Do Bluetooth Headphones Cause Cancer?

You may have heard rumors that Bluetooth headphones and earphones, like Apple AirPods, Beats Studio Buds, and others, can cause brain cancer. But are these concerns founded?

Cell phones and other devices give off a form of energy known as radiofrequency (RF) waves. As a result, some people have raised concerns about the safety of cell phone use. However, that doesn’t mean Bluetooth devices are harmful or that WiFi, cell phones, televisions, and computers cause cancer.

Business person using Bluetooth earbuds.

 Bloom Productions / Getty Images

This article covers what the research says about Bluetooth and cancer. It will also go over what you should know about radiation, WiFi, cell phones, and other devices.

Are Bluetooth Headphones Safe?

In 2015, a rumor about the dangers of radiation from electronic devices like cell phones, WiFi, and baby monitors, gained traction when several studies suggested that long-term exposure to radiation from cell phones was possibly linked to brain tumors, cognitive impairment, assigned male infertility, and other health concerns.

When the general public became aware of the research, it made people question whether their Bluetooth headsets and speakers could cause brain cancer, testicular cancer, and other health problems.

The studies prompted more than 200 scientists from around the world to petition the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN). The researchers asked these organizations to impose stricter guidelines for electromagnetic radiation.

The controversy around Bluetooth and cancer was reignited in 2019 in tandem with the growing popularity of AirPods and other wireless Bluetooth headsets. There was also a flurry of media reports that referred back to the scientists’ 2015 petition to the WHO/UN. 

However, the 2015 appeal warned against all wireless devices, not specifically AirPods. This included cell towers, WiFi, baby monitors, cell phones, and Bluetooth devices.

Devices and Radiation

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is a form of energy. It comes from natural and man-made sources and can vary in strength from low to high energy. EMR takes many forms, including microwaves, radio waves, and X-rays

There are two main types of EMR: 

  • Ionizing EMR: This type of radiation has a relatively high frequency. It has the potential to be damaging to human cells and DNA, or genetic material. Common sources of ionizing EMR are sunlight, tanning beds, and X-ray machines.
  • Non-ionizing EMR: This type of radiation is typically low frequency and generally does not cause adverse reactions in humans. Sources of non-ionizing EMR include cell phones, Bluetooth devices, WiFi networks, televisions, and computers.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, radiation exposure—whether through radiation therapy or other sources—may increase the risk factors for developing a type of brain cancer called meningioma.

A meningioma is a tumor that slowly grows on the surface of your brain. While it is the most common type of tumor that forms in the head, about 80% of meningiomas are benign, or not cancer.

Some people believe that non-ionizing radiation is harmful to the human body and can cause meningiomas. However, the research has not shown evidence of this effect in humans.

Bluetooth Headphones and Cancer

It might be hard to remember life before everyone started using Bluetooth headphones, but they were only introduced into the market in 2016.

Though the rumors that Bluetooth devices cause cancer spread like wildfire, there is currently no evidence that Bluetooth devices increase the risk of developing cancer.

A study conducted by the California Department of Health in 2019 showed that the amount of radiation released by Bluetooth devices is 10 to 400 times lower than the amount of radiation released by cell phones. 

Another study evaluated cell phone use among 5,000 people with brain tumors and concluded that mobile phone use does not cause brain tumors in adults.

In the UK, a large study involving 800,000 assigned females came to a similar conclusion: the study found mobile phone use is not associated with the increased incidence of brain cancers. The National Cancer Institute has clearly stated that there is no evidence that radiofrequency radiation can cause cancer. 

Even with this evidence, there remains some uncertainty in the scientific community.

What Experts Say

Although the CDC, FDA, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) say that there is no evidence of cancer from cell phone use, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies radio-frequency radiation from wireless devices as a possible cause of cancer.

Summary

Radiofrequency radiation (RFR), used for wireless communications is increasing fast. At this time, there is little to no evidence to support a causal relationship between exposure to RFR and human cancers.

That said, the long-term risks of RFR exposure are still relatively unknown, particularly in vulnerable populations, such as children. More research is required on the long-term effects of RFR exposure. 

To reduce your risk of RFR exposure, consider using your electronic devices—including your Bluetooth headphones—in moderation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long should you wear Bluetooth headphones?

    The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends wearing Bluetooth headphones for no more than one hour per day. However, the guideline is more about protecting your hearing than avoiding radiation exposure.

  • Which is safer, earphones or headphones?

    The Hearing Health Foundation recommends using over-the-ear headphones instead of earbuds to avoid damaging your hearing.

  • Does WiFi or an iPhone give off radiation?

    The radiation given off by an iPhone or WiFi is called non-ionizing radiation. It is not proven to harm human health.

  • Is a wired headset safer than a Bluetooth version?

    Wired headphones put out less radiofrequency (RF) waves compared to Bluetooth. However, they do emit a small electromagnetic field (EMF). Small amounts of RF and EMF are not currently linked to health concerns.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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