Wireless Bluetooth headphones have become popular gadgets—and now, there is a debate about whether they can cause cancer. However, at this point, there is not enough evidence to definitively say that wireless headphones are dangerous.
Some scientists are arguing that these headphones could potentially lead increase cancer risk due to the fact they emit radio frequency (EMF) radiation when they are used. In 2015, a group of scientists around the world signed a petition directed to the United Nations and World Health Organization that expresses their concern about exposure to non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF). The petition, which started circulating around the internet again in early 2019, also says that EMF has the potential to increase the risk of neurological disorders, DNA damage, cellular distress, and changes to the reproductive system.
EMFs are invisible areas of energy that are produced by electricity and are often referred to as radiation. There are two kinds of EMFs: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing EMF is defined as “mid to high-frequency radiation which can, under certain circumstances, lead to cellular and/or DNA damage with prolonged exposure.” Some forms of this type of EMF include ultraviolet rays (UV) and X-rays. Continual exposure from this kind of EMF can cause damage; spending an excessive amount of time in the sunlight, for example, can expose your body to harmful UV rays, potentially leading to skin cancer.
Non-ionizing EMF, however, is low- to mid-frequency radiation that is generally viewed as harmless. Many electronic devices we use—such as cellphones, computers, and yes, Bluetooth devices—all emit a low amount of radio frequency radiation. The main concern regarding non-ionizing EMF is that although it is low frequency, electronics and power lines are essentially always “on” and, oftentimes, all around us.
Unlike ionizing radiation, low frequency, non-ionizing EMF can’t damage DNA or cells directly. However, it’s possible that it can indirectly cause cancer in other ways, such as by reducing the level of melatonin in the body, which is associated with the growth of certain tumors.
Ultimately, when it comes to wireless headphones, its dangers aren’t all that clear. Despite extremely low frequency EMF being possibly carcinogenic to humans, researchers have still not observed a direct connection. Bluetooth headphones specifically have their power density exposures that is 10 to 400 times lower than those of cell phones, according to Dana-Farber’s David Kozono, MD, PhD. Power density is the rate of power that an EMF produces per the unit area.
“I would therefore expect it would be more difficult to observe an association between Bluetooth headphone use and cancer,” Kozono says. “Data are lacking however to conclude with certainty that there is or is not a risk of increased cancer.”