Risks of mobile phone use 

Research suggests it's unlikely that mobile phones or base stations increase the risk of health problems.

There's still some uncertainty about the potential for risks from long-term use over decades, and research on this is ongoing.

Some of the main safety concerns associated with radio waves and mobile phone use are discussed below.

Using a mobile phone while driving or riding a motorbike can increase your chances of having an accident by up to four times. This is considered to be the biggest risk posed by mobile phones, and using a handheld phone while driving is illegal.

Read more about using mobile phones when driving and the law on the GOV.UK website.

You can also read about recent research and other frequently asked questions about mobile phone safety.

Radio wave exposure

Radio waves produced by mobile phones transmit in all directions to find the nearest base station. This means that some of the radio waves are directed at your body when you use a mobile phone.

Radio waves are absorbed into your body tissue as energy, which adds to the energy being produced by your body's metabolism.

Concerns have been raised that exposure to radio wave radiation might cause various health problems, ranging from cancer and infertility to non-specific but unpleasant symptoms.

However, the only known effect of radio waves on the human body is a very small rise in temperature of up to 0.2C. This is comparable to natural increases in temperature, such as during exercise, and doesn't pose a known risk to health.

Unlike more powerful ionising radiation, which is associated with problems such as cancer, radio waves are not thought to damage or alter the DNA in human cells.

Specific absorption rates

Levels of exposure to radio waves from mobile phones are quantified as specific absorption rates (SAR). SAR is a measure of the amount of energy absorbed.

The units of measurement are watts per kilogram (W/kg) or milliwatts per gram (mW/g). The higher the SAR, the more energy your body is absorbing and the greater the rise in temperature.

Some mobile phones have lower specific absorption rates than others. You can obtain this information from your mobile phone manufacturer or retailer.

Risks to children

If there are any health risks from the use of mobile phones, children might be more vulnerable because their bodies and nervous systems are still developing.

Research carried out to date hasn't supported a link between mobile phone use and childhood cancers such as leukaemia.

However, if you have any concerns, you can lower your child's exposure to radio waves by only allowing them to use mobile phones for essential purposes and keeping calls short.

Mobile phone base stations

The balance of evidence currently available doesn't suggest there's a risk to people living or working near base stations. Base stations don't need planning permission before masts are erected.

Schools should regularly monitor the emissions of base stations situated inside or close to school grounds.

If you think a base station near you needs to be audited, you can apply for it to be considered by the Office of Communications (Ofcom). More information about auditing mobile phone base stations can be found on the Ofcom website.

Interference with electrical equipment

There's a possibility that radio waves produced by mobile phones could interfere with important electrical equipment, such as: 

  • pacemakers
  • monitors and machines in hospitals
  • electrical systems on aeroplanes

Different hospitals have different rules regarding mobile phone use. You should always check with hospital staff before using your phone.

If a hospital doesn't allow the use of mobile phones on their site, they'll display posters around the building saying so. All patients, visitors and staff should follow the hospital's rules.

It's generally considered safe to use a mobile phone if you have a pacemaker, but as a precaution you should keep it away from your pacemaker and hold your phone to your right ear.

Page last reviewed: 01/04/2016

Next review due: 01/04/2019