Myth or Truth? Bluetooth Earbuds and Brain Cancer Risk

May 6, 2021

Can Bluetooth earbuds increase our risk for brain cancer? This daunting question surfaced shortly after the device’s rise to popularity; but how concerned should we really be?

We sat down with Dr. Jon Glass, Division Director of Neuro-Oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, to understand how different levels of radiation impact the body; what this means about the devices we use regularly; and what the known causes of brain cancer are.

Types of Radiation

Radiation is typically categorized as follows:

  • Ionizing (high energy, high risk) – emitted from ultraviolet (UV) rays; X-rays; gamma rays (used in CT scans); proton therapy; etc.
  • Non-ionizing (low energy, low risk) – emitted from microwaves; radios; cellphones; Bluetooth devices; power lines; etc.

Ionizing radiation can cause damage to brain tissue, loss of nerve cells, and increase risk for neurological conditions like dementia and stroke, explains Dr. Glass. Non-ionizing radiation, on the other hand, is believed to be generally safe.

Radiofrequency, a common subtype of non-ionizing radiation, is what cellphones and Bluetooth earbuds emit. Plus, research shows that earbuds produce less radiation than cellphones.

The Brain Cancer Link - Debunked

Don’t toss your favorite pair of earbuds just yet.

While there are concerns over the length of time devices like Bluetooth earbuds are used for, as well as the close vicinity to the brain, says Dr. Glass, it is highly unlikely that they have an impact on cancer development or any other kind of brain damage. (Hearing damage is another story.)

“There’s currently no significant evidence that would lead us to believe these devices – or any other non-ionizing radiation sources – have adverse effects; if they were harmful, we would say so,” continued Dr. Glass.

Should we limit our use of this technology?

It’s all about personal preference. Some sources recommend this as a “risk reduction” behavior, but it’s not proven, notes Dr. Glass. I don’t think it’s necessary – unless it’s impacting other aspects of your health, of course.

What does cause brain cancer?

Currently, the only known cause is prior radiation therapy – particularly in large doses of ionizing radiation from gamma rays, photon beams, and/or proton beams, explains Dr. Glass. For the most part, however, the risk of secondary cancer development due to radiation is relatively low and outweighed by the benefits of treating the cancer at hand.

Additionally, it’s theorized that genetic conditions and family history (of any type of cancer) play a slight role in increasing the risk of brain tumors.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, unlike other cancers, there’s no real way to reduce your risk of brain cancer, says Dr. Glass. Fortunately, brain cancer is incredibly rare – the average person having less than a 1 percent chance of developing it in his/her lifetime – and your favorite devices aren’t as dangerous as rumors make them out to be. So, sit back, relax, and listen to your favorite album or podcast.

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