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Health Debunked: Is 5G Bad for Your Health?

Hilary WeissmanSanjai Sinha, MD
Written by Hilary Weissman | Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD
Published on September 19, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • 5G is a network that uses electromagnetic radiation to share data wirelessly between mobile devices.

  • The 24-hour news cycle has focused on 5G’s effects on our safety and health. 

  • There is not enough credible evidence that 5G networks harm human health.

Woman using mobile phone at home.
eyecrave productions/E+ via Getty Images

During the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, conspiracy theories spread quickly about everything from the origins of the virus to the historically (and to some, suspiciously) fast rollout of the vaccine — and whether it contained a microchip. (Short answer: It didn’t.) 

So it’s not surprising that the release of 5G technology during this time led many to raise questions about the  geopolitical and global health risks of this high-speed wireless network and exposure to radiofrequency (RF). There have also been widely debunked theories that the rollout of 5G networks contributed to the spread of COVID-19. 

The rumors about 5G range from healthy skepticism to far-reaching conspiracy theories. Luckily, we can settle the score.

What is 5G?

The 5G (fifth generation) network uses energy from electromagnetic radiation to transmit data at higher and more efficient frequencies. 

This technological advancement supports high-quality wireless communication, Bluetooth capabilities, telehealth and video conferencing, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence (AI) that can power remote surveillance and even self-driving cars.

Keep in mind: The technology powering 5G is the same technology that powers microwaves, computers, and our power grid.

Why does 5G get a bad rap?

The electromagnetic radiation from 5G creates an electromagnetic field. There have been studies on whether these fields pose health risks. These concerns are similar to concerns about the effects of radiation from laptops on the organs and skin near our abdomen, and whether cell phone use leads to the development of tumors. 

Claim: 5G signals can cause rashes, nausea, headaches, and even cancer 

As we uncover more about the harms of UV radiation (think skin cancer and melanoma), it’s natural to wonder if fifth-generation electromagnetic radiation works in the same way

In 2019, the University of Edinburgh's Professor John William Frank called for increased precaution in promoting 5G. He argued there had not been enough critical studies on its safety.

What does the science say?

It’s true that the science on 5G and health is still in the early stages. That said, researchers still haven’t found evidence that 5G is harmful. Here’s a rundown.

  • 2019: The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reviewed studies specifically on 5G wireless networks using 6 GHz to 100 GHz. It found “there was no consistent relationship between power density, exposure duration, or frequency, and exposure effects.”

  • 2020: The Toxicology Letters journal published reports about the adverse health effects of radiation. It highlighted that most experiments don’t use the actual level of current or the signal modulation that the average human would encounter in an everyday situation. 

  • 2021: A study in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology reported that “public exposure to radiofrequency fields from 5G and other sources is below the human exposure limits” set by International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). 

What do the experts say?

Expert organizations find no evidence that 5G is harmful to human health. Some do, however, acknowledge more research could provide a clearer picture of possible health risks, if any. 

  • World Health Organization, February 2020: “No adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies…Tissue heating is the main mechanism of interaction between radiofrequency fields and the human body. Radiofrequency exposure levels from current technologies result in negligible temperature rise in the human body…Provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated.”

  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration, February 2020: “The available epidemiological and cancer incidence data continues to support the Agency’s determination that there are no quantifiable adverse health effects in humans caused by exposures at or under the current cell phone exposure limits.” 

  • American Cancer Society, June 2020: “RF waves don’t have enough energy to damage DNA directly. Because of this, it’s not clear how RF radiation might be able to cause cancer…Some studies have found possible increased rates of certain types of tumors in lab animals exposed to RF radiation, but overall, the results of these types of studies have not provided clear answers so far.”

  • National Cancer Institute, May 2022: “Studies have examined associations of these cancers with living near power lines, with magnetic fields in the home, and with exposure of parents to high levels of magnetic fields in the workplace. No consistent evidence for an association between any source of non-ionizing EMF and cancer has been found.”

So, should I avoid it?

No conclusive evidence supports that 5G networks can harm your health. Some occupations and workplace environments increase your risk of exposure to RF. But scientists agree that more and better research is needed. 

In the meantime, if you are reading this article on your phone or computer, you’re likely already engaging with 5G. Approach your use of technology with the same moderation as you would any vice. Take breaks from screen time, enjoy the outdoors, and practice healthy habits like movement and restorative self-care

References

American Cancer Society. (2020). Radiofrequency (RF) radiation.

Bruns, A., et al. (2020). ‘Corona? 5G? or both?’: The dynamics of COVID-19/5G conspiracy theories on Facebook. Media International Australia.

View All References (15)

Di Ciaula, A. (2018). Towards 5G communication systems: Are there health implications?. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

Federal Communications Commission. (2019). Understanding wireless telephone coverage.

Frank, J. W. (2021). Electromagnetic fields, 5G and health: What about the precautionary principle?. BMJ Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Hardell, L. (2017). World Health Organization, radiofrequency radiation and health - a hard nut to crack (review). International Journal of Oncology.

Heilweil, R. (2020). How the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory went from fringe to mainstream. Vox.

Karipidis, K., et al. (2021). 5G mobile networks and health—a state-of-the-science review of the research into low-level RF fields above 6 GHz. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

Keykhosravi, A., et al. (2018). Radiation effects of mobile phones and tablets on the skin: A systematic review. Advances in Medicine.

Kostoff, R. N., et al. (2020). Adverse health effects of 5G mobile networking technology under real-life conditions. Toxicology Letters.

Laurence, E. (2022). Is 5G making you sick? Here’s what experts say. Forbes.

National Cancer Institute. (2022). Electromagnetic fields and cancer.

Simkó, M., et al. (2019). 5G wireless communication and health effects—A pragmatic review based on available studies regarding 6 to 100 GHz. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2021). Feature article: 5G introduces new benefits, cybersecurity risks.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Review of published literature between 2008 and 2018 of relevance to radiofrequency radiation and cancer.

Vila, J., et al. (2018). Occupational exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic fields and brain tumor risk in the INTEROCC study: An individualized assessment approach. Environment International.

World Health Organization. (2020). Radiation: 5G mobile networks and health.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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