Will the Cellular Apple Watch Cause Cancer?

2 minute read
| Devil's Advocate

If left always on, I think there is a fair chance at some point people will determine that cellular Apple Watches cause cancer. Apple should investigate this possibility and do what it can to mitigate.

apple watch series 3 lte

Mobile Data on Apple Watch Series 3

Airplane Mode is Your Friend

For a little perspective, don’t go running with your hair on fire to throw your Apple Watch into the trash. I own an Apple Watch. I even wear it every day. However, my Apple Watch is always in Airplane mode.

Why?  Well, first, because then I can wear it for long periods of time without needing to recharge it—it lasts 3 days between charges in Airplane mode. Second, because I find most Apple Watch apps useless. But third, and most importantly, I believe it is inevitable that people will discover that wireless technology causes cancer.

The Math of: No it Doesn’t, Yes it Does

In fact, I believe that this is more a math problem than it is a debate of scientific studies. The bottom line is, the more exposed you are to RF radiation, the more likely you are to have a random DNA-bit flipped that spawns a mutation, i.e., cancerous growth.

Now there have been dozens of “yes, cellphones cause cancer”, “no, cellphones do not cause cancer” studies. To me, that sounds amazingly like what happened with the tobacco industry for decades. That includes one recent study by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) that shows an increase in tumors in rats exposed to cellphone radiation (albeit at exposures which are at greater levels than most cell phone users experience).

However, I think that there is something people are not paying attention to. The Apple Watch 3 now sports a cellular transceiver strapped to your arm as much as 24 hours a day. Every day. This seems beyond NTP rat-like exposure, and perhaps even beyond the long exposures that caused many Connecticut cops to contract testicular and brain cancer from their radar guns.

With many radiation safety protocols, you reduce radiation injury by increasing distance, decreasing time exposed, and increasing shielding, whereas the Apple Watch seems to be doing the opposite.

In my totally non-expert, non-learned, non-medically-trained, non-scientific, monkey-at-best opinion, it is a near certainty and inevitability that such constant close contact and exposure will increase the odds of a radiation-induced-DNA-bit-flip and cause cancer. [Update: Even the CDC is noting that the “International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF radiation as a ‘possible human carcinogen.’”]

Minimize-RF

Personally, I would like to see Apple do something to mitigate against this possibility. Apple should implement a ‘minimize-RF-mode’ for the Apple Watch. It would work like Airplane mode and turn off all the RF transceivers on the watch. This would have the added benefit of saving a ton of battery life. And then, only when you turn your wrist to see the time, would it temporarily turn on the transceivers, get a burst download/upload of what was needed, and then turn off soon thereafter.

Such a mode would also block out a lot of interruptions, including emergency texts and notifications. Overall, blocking out a bit more noise, these days, for me at least, is more a feature than it is a bug.

I wonder if Apple has thought about this issue, and if the company has done any studies or experiments in this regard. If so, I wonder if Apple would share its findings on the issue. If not, I wonder if it should?

23 Comments Add a comment

  1. mactoid

    Seriously??? You had to start this meme? What…nothing else going on in the world today? Coming up on deadline with writers block? sheesh….

  2. blocktek

    This is silly. The cellular radio in the Apple Watch 3 is only on when it is not in the presence of the paired iPhone or a known Wi-Fi network. In my case, that’s only about 4% of the time, on a good week, when I go for a run.

  3. John Kheit

    That doesn’t mean the cellular portion isn’t on. My phone is on WiFi most of the time, but the cellular portion is always communicating and establishing itself with towers. That’s why you have a separate control on an iPhone to disable just the cellular transceiver and leave WiFi and Bluetooth on.

    • LAdude

      Really if it’s on WiFi the cellular button is white and not green. Are you sure cellular is still connected even when in WiFi? How do you know that?

      • John Kheit

        On the phone it definitely is. On the watch, I’m not sure as it plays a dance with your phone. If your phone isn’t around, it certainly will stay on as it needs to keep itself identified with cell towers.

  4. LAdude

    Yes it’s best to minimize RF. I have a cellular series 3 watch and if my phone is with me I will put it in airplane mode. If it’s connected to Bluetooth I assume the RF is less. WiFi is probably better maybe. I only turn on Cellular on my watch when I put my phone in my pocket and it’s on airplane mode cause I don’t want the RF too close to me for my phone. This is very convenient. When I’m in the car I like to have it on Bluetooth so I can use it as a remote control and do other things. I do think it’s best to limit RF exposure and be conscious of it. Of course I will connect my watch when I need it like for dictation using bear note etc I think the cellular antenna is in the glass so at least it’s not right up against our skin. I assume that is better. When I’m in a movie theatre I put it on cellular and put my phone in airplane mode. That way I can get a call and I assume the RF from my watch would be less than if I put my cell phone in my pocket.
    I think your article struck a nerve in some readers here but I think it’s good to let people know about moderation That’s the key. If we use our devices in moderation and try not to keep it close to our body for extended periods of time then I think it’s much safer. Did you see Jeff Gamet interview the boxer pants guy at CES. It’s boxers to protect guys who put cell phones in their pockets.
    By the way I think people who put their cell phones in their pockets almost all day have more RF exposure than the watch I would think.
    Anyone reading my reply don’t judge it’s only my opinion and personal preference of how I use my devices and my beliefs about RF exposure. I know many people think it’s not a thing and that is ok. We all are entitled to our beliefs.

  5. AliciaGill

    There is no complete information from government well being controllers demonstrating an immediate connection between phone radiation UK Assignment Writer otherwise called radio recurrence radiation and medical issues in people.

  6. Graham McKay

    I would like to see Apple do something to mitigate against this possibility.

    I’d think that based on the corporate/legal environment we operate in, that if there was even the slightest admission that RF from a device gives a larger chance of illness than “normal” living, then the only available mitigation is to cease production and issue a recall.

    The tobacco & alcohol industries get away with it, I think, because their underlying products have been embedded in culture for centuries.

    [sarcasm]Or maybe Apple’s billions of dollars could be used to convince legislators that a warning screen whenever you turn your device on is sufficient?[/sarcasm]

  7. geoduck

    No. Next question.

    There has been NO evidance found dispute decades of study that would suggest ANY link between cellphone RF radiation and cellular or DNA changes, let aline cancer. None. Nada. Zip.

    I’m actually dissapolinted that you posted this.

  8. John Kheit

    @geoduck, you mean no evidence other than the studies I posted, and the CDC noting it’s possible human carcinogen.

  9. mbmoore@mbmoore.com

    “Will the Cellular Apple Watch Cause Cancer?”
    No, but, FWIW, here’s a list of things that will dramatically shorten your life that most people don’t seem to worry about:
    1. Illicit sex of all kinds, i.e., sexual encounters outside of heterosexual marriage,
    2. Excessive consumption of alcohol,
    3. Mind-altering drugs, including marijuana (if used to excess),
    4. High risk endeavors, like skiing in the Alps on remote ski slopes, armed robbery, and general law-breaking.
    5. Abortion (if you’re an unborn baby).

    California is in a financial and cultural mess because its inhabitants worry about small things like cell phone signals and ignore life-threatening activities like these. Each to his own I suppose.

  10. FCompton

    Will Google Glass and Android Gear, and Fitbit and all the others cause cancer? Will anyone care? or will they only care if Apple causes cancer? Hmm.

  11. John Kheit

    @FCompton. Agreed all the others are of concern too. Most of the others you mention do not use cellular, which has a way way higher transceiver output than cellular as they use bluetooth/WiFi. Perhaps those too might be of concern, but the relative much higher output of cellular (your sending a signal out for miles to hit a tower, vs feet for bluetooth/wifi) makes makes it more relevant.

    Also, Apple Watch has eclipsed all the other wearables, it’s by far the biggest seller, and as such, it makes it much more relevant. Lastly, if any company is likely to try and ‘do the right thing’, its Apple. So one hopes they would be most responsive to such concerns.

  12. wab95

    John:

    Where to begin?

    Let me start with a disclaimer. I’ve just returned from a scientific conference and series of meetings in Sub-Saharan Africa late last night, and am both exhausted (albeit exhilarated) and jet-lagged. That said, my admittedly hasty read of your article leads me to shake my head in bewilderment, not because you could pose this question, but that such is the state of scientific literacy in an otherwise affluent and educated society that such unsubstantiated ideas can even find traction, let alone persist in the absence of evidence; and by evidence I intend facts obtained using appropriate, rigorous scientific methodology, which includes repetition of those same methods with the same results, in addition to withstanding the harsh light of peer-review.

    This notion (RF and other non-ionising radiation) has been around a longtime, and is the successor to an even older notion of power lines and paediatric brain tumours, itself a conflation of the concepts of ionising and non-ionising radiation, which was investigated back in the 1970s and effectively debunked by one of my professors, the late Leon Gordis (https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/109/3/309/110063). There are a number of articles in the public domain for those with a deeper interest in this topic, including:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1469962/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4922278/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1253668/

    Which lead to the following fact sheets from the National Institutes of Health’s own National Cancer Institute in the USA:

    https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/electromagnetic-fields-fact-sheet
    https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/cell-phones-fact-sheet

    …which has also led the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make the following nuanced and carefully worded statement, https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/cell_phones._faq.html.

    The NIH statement on cell phone use specifically concludes, “In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a component of the World Health Organization, appointed an expert Working Group to review all available evidence on the use of cell phones. The Working Group classified cell phone use as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence from human studies, limited evidence from studies of radiofrequency energy and cancer in rodents, and inconsistent evidence from mechanistic studies (5)”, and further, “The Working Group noted that any interpretation of the evidence should also consider that the observed associations could reflect chance, bias, or confounding rather than an underlying causal effect”.

    In short, all conclude that there is no evidence that non-ionising radiation is associated with cancer, none has ever been shown to occur in children, and that studies that can distinguish the confounding effect of non-ionising radiation exposure over time with the increased hazard of cancer with age have not been done, or if underway, are not yet completed. If one is worried, then follow the CDC guidance on reducing your exposure.

    Some people hang their hat on the word, ‘possibly’, but tend to misinterpret it. The term, ‘possibly related’ has a specific meaning in investigational science, and that is, while we have found no evidence that X causes Y, we cannot absolutely exclude the possibility. To a scientist, this usually indicates that such a relationship is unlikely to highly unlikely, because if X really caused Y, we would likely identify that relationship, especially with such widespread exposure as cell phones, even if we could not explain its causal nature. The interpretation, particularly when findings are conflicting, is generally that the relationship is either more complex than X causes Y, or that it does not exist.

    This use of ‘possibly’ is akin to saying, ‘we cannot exclude the possibility that extraterrestrial aliens have visited earth or are currently amongst us’, but if they are, we have found no such evidence. The same can be said for ‘Nessie’ or ‘Big Foot’. In my clinical trials, I have to assess causality with the words, ‘definitely’, ‘probably’, ‘possibly’ or ‘not’ related. ‘Possibly’ is reserved for those events that are not likely, but that one cannot entirely dismiss for lack of evidence to do so. In fact, in a different scoring scheme, ‘possibly’ is replaced with ‘probably not’.

    Bottom line: in professional and academic science settings, ‘possibly’ is less affirmative than it is negative; namely ‘I don’t think that this is true, neither can I entirely dismiss it without further evidence’.

    Apologies for the length.

  13. John Kheit

    @wab95. We disagree and I find your comments either willfully myopic or just off. First, the studies I cite to are from the very same sources. This trope of non-ionizing is just that. Go talk to the Connecticut cops with very real testicular and brain tumors, right next to where they held their radar guns for prolonged periods of times, that are WAY beyond statistical anomalies.

    Here’s a bet. Strap a cell phone to your leg, 24hrs a day, for 5 years, and just let the transceiver stay on, on full tilt. It is a certainty it will cause mutations. So this is not a question of ‘if’ but how “much” exposure is enough. The reality is that radiation is that, radiation, and it will go through mass, and the more of it that goes through, the greater the chance of mutation, that’s physics and math.

    Now if you argue, we’re no where at the right level, fine.

    Further, your misleading supposed nuance about “possible” is the exact same trope you use to discount things, oh, and actually objectively wrong. Yes, many unlikely things are ‘possible’ but many likely things are ‘possible’ too. Furthermore, that you point to studies supposedly show no definitive evidence of cellular radiation causing cancer, is NOT the same thing as evidence showing that it does not cause cancer. And it’s objectively false, because I showed articles that say otherwise. And I was up front saying there are contradictory articles, some saying it does, some saying it doesnt. So your stating there is no evidence, at best is misleading. More accurately, there are potentially contradictory studies.

    Next, you’re entitled to your interpretation of the CDC etc. reports. I will point out that many such ‘nuanced’ reads of tobacco being a carcinogen were also debated, with frankly more unknowns.

    Again, if I sit you next to a cellphone tower, 1 foot away from its transceiver, for 5 years, you will have mutations. Guaranteed. That’s a basic certainty. So it boils down to how intense, and how proximate, and how long a dose is safe. That’s where a reasonable debate can start.

    And that’s why I bring up the issue with the Apple Watch. Because up until now, we have not had a device, that by its design, was set to be that close, and potentially on all day, shooting that strong a signal, before the cellular smart watch.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it. As always, YMMV.

  14. wab95

    John:

    I appreciate your spirited response. Since you appear to question my motives in my earlier comments, let me try this again, piecemeal.

    I think there is a fair chance at some point people will determine that cellular Apple Watches cause cancer”

    “But third, and most importantly, I believe it is inevitable that people will discover that wireless technology causes cancer”

    “In fact, I believe that this is more a math problem than it is a debate of scientific studies”

    We’re all entitled to our beliefs. Enough said. No problems here. But this is not why there are contradictory studies (more on that below).

    “The bottom line is, the more exposed you are to RF radiation, the more likely you are to have a random DNA-bit flipped that spawns a mutation, i.e., cancerous growth”

    Really? If you have such proof, please submit it for publication. I can suggest the journals and even put in a good word for you with some editors.

    “Now there have been dozens of “yes, cellphones cause cancer”, “no, cellphones do not cause cancer” studies. To me, that sounds amazingly like what happened with the tobacco industry for decades”

    Not to most public health scientists familiar with this literature. The one is a limitation of data quality based on study design and inference; the other was an industry cover up and a quashing of data that showed consistent results. I’m not sure how many of these discussions you’ve participated in, but the contribution of study design limitation and data quality to conflicting result is a consensus that is cited in the NIH pieces I cited above, and not a cover up. See: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/cell-phones-fact-sheet

    “That includes one recent study by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) that shows an increase in tumors in rats exposed to cellphone radiation (albeit at exposures which are at greater levels than most cell phone users experience)”

    Thank you. This was my point about study design and the limitations of inference. This gets even more complicated when we use animal models to assign causality in humans with very different exposures and innate/adaptive responses. You are correct that this results in debate, which by definition, means a lack of consensus or anything approaching a proven hypothesis.

    “However, I think that there is something people are not paying attention to. The Apple Watch 3 now sports a cellular transceiver strapped to your arm as much as 24 hours a day…This seems beyond NTP rat-like exposure, and perhaps even beyond the long exposures that caused many Connecticut cops to contract testicular and brain cancer from their radar guns.”

    Please share your data and analysis. I will gladly help you with your submission for peer review. If this is simply what you think, then I repeat, we’re all entitled to our beliefs and thoughts.

    In my totally non-expert, non-learned, non-medically-trained, non-scientific, monkey-at-best opinion, it is a near certainty and inevitability that such constant close contact and exposure will increase the odds of a radiation-induced-DNA-bit-flip and cause cancer”

    The internal contradiction in that statement between non-expert opinion and certainty/inevitability speaks for itself, and needs no further comment. Here is what the NIH’s National Cancer Institute says about RF energy, “Radiofrequency energy, unlike ionizing radiation, does not cause DNA damage that can lead to cancer. Its only consistently observed biological effect in humans is tissue heating. In animal studies, it has not been found to cause cancer or to enhance the cancer-causing effects of known chemical carcinogens”. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/cell-phones-fact-sheet

    Just one other note, lesions or breaks in your DNA occur every day, including from the occasional breakthrough cosmic ray. Not only do most breaks get repaired without your knowledge, most do not result in cancer.

    “@wab95. We disagree and I find your comments either willfully myopic or just off. “

    Okay. I’ve heard worse, although I’m not sure how ascertain if my myopia is wilful. Does it make a difference if it’s involuntary? Perhaps I’m just innately inarticulate.

    “Go talk to the Connecticut cops with very real testicular and brain tumors, right next to where they held their radar guns for prolonged periods of times, that are WAY beyond statistical anomalies”

    You’re suggesting that we compare anecdotal or even case series accounts with an epidemiological investigation? See Gordis’ course on why your suggestion is problematic and a common, preventable source of error. http://publish.uwo.ca/~jkoval/courses/Epid2200/2013/2200_13_lec3revis.pdf

    “Here’s a bet.”

    I’m not a betting man. It suggests an a priori bias, which my training militates against. Besides, I didn’t see a bet wagered.

    “Further, your misleading supposed nuance about “possible” is the exact same trope you use to discount things, oh, and actually objectively wrong. Yes, many unlikely things are ‘possible’ but many likely things are ‘possible’ too.”

    A lot to unpack here, so let’s break this down into two concepts. First, this is not my misleading supposed nuance about ‘possible’ but that of regulators over human subjects trials on both sides of the Atlantic. This is a standardised definition that those of us who conduct trials in human subjects are required to learn during regular recertification in Good Clinical Practice standards, if we are to retain the licence to conduct trials in human subjects.

    Second, ‘many unlikely things are possible’. Agreed, as I’ve stated above. ‘…many likely things are possible too’. Not by the standard definitions used in human subjects investigations. This is what would be defined as ‘probable’. Any investigator assigning causality had better know the difference before submitting their assessment to the regulators. Possible and probable are not the same.

    I’ve already cited the link to the NIH’s statement on cellular radiation and cancer, so will not re-address here.

    “…you’re entitled to your interpretation of the CDC etc. reports”

    Actually, it’s not my interpretation, but a consensus view. I happen to work extensively with CDC among my research partners, among others like teams at WHO, but…never mind.

    “Again, if I sit you next to a cellphone tower, 1 foot away from its transceiver, for 5 years, you will have mutations. Guaranteed. That’s a basic certainty.”

    I’m intrigued that any sentient being would sit next to a transceiver for 5 years, but I digress. An extraordinary claim in need of extraordinary proof. Given that unlikely scenario, on what do you base this certainty? It’s apparently not a certainty amongst my colleagues who do this for a living, so data. Please. Is this based on a case control or a case negative analysis? If the former, who were your controls? Or, if you have longitudinal data, what population is your cohort?

    “That’s where a reasonable debate can start.”

    I’m all for reasonable debate, hence my response. However, exposures and outcomes can never be settled by debate, but only by scientifically rigorous observation using documented standardised methodologies that can be replicated and pass review by external experts in the field.

  15. John Kheit

    Blah blah blah. This is the same kind of “non conclusive” bs the tobacco industry thrust on everyone. I love how you thrust the burden of proof away. The way the FDA works is you, the drug/substance peddler, need to prove it’s safe, and not for everyone else to prove a negative. A clear sign of a losing argument is a shift burden of proof for others to prove a negative.

    At one time, US soldiers sat in front of radar microwaves to warm themselves up too, yea funny that, there were no definitive studies, but that doesnt happen anymore. Go talk to the Connecticut cops about it as well.

    Please move next to a cell tower, and work every day next to it. I look forward to your hand waving over the obvious. It’s also interesting you don’t note all the European studies that have found cell tower and cell phone links.

    Again, the studies go both ways, your handwaving on your opinion of what those negative findings are, do nothing to diminish them. The reality is there are contradictory findings.

    As for my assertion that the more radiation you have, the more it will disrupt cells, beyond it being plainly obvious, here you go:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4440565/

    So again, it’s not a question “if” microwave emf does damage, just a question of energy, and exposure. That is debatable, that radiation at infinity power, zero distance, and long exposure does cause damage, is not a question of scientific debate. At strong enough output, it will literally cook you.

  16. geoduck

    Thanks to wab95 for picking up this thread. I got derailed with other things and couldn’t get back to it.
    John this is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of evidence. Like on CSI you follow the evidence. The evidence shows clearly that not only do cell broadcasts not cause cancer, they do not produce the genetic changes that MIGHT cause cancer. wab95 has given you links to some of the definitive articles on the subject. Sorry, but Well and Scientific American are popular press, not peer reviewed technical journals. No the articles don’t go both ways. Popular press has in its interest the creation of controversy. The technical journals all point the same way. Much like climate change. Much like evolution.
    At his point however I’m dropping the thread. I’ve spent my life arguing with creationists, climate deniers, flat earthers, and other people that won’t let facts and scientific data get in the way of their opinion. I’m tired.

    See you on another thread.

  17. John Kheit

    So puhleez tell me about all the ‘scientific’ peer reviewed studies that couldn’t find links between cancer and tobacco for years. Next, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I cited to peer reviewed studies that found otherwise.

    Again, I invite you to allow one of the major carriers to install a cell tower right next to your bedroom, let’s see how that works out. And like I’ve said, this is a matter of physics. There is zero controversy that if I put a microwave emitter powerful enough, and close enough to you, it will cook you. Again, go talk to the Connecticut cops that mysteriously got cancer right next to their head or their balls, in the exact spots they held their radar guns for years. So we are not talking “if” cellular/microwave radiation can cause cancer and mutations, it’s a question of how big a dose/exposure is required that is debatable. As always, YMMV, but the physics wont. 😀

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