5G Cell Phone Radiation Health Hazards

5G Cell Phone Radiation Health Hazards

by Dr. MMM

Crowd of people with phones: Image of a people in close proximity using cell phones; Image courtesy of RawPixel Ltd under CC BY 2.0

I am considering switching to a new 5G network cell phone. Every time telecommunication networks evolve to the next generation, I have to check for safety. For the first time, the entire telecommunication network is moving into a higher frequency band when evolving to 5G, which means moving into a higher energy band. Is the 5G cell phone network safe? What can we do to minimize cell phone radiation to our bodies? My conclusion is that, although I can’t easily hide from the 5G network, as this network is all around me, I can choose to not purchase a 5G cell phone and to stay out of the 5G network for now. Read on to understand why I made these decisions.

Here at Astropictionary, I strive to publish one of the best articles on timely subjects and astronomy/physics related subjects.In this article, I introduce words that are linked to my AstroPictionary Youtube channel that defines and describes these words, as astronomy and astrophysics has one of the largest vocabularies of all the sciences and sometime words are reused with different definitions. In this article, I also cover terms used in nuclear engineering; my degrees are not only in physics/astrophysics but also in nuclear and mechanical engineering.

Cell Phones Send and Receive EM Radiation

Cell phones periodically keep in touch with network towers or antennae even when cell phones are not in use! Cell phones send and receive when they are switched on, but not when switched off. Keep these facts in mind whenever you have your cell phone with you.

Cell phones send and receive signals that are passing through Earth’s air to and from the antennae of cell phones and to and from network cell towers or antennae. Your cell phone’s antenna is usually along the side or on the back of the phone; you might need a diagram of your phone to find your cell’s antenna location. Know where your cell phone antenna’s location is, as that is the part of the phone that is sending and receiving electromagnetic (EM) radiation. The AstroPictionary video below explains this EM radiation.

tion: AstroPictionary YouTube video on Electromagnetic Spectrum, courtesy of M.M. Montgomery, PhD

Of the entire EM spectrum, cell phones emit and receive in the radio band. AM and FM radio stations and TV stations also emit and receive in the radio band. Radio and TV stations send and receive long wavelength radio waves, whereas 5G cell phones emit and receive in the Extremely High Frequency (EHF) sub-radio band of EM spectrum. Although 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks are within the radio band, 2G-4G networks use a different portion of the radio band than that used by the 5G network.

5G Network Sends/Receives Higher Energy

2G, 3G, and 4G generations of technology standards in telecommunications use different sub-radio bands of the EM spectrum compared to the sub-band used by 5G networks:

  • Both 2G and 3G networks used 850 MHz and 1900 MHz frequencies, which correspond to around 35 cm and 16 cm wavelengths, respectively;
  • 4G networks also used 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 1.7/2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz, and 2.5 GHz, which correspond to around 50 cm, 43 cm, 18 cm/14 cm, 13 cm, and 12 cm wavelengths, respectively.
  • 5G networks mostly use 3.3-4.2 GHz and 24-54 GHz frequency ranges or 7.1-9.0 cm and 0.56-1.2 cm wavelength ranges.

As shown in this list, the network frequencies of 2G, 3G, and 4G overlap whereas the 5G network wavelength band is completely separate; that is, the 5G network does not overlap with the networks of 2G, 3G, and 4G. Also, the 5G network involves wavelengths that are shorter, and thus frequencies that are higher, than those of the 2G, 3G, or 4G networks. Higher frequencies correspond to higher energies. For the first time, the next generation network is moving as a whole into higher energy of the radio band of the EM spectrum.

As 0.56-1.2 cm (see bullet list above) converts to 5.6-12 millimeters (mm), the higher energy 5G network is sending and receiving millimeter (mm) wave radiation. The AstroPictionary video shown below explains mm-wave radiation.

caption: AstroPictionary YouTube video courtesy of M.M. Montgomery, PhD

As the 5G network transmits and receives in higher energies than 2G, 3G, or 4G networks, we need to know if these higher energies involve ionizing or non-ionizing radiation. In other words, does the mm-wave radiation that the 5G networks send and receive in result in damage to DNA from ionization?

5G mm-Wave Radiation – Ionizing, Damaging to DNA?

As mentioned, 5G networks are still within the radio band of the EM spectrum. The diagram below of the EM spectrum shows the radio band is to the left of the infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma rays of the EM spectrum. As shown, the radio band has microwaves in the high frequency part of the radio band. The mm-wave radiation of 5G networks is on the left side of the microwave bar shown in the diagram (i.e., under the ‘M’ of microwave).

Although of higher energy, 5G network mm-wave radiation is still within the region labeled non-ionizing radiation as shown in the diagram. Ionizing radiation involves particles that have enough energy to cause a bound electron to be ionized from an atom. Non-ionizing radiation, however, does not have enough energy to ionize bound electrons. Non-ionizing radiation does have enough energy, though, to move electrons around within an atom.

caption to sketch below: Electromagnetic Spectrum Sketch courtesy of Spazturtle under CC BY-SA 4.0

Although non-ionizing, mm-wave radiation can affect instruments and humans: Non-ionizing mm-wave radiation involves particles with thermal energies that can induce high currents in electronics as shown in the diagram. Non-ionizing mm-wave radiation can also result in heating of e.g., electronics. A non-ionizing mm-wave photon, however, does not have enough energy to damage DNA. As shown in the diagram, ionizing X-ray and gamma ray radiation can result in damage DNA.

Although 5G networks are the first to move as a whole into the higher energy mm-wave radiation band and this mm-wave radiation is still non-ionizing like EM radiation of 2G, 3G, and 4G networks, this non-ionizing radiation does affect the human body. Let’s look at images of humans impacted by mm-wave radiation.

mm-Wave Images of Human Bodies

5G cell phone networks emit and send mm-wave radiation. Several equipment currently in use around the world also transmit and receive in mm-waves. Some of this equipment is designed to intentionally send mm-waves to human bodies. One example is an mm-wave airport scanner, like the one shown below that is used at Cologne/Bonn airport in Germany: A person enters the machine and places arms and legs in the positions shown in the diagram on the wall of the scanner.; two antennae rotate around the person over a couple seconds to generate a 3D image of the surface of the skin under snug clothing; the image is sent to a monitor for scanning by an airport security (e.g., TSA) agent.

NRW-Verkehrsminister Hendrik Wüst – Vorstellung Easy Security: Caption: MM-wave scanner image courtesy of Raimond Spekking under CC BY 2.0

Millimeter (mm) waves cannot be seen by the human eye, a fact that can be attested by most humans that have been scanned by these machines at airports with their eyes open. These mm-wave images have to be sent to a remote TV for humans to see in this portion of the radio band. See below for examples of mm-wave images generated by active millimeter wave body scanners at airports.

Caption: MM-wave images of humans in active millimeter-wave scanners at airports; image courtesy of TSA under Public Domain

As shown in the images, the mm-wave radiation cannot see anything deep within the body such as objects swallowed. However, as the images show, the active mm-wave scanner can see through snug clothes and down to the surface of the skin! The 3D images can also make apparent any usage of colostomy bags or catheters worn near the skin and piercings.

As wavelengths of active mm-wave body scanners are in the millimeters, active mm-wave scanners can penetrate millimeters into snug clothing. However, the mm-wave radiation has a hard time penetrating loose clothing; hence a reason why airport security have you take off any coats. These scanners also have a hard time penetrating casts, turbans, burkas, hijabs, and prosthetics for airport security to scan inside these objects for knives, box cutters, and guns, for example.

Can MM-Waves Penetrate Your Skin?

Besides penetrating into clothing, mm-wave radiation can penetrate your skin! Your skin’s thickness varies from ~0.5 mm at your eyelids and genitals to about 2 mm at your heels. MM-wave radiation can penetrate a millimeter or so into exposed skin. The image below shows the lady receiving mm-wave radiation to her exposed body as well as to her clothes.

caption: Image courtesy of Undejj, Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc. under CC BY-SA 3.0.

caption: Image courtesy of Undejj, Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc. under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Technically, the electrical part of millimeter electric and magnetic fields (i.e., mm-emf) is absorbed by the outer ~1 mm of the body, but not the magnetic part. The magnetic part is very highly penetrating. For example, mm-wave scanners like the ones shown above will see differences between the skin’s surface and any prosthetics under the skin such as breast and testicle prosthetics. As these prosthetics are usually found close to the surface of the skin, the scanner will detect them.

Not only can mm-wave radiation penetrate about a millimeter into your clothes and exposed skin, the mm-wave radiation will penetrate any part of your body that is in direct contact with these waves. For example, open eyes are especially susceptible to mm-wave radiation since the eyes have no skin to absorb the RF and/or mm-wave radiation. The lady’s eyes in the image above is also being irradiated with mm-wave radiation as she is being scanned.

Are You Microwaving Yourself When Using a 5G Network Phone at Your Ear/Head?

Stepping into an active millimeter-wave scanner at an airport exposes skin and open eyes to mm-wave radiation over a couple of seconds for each scan. Using a cell phone at the ear like the person in the image below subjects the body to radio frequency (RF) radiation. As 5G networks use mm-wave radiation, the longer the phone is held and used at the ear, the more mm-wave radiation the body receives. Both the scanner and 5G cell phone emit non-ionizing radiation as well as thermal radiation; the longer the skin, body, and head are exposed, the more the person will notice heating to those body parts.

caption: image courtesy of Tim Parkinson under CC BY 2.0.

As the airport scanner exposes the body for only a couple seconds, a person will not likely notice a heating of the body. As clothing wore on the body usually has no water within it, the clothing will not heat up due to a small exposure of mm-wave radiation during the scan. However, a person holding a 2G-5G network cell phone up to their ear for 15 minutes will notice heating of the cell phone battery; added in 5G mm-wave radiation, body parts near the 5G cell phone antenna will heat. The longer the body parts are exposed, the more heating.

As 5G networks operate in millimeter waves like an airport scanner, the longer a person uses a 5G network cell phone near their ear, the more mm-wave radiation is transferred to the body. As the human body is about 60% water, that portion of the body directly exposed to this mm-wave radiation will heat up like food heating in a microwave. As microwaves operate in the 1-300 mm range, the 5G network cell phone is operating in the microwave band! You are, in essence, microwaving your ear, skin, body, and nearby head when holding a 5G network phone at your ear. Although this 5G cell phone radiation is in the low end of the microwave wavelength range and the 5G cell phone wavelengths penetrate to shorter distances than compared to wavelengths commonly used by microwave ovens, mm-wave radiation used by 5G networks is still penetrating up to a few millimeters into the body, warming up the body.

Effects of RF Radiation to the Human Body

Radiation received to the human body is RF for 2G, 3G, and 4G networks and, more specifically, mm-wave radiation for 5G networks. Like all radiation, dosage is dependent upon many factors including time of exposure, energy of radiation, and any interfering objects that may absorb this radiation. The closer humans are in proximity to one another, the higher the number of humans having their cell phones switched on, and the higher the number of humans currently using their cell phones, the higher the amount of cell phone EM radiation in the nearby air.

Currently, long term health hazards to the human body are unknown. With cell phone carriers passing through generations of technology standards in telecommunications, research studies have to start anew with the introduction of the next generation of telecommunication networks. With the introduction of 5G cell phone carrier usage, few long term (>10 years) studies have been published. Nonetheless, we can review some pertinent studies completed to date.

The human body has electrical activity, and cell phones placed near or on the skin can interfere with this activity. For example, usage of cell phones near the head can interfere with functions of the brain1 and memory loss. Another example is leaving switched-on cell phones near a sleeping body, which can affect sleep quality. Those that use cell phones often, and most likely talking with phone at the ear, have reported dizziness and headaches. Other reported effects are dizziness, headaches, modifications to heart rate1 and blood pressure, heaviness in the chest, and numbing of the upper legs. All of these are short term effects and are attributed to long duration usage, often usage, and having switched-on cell phones close to the body for extended periods of time.

More long term studies (>10 yeas) are needed for determination of cancer risks, as cancer can take about 20-30 years to develop. One study that lasted about 10 years finds suggestions of an increased risk to some cancers at the highest exposure levels; however, not enough evidence is available for the study to draw a causal link between extensive cell phone usage and cancer2. Other studies have found that humans using cell phones in 2G-5G networks near ears, often, and/or for long periods of time have a higher risk of getting glioma3, which is a malignant type of brain and spinal cord cancer. Besides glioma, humans are also susceptible to acoustic neuroma, which is a non-cancerous tumor that grows on the main nerve from inner ear to the brain2. A 2021 study4 found that RF from 400-6000 MHz (750-50 mm wavelengths) is related to humans with glimoa and acoustic neuroma; in addition, the study found that 450-6000 MHz frequencies “are probably carcinogenic to humans,” “clearly affect male fertility,” and “possibly affect female fertility.” However, a direct link from cell phone usage in this range to these effects on humans could not be concluded.

According to the CDC, an exposed body may become damaged due to RF radiation, radiation that including 5G network mm-wave radiation. Although the CDC cautions that this level of exposure is uncommon to people not regularly working in RF radiation fields, risk of damage to the skin is still possible.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radio frequencies as possible carcinogens, which is an agent that may cause cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) also listed RF radiation as a possible carcinogen in 20113. These radio frequencies include those that cell phones operate within.

The EPA advises that RF radiation is not of concern, however, so long as exposure is below the FCC standard (see SAR in next subsection).

What Can You Do To Minimize MM-Wave Radiation Exposure Using a 5G Network Cell Phone?

One thing a person can do is to select a phone that emits lower Specific Absorption Rates (SARs). All cell phones have a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which is a measure of the rate radio frequency energy is absorbed by a human body. All cell phones must meet the FCC’s radio frequency exposure standard: All cell phones must not exceed 1.6 Watts of power absorbed per kg of body mass for each cell phone call that has a duration average of 30 minutes and for a cell phone held to the ear. Some cell phones have lower SAR values than others. CNET ranks the 20 cell phones with the lowest SAR ratings as well as the 20 cell phones with the highest SAR values; some cell phones are at the maximum FCC limit.

Although selecting a phone with a lower SAR rating is helpful, the following suggestions are more helpful at reducing RF radiation exposure:

  • Radiation intensity drops rapidly with the square of distance; therefore, do not hold a cell phone up to the ear when in use; use a speaker or use a hands-free accessory such as a wired earpiece with the cell phone located a foot or more away from the body.
  • Minimize use of cell phone service for calls.
  • Minimize use of cell phones by children as children may be more susceptible to RF radiation.
  • Keep cell phone calls to as short as possible.
  • Use land lines at home and at work as much as possible.
  • Use cell phone in good reception areas only; weak reception areas requires more power output by the cell phone to transmit, thus emitting more RF radiation.
  • Consider texting instead of calling as texting emits less RF radiation.
  • Close eyes when in airport mm-wave scanners as eyelids offer some protection.
  • Put cell phone in pocket only when cell phone is switched OFF; otherwise, do not carry cell in pocket.
  • Keep cell phone in a bag or briefcase or trunk of car; the more objects and distance between your exposed skin and open eyes, the lower the risk of absorption of RF radiation.
  • Avoid crowds that may have cell phones on and in use.
  • Try not to live close to 2G, 3G, and 4G cell phone towers and close to 5G network antennae placed on buildings and utility poles; keep in mind that distance from cell phone antennae and 5G network antennae and cell towers reduces risk of radiation exposure!

Conclusion-Buying into 5G Network Service

I have decided to hold off on buying a cell phone that uses 5G network service until more studies have been conducted, data analyzed, and results agreed upon by the greater scientific and medical community. If you already bought in, then I suggest minimizing your risk by following the advice outlined in the previous paragraph. Even if you already have a lower G network service, I suggest following the advice above to minimize your risk. The best advice is to turn the cell phone off; turn cell phone on only when necessary and keep usage to a minimum. Stay safe!


  1. Pall, M., 2021, “Millimeter (MM) wave and microwave frequency radiation produce deeply penetrating effects: the biology and the physics,” Rev Environ Health, Pub ID 34043892
  2. Cardis, E. et al., 2010, “Brain Tumor Risk in Relation to Mobile Telephone Use: Results of the INTERPHONE International Case-Control Study,” International Journal of Epidemiology, 39, 3, 675, correction and link to original publication
  3. Hardell, L., 2017, “World Health Organization, radio frequency radiation and health – a hard nut to crack (review),” Int J Oncol, 51, 2, 405
  4. Belpoggi, F., 2021, “Health Impact of 5G,” European Parliamentary Research Service, ISBN 978-92-846-8030-6

Further, you can check out some of the other articles below.

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About the author

Michele M. Montgomery earned a B.S. Degree in Nuclear/Mechanical Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University, an M.S. Degree in Physics from The University of Alabama with a concentration in Solar Physics, and a Ph.D Degree in Physics from Florida Institute of Technology with a concentration in close binary star systems. She joined the faculty at The University of Central Florida Physics Department in 2004 where she regularly taught astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. In 2006, she noticed that a large, urban college nearby to UCF did not teach astronomy at one of their largest campuses. She began teaching astronomy at this East Campus of Valencia College, a college that has more than 60,000 students; she still teaches four courses of astronomy each fall, spring, and summer semesters. The astronomy program atValencia College East has grown significantly with several more faculty added who teach astronomy.

By 2019, Dr. Montgomery has taught astronomy to more than 10,000 college and university students, both online and face-to-face. Many of her students have gone on to take her astrobiology, astrophysics, and space physics courses. 

By 2016, Dr. Montgomery had co-authored several astronomy texts and quiz/exam banks. Her work appears in several domestic and international astronomy text books (e.g., Horizons by Cengage, Universe by Cengage, Foundations of Astronomy by Cengage) that are used both at the higher education as well as at the high school levels. Starting in Fall 2019, Dr. Montgomery switched gears to authoring digital textbooks and research full time, while still teaching 12 courses of astronomy and up to eight conceptual, algebra, and/or calculus-based physics courses each year. Her research interests are numerical simulations using Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics of close binary star systems. She also regularly is granted telescope time on the NASA's Kepler space telescope for observing eclipsing binary star systems. She has also observed using Gemini South, Keck, and Kitt Peak ground-based telescopes. Her major teaching areas are Astronomy, Astrobiology, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Space Weather/Space Physics.