There is a growing meme regarding the new 5G network and how it is harmful to our health.
For example, on Giga.com, an article stated ‘The launch of 5G will be similar to turning on your microwave, opening its door, and leaving it on for the rest of your life.’
Is it just me or does it sound like the person making this statement has an extremely underpowered microwave? My microwave doesn’t take a lifetime to warm up a bit of chicken to piping hot. If you were to stick a body part in a microwave, you would know about it in seconds.
On a more serious note, I think a statement like this can have the potential to cause a lot of panic, stress and accelerate the spread of mis-information. As it would be impractical to discuss ever potential effects, I have decided to focus on the cancer claims with a slight emphasis on brain cancer. This is where the research concentrated on. Also, this seems to be one of the most popular claims of 5G on our health.
5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology, this uses a higher band of frequency than the previous 4G network. 5G is a form of non-visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum. This is the same as radio waves, microwaves, light from a bulb to X-rays (same to the ones we use for imaging bones) and up to Gamma rays that are produced from decaying material in nuclear power stations.
This new 5G network ranges from the 24 GHz reaching up to 72 GHz. The G in GHz stands for the Giga, this denotes a billion. The Hz stands for hertz which denotes a unit of frequency. Therefore, 1GHz = 1 billion hertz in a second. As you can see (picture below), 5G sits roughly between radio frequencies and microwaves.
It promises to increase speeds from the current 4G speeds of 10mb/s to 10-20gb/s, this is a huge bump up. Even more impressive is the reduction in latency time. This is thought to go from 30ms (currently with 4G) to 1ms.
This should enable new technologies to become possible, such as autonomous driverless cars and virtual reality in real time. This could enable new implications for medical technology and search and rescue.
There are some drawbacks. 5G signals are weaker at traveling long distances, and weaker signals mean we need more transmitter masts to amplify, or strengthen, the 5G network. These will have to be spaced out in small intervals to ensure complete coverage.
There has been growing concern that 5G will cause brain cancer and have other adverse effect on our health. Specifically, the radio-frequency radiation (RFR) spectrum that 5G sits at. RFR encompasses anything that is on the electromagnetic spectrum. This can range from radio waves, light from your monitor, lightbulbs and the sun. Obviously, these aren’t all inherently dangerous. Scientists separate these into two types of RFR, non-ionising and ionising.
It is separated into these two groups by their ability to break molecular bonds and knock an electron off an atom, ionising it. Ionising radiation is dangerous and can lead to cancer. This is why we know not to spend too long in direct sunlight or not have unnecessary X-rays if they’re not needed.
At the moment, ‘There’s no known mechanism for most forms of non-ionising radiation to even have a biological effect’. Just because this is the case, it doesn’t mean later on we might not find a cause. Therefore, we have to rely on research to show us if there is a possible link.
I’m going to start off by stating, there are no high quality studies on 5G and its effect on the body. Therefore, I tried to find the studies looking at frequencies as close to 5G, with 4G and 5G having an element of overlap.
There was one major study that gained a lot of coverage by the media. It was a $30 million, 10 year study looking at the effects of RFR on rats. They exposed the whole of a rat’s body to RFR for 16hours a day for two years, effectively the whole life of a rat. They found that the male rats that were exposed to RFR developed heart and brain tumours.
This sounds convincing on the face of it. But when you look closer, there was a reason I particularly mentioned male rats. The female rats did not develop these cancers. Interestingly they also found that the rats exposed to the RFR lived longer than the mice who weren’t exposed to the RFRs. This doesn’t make sense, why wouldn’t the female rates have not be affected and the exposed male rats live longer. Living longer may have allowed the tumours time to develop?
Another large scale study conducted by the World Health Organisation concluded ‘Most published analyses from this study have shown no statistically significant increases in brain or other central nervous system cancers related to higher amounts of cell phone use.’ There was a limitation to their study as people had to self report their phone use over a long period of time.
We do know that people are not very good at self-reporting behaviours, especially in such a subjective way. They also found that the people who used mobile phones infrequently had slightly fewer incidences of brain tumours than people who reported no phone usage at all. This then doesn’t make any sense if we’re saying RFR from phone use causes brain cancer?
I will link here to the WHO website, where you can look into other large studies looking into this. In summary, no other studies that they have mentioned showed a strong correlation between phone use and cancer rates.
There are so many pieces to this pie, it’s hard to know what to think. Made harder by the lack of research on 5G and having to rely on RFR data from a slightly different wavelength.
I certainly think the government needs to step up and put pressure on cell phone companies, regulators and researchers to do quality research in this field and quickly. It’s clear that mobile phones aren’t going anywhere and the RFR they emit are going to increase for years to come. We need clear, well-designed studies to properly examine these effects.
A letter to the EU from 180 scientists and doctors have put pressure on to halt auctioning of 5G networks until we know more about 5G effects on health. Now we have left the EU, we will have to rely on our own Government (in the UK) to implement such a mandate (some political satire for you).
A more comforting comparison I found was the link between mobile phones and brain cancers. Mobile phones have been in use since the mid ’80s, and if there was a correlation we should have noticed it by now.
Statistics from the US, Australia and other parts of Europe show that new case rates aren’t going up (see graph below, it shows the number of new cases of all brain tumours). Although, in the UK the incidences of brain cancer is on the rise.
In regards to whether 5G causes cancer? We just don’t know. The research we do have is a mixed bag and therefore if there is a link, it’s obviously not a very strong one.
As so many people say nowadays, ‘they are finding everything causes cancer’. In my opinion, as cancer is so many different diseases (over a 100), if you look hard enough, you might always find some weak link between a particular substance/irritant and cancer.
The main take home for me is context. We know there is a strong link between too much sun and skin cancer. We know there is a link between too much alcohol and liver cancer. We know that if you chronically don’t get enough sleep you open up yourself up to increased risk of several conditions and diseases. And many others.
I will continue to focus on these aspects of my health, I know these will benefit me and make me a healthier person in the long run. And stop worrying about 5G in my day to day life.
Take Survey, criticisms or comments…