Do Bluetooth Headphones Cause Cancer?

Business person uses Bluetooth earbuds

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You may have heard rumors that Bluetooth headphones—including AirPods—can cause brain cancer. But are these concerns founded?

Cell phones give off a form of energy known as radiofrequency (RF) waves. Some have raised questions and concerns about the safety of cell phone use as a result. However, that doesn’t mean Bluetooth devices are harmful. Look at the facts before tossing out your wireless headphones.

Where the Concern Started

In 2015, a rumor about the dangers of radiation from electronic devices (e.g., cell phones, Wi-Fi, and baby monitors) gained traction when several studies suggested that long-term exposure to radiation from cell phones was possibly linked to meningioma, cognitive impairment, male infertility, and other health concerns.

These and other studies led over 200 scientists from around the world to petition the World Health Organization and United Nations, imploring them to impose stricter guidelines for electromagnetic radiation. In their appeal, the scientists pointed to the aforementioned studies, suggesting that the existing guidelines were potentially damaging to human health.

This controversy was reignited in 2019 in tandem with the growing popularity of AirPods and other Bluetooth headsets, with a flurry of media reports referring back to the scientists’ 2015 petition to the WHO/UN. However, the 2015 appeal warned against all wireless devices, not specifically AirPods.

Cell Phones 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: Has a relatively high frequency and has the potential to be damaging to human cells and DNA. Common sources of ionizing EMR include sunlight, suntanning beds, and X-ray machines.
  • Non-ionizing EMR: Typically low frequency and generally does not cause adverse reactions in humans. Sources of non-ionizing EMR include cell phones, Bluetooth devices, WiFi networks, and computers.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, radiation exposure—whether through radiation therapy or other causes—may increase the risk factors in developing a meningioma.

A meningioma is a slow-growing tumor that forms on the surface of your brain. It is the most common type of tumor that forms in the head, though nearly 80% of meningiomas are benign (noncancerous).

Some people believe that non-ionizing radiation from cell phones and cell towers—referred to as radiofrequency radiation (RFR)—is as harmful to the human body as ionizing EMR, and may cause meningiomas. However, the research suggests otherwise.

Bluetooth Headphones and Cancer

It may be hard to remember life before everyone using Bluetooth headphones was common, but they are a relatively new invention. Apple Airports, Jabra Elite Sport, and Braga Dash Bluetooth headphones were only introduced into the market in 2016.

Though the rumors that Bluetooth devices cause cancer spread like wildfire, the research is decidedly against that hypothesis. 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. 

The 2011 INTERPHONE 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 women 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. 

There remains some uncertainty in the scientific community. A 2018 study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Services concluded that high levels of radio-frequency radiation from 2G and 3G cell phones increased the risk of cancer in male rats.

That said, the researchers stated that the exposures used in their study cannot be compared to the exposure that humans experience when using their cell phones. 

Although the CDC, FDA, and FCC say that there is no evidence of cancer from cell phone use, the International Agency for Research on Cancer still classifies radio-frequency radiation (RFR)  as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

A Word From Verywell

Radiofrequency radiation (RFR), used for wireless communications is increasing exponentially. 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.

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