

EMR Australia © 2017. All Rights Reserved. Terms & Conditions | Privacy | Sitemap | Adobe Business Catalyst Sydney