Cancer Medicine Popular culture

Fear mongering over cell phones and cancer by Dr. Oz

These days, Dr. Oz seems to stand for everything I oppose in medicine: Fear mongering, quackery, making claims that he can’t back up with science, and, of course, filthy lucre. On second thought, I’m not against filthy lucre per se. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having some of it myself. However, I also want to keep my integrity, and if getting a piece of that filthy lucre involves compromising myself, my scientific credibility, and my overall credibility as much as Dr. Mehmet Oz has done over the last several years, I’ll have to settle for my comfortable upper middle class existence. It’s not so bad. On the other hand, I understand that Dr. Oz doesn’t care about what people like me think. Indeed, back in January, when he was interviewed he basically said bluntly that he cares more about his celebrity status and the popularity of his show than he does about science.

Because of that, this year I’ve been mostly avoiding the now un-esteemed Dr. Oz, a.k.a. “America’s doctor,” even though his show could, if I paid much attention to it anymore, provide me with copious blogging material, because I’ve come to the conclusion that he is beyond redemption. He’s gone over to the Dark Side and is profiting handsomely from it. There’s little I can do about it except for, from time to time, writing about some of Dr. Oz’s more egregious offenses against medical science and reason, putting our tens of thousands of readers per day against his millions of viewers per day. It’s an asymmetric battle that we don’t have much of a shot at winning. However, at least from time to time I can correct misinformation that Oz promotes, particularly when it impacts my speciality. Consider it doing something preemptively to help myself. When one of my patients ask about something that’s been on Oz’s show, I can simply point her to specific blog posts. Perhaps that’s why I’m getting back to this one, even though it’s a week and a half later. I’m still annoyed. So better late than never.

The story aired on December 6 and was entitled Why You Should Keep Your Cell Phone Out of Your Bra. The entire segment, lasting ten minutes or so, is one blatant piece of fear mongering. Even by the usual low standards of a typical Dr. Oz segment, this one was bad. How bad? I’ll give you a taste. Let me start just by asking what you might expect in a segment claiming a link between an environmental exposure of some sort and a specific cancer? You’d expect some actual scientific evidence, wouldn’t you? Some epidemiology, perhaps, showing that women who hold their cell phones in their bras have a higher risk of breast cancer, perhaps with some relative risks that were at least statistically significant. You might expect some scientific evidence suggesting why the proposed mechanism is plausible. You might even expect that there would be convincing (or at least suggestive) evidence that women who put their cell phones in their bras, when they develop breast cancer, develop it more frequently on the side where they stick their cell phone. These would be reasonable things to expect that, even though they wouldn’t be convincing proof, would at least raise concerns.

There was none of that at all. Zero. Nada. Zip. In fact, I was shocked at how evidence-free this whole segment was. Usually Oz at least tries to slather a patina of scientific evidence on his pseudoscience. OK, maybe not usually, but he does at least sometimes try when he’s not doing a story on alternative medicine, “complementary and alternative medicine,” or “integrative medicine,” anyway. Not here. It’s as if Dr. Oz’s producers weren’t even trying for this one.

So what evidence do we get? It starts out with Dr. Oz saying how he understands how easy and convenient it is for women to stick their cell phones into their bras because it leaves their hands free. A prerecorded segment shows several women listing all the things they keep in their bras these days and why, things that include money, keys, and credit cards, among other things—and, of course, cell phones. One woman even keeps her son’s pacifier in her bra, which sounds kind of disgusting to me. I suppose if she’s still breast feeding, what’s a little more spit? In any case, we get the message. Bras hold more than breasts these days.

Dr. Oz then points to an image on a screen in the studio, repeating how he understands how convenient bras are to carry things, but then goes on to warn that he never wants you to do this again. A breast surgeon like myself can recognize the image immediately as a breast ultrasound, with a mass in it. The mass is darker than the surrounding tissue (hypoechoic, as we call it) and irregular. It looks suspicious, and it is suspicious, because Oz tells us that it’s a breast cancer, which is never convenient. (No kidding, doc. No one knows that better than a breast surgeon like myself, except for breast cancer patients, of course!)

Here’s where Dr. Oz introduces a young woman named Tiffany Frantz, who believes that her carrying her cell phone in her bra caused her cancer because it was on the same side and in the same area where her phone came into contact with her skin. Tiffany tells the audience that she kept her cell phone there for four years and that her cancer was right where the phone used to sit, helpfully demonstrating at Dr. Oz’s request how she would carry it in her bra. I noted immediately that she happened to carry it in such a way that it covered (mostly) her upper outer quadrant, which is the most common location for breast cancers to appear because anatomically there is more breast tissue there. Right away, I was sure that this was almost certainly a coincidence.

It’s also an idea planted in her head by her mother, Traci Frantz, who apparently didn’t like the way that her daughter used to carry her cell phone in her bra, particularly the way it stuck out. Once her daughter got breast cancer at age 21, her mother latched on to the cell phone as the cause, after, of course, doing her “research” on the Internet. She emphasized that Tiffany was young and healthy, that there was no family history of breast cancer, and that she didn’t have any genetic mutations known to predispose women to cancer, sometimes at a very young age. She also mentioned that she had been contacted by a “half a dozen” women who were convinced that their cell phones caused their breast cancer. It all sounds very convincing if you don’t know much about breast cancer.

Naturally, those nasty doctors didn’t believe her and produced, as Dr. Oz put it, “pushback,” as though their skepticism was unreasonable. When Dr. Oz asked Mrs. Frantz about this, her response was very telling. She didn’t say that she was trying to figure out whether cell phones cause breast cancer. Instead, she said:

My objective now is to collect the data necessary in order to validate a possible link between cell phones and breast cancer.

In other words, she’s looking for evidence to confirm what she already believes to be true. I know this from other news stories about Tiffany in which her mother has weighed in, such as this one, in which Mrs. Frantz is quoted as saying, “I absolutely believe that storing her cell phone in her bra gave her cancer. No doubt.” If you absolutely “belief” something, there’s no room to change your mind, at least not easily. Don’t get me wrong. I can completely understand the shock Mrs. Frantz felt when her daughter felt a lump in her breast and it turned out to be cancer. Breast cancer is rare in women under 30. But how rare? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I can’t help but note that Tiffany Frantz and her mother have been appearing all over the media over the last couple of years, for example, here:

And here:

Note how the doctor interviewed in this segment says that breast cancer at this young age is “unheard of.” Let me tell you that it is not. Very uncommon, rare even? Yes. But certainly not unheard of. I’ve seen it myself. In any case, let’s look at the medical expert brought in for the second half of the segment. It’s a breast surgeon named Dr. John West, who is based in Los Angeles. A quick bit of Googling on his name revealed rather quickly that Dr. West also strongly believes that carrying cell phones in the bra can cause breast cancer. His explanation as to why, both on Dr. Oz’s show and elsewhere, is less than convincing. He starts out with the story of a 39 year old patient of his who developed breast cancer. Now, I’ve seen plenty of 39 year olds (and younger) with breast cancer; so this patient’s age doesn’t raise any suspicions of an environmental cause. To his credit Dr. West acknowledged this. However, unfortunately he also related how this woman was totally convinced that her cancer had been caused by carrying her cell phone in her bra. Dr. West also said that she had multiple tumors that corresponded “basically” to where the cell phone used to rest. He even presented the case to a conference of breast surgeons (hmmm, I wonder if it was an American Society of Breast Surgeons Meeting that I had attended) and that he “got laughed off the stage.”

An appropriate reaction, I would say. I’m relieved that my fellow breast surgeons understand at least that much.

The rest of Dr. West’s evidence consists of three more patients with breast cancer, one of whom was Tiffany. Interestingly, he mentions one of these patients as having come to his attention six months ago, although from articles form 2012 it’s clear that he’s believed in this link for a while. This was another 21 year old with breast cancer. Dr. Oz intones gravely how he “wasn’t convinced” (of course not!) until he saw these images. A breast MRI is shown that shows a typical ductal pattern of enhancement, where the “bright spot” follows a ductal distribution. Dr. Oz acts as though this were some sort of major surprise, but it’s not. Breast cancer most commonly arises from the milk ducts; so it’s not surprising to see this sort of pattern. In this particular case, however, because the pattern involved ducts on the lateral side of the breast, which is where this woman held her cell phone, obviously it must have been the cell phone. The funny thing is that the “phone” drawing that is superimposed on the MRI image only matches up with one-half to two-thirds of the distribution of abnormal enhancement. In other words, even the “correlation” is not that convincing.

So how common is breast cancer in young women? The median age at diagnosis for breast cancer in this country is 61. Dr. West brags that he’s been practicing for 40 years and has personally treated 10,000 women. That’s about 250 women a year, which is not an unbelievable number for a busy breast surgeon. What I find rather hard to believe is Dr. West’s claim that he’s only seen three women with breast cancer who were under 30. Let’s just put it this way. I’ve only been practicing less than 15 years, and, because I run a lab, I haven’t even been practicing full time. I’ve treated far fewer women with breast cancer than Dr. West says that he has, but I’ve already seen at least five patients under 30 with breast cancer. My youngest patient ever was 19 years old when she was diagnosed. I know of a patient treated at my institution before I arrived who was 14 at the time of diagnosis.

Dr. West states that only 3 out of the 10,000 patients he treated were under 30 at the time of diagnosis. If you go to the SEER Registry, which tracks cancer cases in the US, you’ll see that 1.8% of new cases of breast cancer occur in women under 34. That means, by random chance alone, if his patient population were a representative sample of the breast cancer population at large, Dr. West would expect to see somewhat less than 180 patients under 30. Because of the difference between age 30 and 34, let’s take a conservative estimate, which would be that he should have seen at least 100 patients under the age of 30 over 40 years. (In fact, I operated on a 33-year-old with breast cancer in the last month.) That’s one or two per year. Yes, that’s rare, but not that rare. Either Dr. West’s memory is faulty, or his patient population does not correspond to the normal age distribution of breast cancer cases. I’m assuming the latter, in which case no wonder he’s so amazed at having seen 21 year old with breast cancer and so susceptible to leaping to the conclusion that it must be due to an environmental exposure! Moreover, if a large percentage of young women keep their cell phones in their bras at least part of the time, you can assume that by random chance alone most women under the age of 34 who develop breast cancer will have carried their phone in their bra. Half of those women by random chance alone will have a breast cancer on the same side as they usually carry their cell phone, and a significant number of those women, again by random chance alone, will have a tumor near where they carry their phone.

That’s why careful epidemiological studies are so important. Word to Dr. Oz and Dr. West: The plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” In fact, your anecdotes aren’t even all that suggestive; that is, if you look at them without the lens of a preexisting belief that there is a cause-and-effect relationship.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t cover the issue that was mentioned multiple times, namely that Tiffany didn’t have a “gene” predisposing to breast cancer. I hate to be blunt (well, actually, no I don’t), but that means very little. The vast majority of breast cancer cases, including breast cancer in young women, are not linked to genetic predisposition. Indeed, only 5-10% of cases are inherited, and less than 20% are associated with a genetic predisposition. That means that over 80% of cases are sporadic, which basically means “we don’t know what caused them.” They are not linked to a strong family history or mutations in a gene known to predispose to breast cancer. It means almost nothing that these women didn’t have a family history or other evidence of a genetic predisposition. As for women under 40, it is hardly impressive to have found four women under 40 with breast cancer who might have been keeping their cell phones in their bras. To put it into more perspective, there are approximately 232,000 new cases of breast cancer a year. If 1.8% of those cases are in women aged 34 and under, that means that there are approximately 4,200 new cases of breast cancer in women under 35 every year.

Finally, besides pointing out the utter lack of evidence linking cell phone radio waves and breast cancer, it’s impossible to write about this subject without pointing out again and again both the scientific implausibility of the concept that radio waves cause cancer and the lack of any sort of compelling clinical evidence supporting a link. There just isn’t any biological plausibility. Radiowave energy at the power level used by most cell phones, is not ionizing. It’s not even close, being several orders of magnitude too weak to break chemical bonds. Our understanding of cancer is that, in general, ionizing radiation is what is required for radiation to cause or contribute to cancer. That does not mean that there might not be a potential, as yet undiscovered, mechanism by which non-ionizing radiation might cause cancer (physicists writing on this topic all too often espouse a Cancer Biology 101-level understanding of carcinogenesis in which the breaking of chemical bonds is in DNA is the only mechanism by which cancer can be caused, much to my annoyance), but simple physics and chemistry make the hypothesis that cell phone radiation causes or contributes to cancer not particularly plausible on the basis of currently understood biology. On a basic science basis, at present there doesn’t appear to be strong evidence (or much of any evidence at all) supporting plausible mechanism by which cell phone radiofrequency radiation might cause cancer or an actual effect in which they do.

Add to this that the stories presented as evidence that cell phones cause cancer (i.e., the anecdotes) aren’t even that convincing, including Tiffany Frantz’s story, based on the lack of a plausible biological mechanism and a time frame between four and six years during which Tiffany Frantz said she was carrying her cell phone in her bra. (I note that she said four years in the Dr. Oz segment but her mother said six years in another segment.) I can understand why her being diagnosed with breast cancer was such a shock, given her young age, but it’s not unheard of. Certainly if I’ve taken care of a 19 year old with breast cancer, it’s not so unbelievable that a couple of 21 year olds could have breast cancer. I feel bad for the Frantzs, as no one should have to face a diagnosis like breast cancer at such a young age. It’s even worse, given that apparently Tiffany Frantz has bone metastases now, a horrible thing at such a young age. However, just because I feel bad for these patients does not mean I must accept their belief that cell phone radiation caused the breast cancer.

On the other hand, I can blame Dr. Oz for fear mongering not supported by science, and I do. I can also blame Dr. John West, and another surgeon, Dr. Lisa Bailey, for a depressing lack of critical thinking skills that led them to promote this concept. Truly, they embody the human trait of craving settling on a causative explanation. It’s very understandable why a patient like Tiffany and her mother might leap to confuse correlation with causation (except that it’s not even clear that there’s a correlation here). It’s the same need for causality that leads parents to become antivaccinationists. However, physicians and surgeons should know better. Unfortunately, they often do not. Indeed, Dr. Bailey and Dr. West have even been featured on that font of all things quackery,

A new study raises concerns of a possible association between cell phone radiation exposure and breast cancer in young women.

The research team, led by Dr. Lisa Bailey, a former president of the American Cancer Society’s California Division and one of California’s top breast surgeons, studied four young women – aged from 21 to 39 years old – with multifocal invasive breast cancer.

The researchers observed that all the patients developed tumors in areas of their breasts next to where they carried their cell phones, often for up to 10 hours per day, for several years. None of the patients had a family history of breast cancer. They all tested negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2 – breast cancer genes linked to about one-half of breast cancer cases – and they had no other known breast cancer risks.

Imaging of the young girls’ breasts revealed a clustering of multiple tumor foci in the part of the breast directly under where their cell phones touched their body.

Here’s the study, and a less convincing collection of four anecdotes is hard to imagine. Case 1, for instance, is particularly unconvincing, given that the cancer takes up the whole side of the breast, with an area of pleomorphic calcifications measuring 12 cm, the description being too vague to make any correlations. (Maybe this woman’s cell phone was a Samsung S4 or something even bigger.) Particularly hilarious is the claim that having invasive cancer intermixed with extensive ductal carcinoma in situ (malignant-appearing cells that haven’t invaded through the basement membrane) is an unusual. It’s not. All in all, it’s a pretty sad attempt to link a biologically implausible carcinogen to breast cancer. There’s nothing unusual about the locations or the histology of the cancers; yet Drs. West and Bailey try to claim that these cases are incredibly worrisome based on nothing but confusing correlation with causation. Is it possible that cell phone radiation can increase the risk of breast cancer? Sure, but it’s incredibly unlikely. There’s no currently known biological mechanism by which it could happen. At least the people claiming cell phones cause brain cancer try to present epidemiological evidence to support their case. It’s almost uniformly negative and unconvincing evidence, but at least it rises above the level of anecdotes. Drs. West and Bailey (and, of course, Dr. Oz) have nothing.

As I said, I’ve given up on Dr. Oz’s ever seeing the light again. Money and fame have corrupted a man who was once a promising academic cardiovascular surgeon, combined, of course, with a propensity for quackery like reiki. Since becoming a celebrity and particularly since getting his own TV, Dr. Oz has broadened his interest in quackery to include even The One Quackery To Rule Them All, homeopathy, which he has promoted on his show. Even credulous treatments of psychic mediums and faith healers are not off-limits on his show. All I can do anymore is to try to counter his misinformation when I can, which is not that often. After all, I could easily devote a whole blog to trying to refute the medical misinformation that Dr. Oz dishes up every day on his show. Instead, I choose to comment only when his misinformation impacts my area of expertise or for whatever reason catches my interest. It’s all I can do anymore.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

92 replies on “Fear mongering over cell phones and cancer by Dr. Oz”

Well, it’s certainly true that women put all sorts of things in their bra.

I have to own up to cheating at billiards by stashing balls in mine.

Now wait…
if you’re carrying the phone around that way, wouldn’t it most likely be turned OFF? Or do you just dig in and answer it if it rings?

And doesn’t being turned off mean that loads of radiation is not streaming out of it?

-btw- re ‘filthy lucre’- I just listened to PRN’s ‘Talkback’ tape of last night:
the idiot host carried on about how doctors get chauffeured to “$2000 dinners” by pharmacom, receive all types of posh presents and are forced to listen to pharmadrivel in order to get continuing ed credits.
What do they serve at those dinners?

Um – keeping a phone in your *bra*?? Do American women not have bags? Or pockets? Or underwear that actually fits?

I’m genuinely baffled. I’ve honestly never come across anyone who keeps anything in her bra, except, well, that for which it was designed. Oh, possibly money at a festival or in similar circumstances – less chance of it getting stolen. But a phone?!

Kind regards,


As a doctor whose at most has had a few free lunches a year hosted by drug reps, I have no idea what these $2000 dinners are about, Denise. And my practice purchases over $250,000 in vaccines a year, so you’d think if there really was an element of big pharma doing this, they’d be at my doorstep–but they aren’t.

The only harm I’ve ever experienced from my cell phone was I slipped and fell on it (on a holster on my belt) and got a bruise for that. But since the phone was off, I know it wasn’t those evil radio waves that caused the bruise (s/o) but rather using my iliac crest as the point of maximal force dissipation during a fall.

Most women I know (myself included) have their phones on while storing them in their bras. When most women’s pants don’t come with pockets, it just becomes necessity sometimes!

A bra is the best purse next to, well, an actual purse. I’ve carried my phone in my bra at a lot of events, most of them outside, during the summer when a purse is a hassle and pockets could be easily picked. I’ve also kept money, keys, ID, CCs, and small bottles of alcohol stashed in there in such situations. I’ve also been to events where cameras–including camera phones–weren’t allowed, so into the bra it goes because I’m a disaffected millenial who can’t live without my iPhone on my person at all times. And it’s always on. Needless to say, I very much advocate the platform of bra-storage, it’s amazing what you can cram in there without anyone noticing.

This is fear-mongering at its best for those who may not understand how 1) utterly ridiculous it is, and 2) one anecdote does not anything make. On a practical level, I’d be MUCH more worried about stuffing money in my bra than my phone. Money is filthy, you don’t know whose g-string that twenty has been in.

I can imagine people doing this, but I cannot imagine myself doing it. I mean, it seems to me that would be really uncomfortable, not to mention that there is no way of discreetly pulling the phone out when it rings. People will know you’re digging in your bra, and they will think you are weird. Plus….wouldn’t it really tickle when it goes off?

I keep mine in a holster on my belt. The only time I’ve kept anything in my bra was when I was nursing and had to keep absorbent pads in there.

Presumably the whole point of carrying your phone in your bra is so that you can dig in and whip it out if you need to. The phone, I mean. So I’d presume it would be turned on. If you had a Bluetooth earpiece you could even talk without taking it out of the bra.

@ #9 – there was an episode of NCIS LA where one of the female agents pulled a 45 out from her bra. Now there is a thought.

I am well aware of the non issue of radio wave energy from phones and cancer formation. I Have noticed at times that my cell phone gets quite hot, presumably by the processor. Any thoughts of heat and mutation?

I don’t generally stash things in my bra, but your average Galaxy Note is bigger than my boobs. 🙂 A la AnObservingParty above, if I need to smuggle cameras and booze into an event, I put the articles under a few maxi-pads in my little shoulder bag, and go through the line with the male security guy. Or, if I’m riding my motorcycle, slip the items into the back protector pocket once I’m off the bike. (That being said, I have put my wallet and money in my bra at pocket-picking-prone events – but it wasn’t a ‘without anyone noticing’ scenario in my A-cups.)

Now that I think of it, though, I do shove my phone in my bra to use hands-free while working in the garage now and then, since putting it in my pocket would mean sitting on it or risking breaking it from bumping into things. This segment is hardly going to worry me into not doing that anymore…

@ Roadstergal
That one’s good too! Depends on if a purse is with me…I’ve gone to parties where even a purse isn’t allowed. But, for the average concert, some feminine hygiene products will get you through without a search. And they make plastic flasks now that will get you through a metal detector.

On the very rare occasions where I’ve stored money or keys *there* I was either doing something ( exercising in a park, taking photos after climbing up rocks or a cliff etc) or walking through a bazaar,souk or city hipster-area where I feared being robbed. I almost always carry a bag. But my late mother swore by the aforementioned method ( for reserve money) when travelling although she ALWAYS also carried a bag.

Perhaps they love their phones a little TOO much.Keep ’em close to you.

Drydoc: I have actually seen ads for brassiere holsters, which actually does make sense to me. I mean, body holsters aren’t that far off of that part of the anatomy anyway, so it does make some sense. But for a firearm, it really ought to be stashed in a proper holster and not underwear. Too many people have learned that lesson the hard way.

And it does occur to me that I’ve also seen bras built that had pockets for stuff like money or a phone. That I’d be okay with, because it probably wouldn’t be uncomfortable if it was actually designed with that in mind.

Back in my misspent youth, I had a friend who kept several pet rats. Those rats’ faaaaavorite place to hang out was in the “hammock” of a brassiere – preferably while it was being worn because, hey, what rat doesn’t like a warm, toasty hammock?

She and I and various adventurous others would often let the rats, um, hang out while we were, um, hanging out around town.

The real fun would start when said rats would decide to have a grooming session. I’m extremely ticklish, you see…

FYI: when you’re leaning against a wall, helplessly giggling and a passing stranger asks “What’s so funny?” Don’t say “I’ve got a rat in my shirt!” and definitely don’t pull the rat out to prove it.

i won’t make the obvious jibes about “a rat in my shirt” or a “rat in a shirt’.

(Maybe this woman’s cell phone was a Samsung S4 or something even bigger.)

If it’s the radio waves that are supposedly to blame, wouldn’t the size of the phone be irrelevant? I imagine that the transmitter or receiver size, and power, would be the thing to look at. Not that any of that is relevant, anyway, since it’s extremely unlikely that the radio waves from a cell phone would do anything physically.

Over the last few years I have for the most part silently lurked my way through the various crank doctors, superstitions, cognitive dissonance and woo of all sorts. But this insight into alternative bra usage is really scary stuff! Incidentally, with smart phones having reached the size they have the only place it will fit is in my shirt pocket, I have actually started to choose shirts based on whether they can fit the phone 😉

Drydoc: any woman who has a large enough chest to camouflage a .45 is missing some great employment opportunities in the adult entertainment industry.

(disclaimer; I’m female, I am…somewhat…well-endowed, and I used to carry a .45 for a living, back before they switched to the 9mm. In a million years I can’t see it. I just can’t).

Do American women not have bags? Or pockets? Or underwear that actually fits?

Bags are frequently inconvenient, not to mention an obvious target for would-be robbers, so I understand anyone wishing to find a better hands-free alternative. And too often, women’s clothes lack such practical details as pockets, so my preferred solution of stashing the phone in my shirt pocket (also works with things like passports) isn’t always available (I sometimes wonder, only half in jest, whether this is a conspiracy of fashion designers to keep women dependent on men). So while keeping a mobile phone in your bra strikes me as painful (as opposed to accessories that would keep it outside the bra), I can understand why some women would do this.

And all Dr. Oz has to support the central claim of this episode is a bunch of anecdotes. He’s counting on his audience not being aware that “data” is not the plural of “anecdote”. He may, unfortunately, be correct about his audience.

The “cell phone radiation” thing has always left me scratching my head. Is there something about “teh ebil radio wavez” that cause irrational fear?

Why would it have to be the radio waves? Why not the “toxins” escaping from the circuitry (“teh toxinz” are bad, right?) or contact with the metallic, or polymer case, or “teh magnetz” in the speakers (oh, wait, no, magnets are good, aren’t they?)

Not that any of these things seem plausible. And as a couple of others have pointed out, who actually does this? I can’t think of a single woman in my experience who’s carried anything extra, more substantial than a slip of paper anyway, in her bra.

OK. Maybe a rose at Renn Faire, but that was a special occasion…

Yall know, going over this thread in my rss reader while listening to three days grace at full blast in my ears just make my day. Better than a cup of coffee.


Now I’m trying to think of a way of making a male bra strap-on extra chest pockets sound appealing. A man can never have too many pockets.

Slightly offtopic:

Anyone interested in meeting me at IMFAR 2014 in atlanta? The conference is going to be on the 14 to 17 May and I think I’ll be there monday 12 up to 18 May.


Sigh, I really want to, but cannot resist the “booby trap” reference in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


A man can never have too many pockets.

Testify, brother. That’s why there are cargo pants.

Mike — I found myself in a conversation once about radiation during interplanetary missions. The guy was comparing the radiation measured by Curiosity during its trans-Mars cruise to “like sticking your head in the microwave”. I pointed out that actually, it’s a completely different kind of radiation, and was called naive for my trouble.

There is a lot of confusion on this subject, but it mostly comes down to confusion over what radiation is. The fact that microwave ovens cook our food so obviously probably doesn’t help much, even though yes, it is a different kind of radiation and cannot give you cancer. They don’t understand the distinction. Further confusion may come from the use of radiotherapy in cancer treatment; radiotherapy does not use radio waves, but I could see someone getting confused on that subject.

@ Mephistopheles:

But seriously, how about a manpurse, er, ‘messenger bag’?

True exchange overheard between two hipsters, one German, the other Czech ( ages 30+ and 20+, respectively)- imagine the accented English for yourself.

G: ” Oooo, look, C is wearing his manpurse!’

C ( without missing a beat) ” I am so secure about my sexuality that I can wear whatever I choose”.

@Denice Walter – I consider pockets both more convenient and a built in check on how much stuff I carry. When bicycling or walking around when I want to carry a lot of stuff (say, guide book, light reading, a snack, the expectation of purchasing a few souvenirs) I often carry a lightweight backpack and sometimes a camera bag. I feel that things in my pockets are harder to steal though.

From time to time I see the amount of absolutely necessary stuff that stays in purses and messenger bags. I don’t nee that much weight generally.


Tell me about it:
I often find myself carting around stuff for *guys* who wouldn’t dare carry a bag, backpack, etc.
Unlike many women, I don’t drag around excess items in my bag on a daily basis- altho’ MY bags all have built-in squirrel-away compartments where I can stash a scarf, hat, camera, keys, money, ID, cards, etc.
Now trips are another story and I wind up carrying extra things and exerting myself – which probably is good for me.


I pointed out that actually, it’s a completely different kind of radiation, and was called naive for my trouble.

I suspect you’re too polite for that to have played out the way it should have, by rights

I bet whoever said that wouldn’t be seen dead in a mansierre, or carrying a man bag for that matter.

I pointed out that actually, it’s a completely different kind of radiation, and was called naive for my trouble.

I admire your restraint–I don’t suffer that kind of fool very well.

Part of the problem is that many people don’t comprehend the orders of magnitude involved here. Interplanetary space (and for that matter the radiation belts surrounding Earth and other magnetized planets) has lots of energetic particles, and those can do nasty things to people and electronics. UV photons are of the order or a million times less energetic, and while you can get melanoma from UV, it won’t do anything to your internal organs unless you get the sunburn from hell. The radio wave photons your typical cell phone uses are of the order of a million times less energetic than those UV photons. It’s a small number, and nobody has come up with a mechanism that both (1) allows such photons to do cancer-causing damage and (2) survives the laugh test.

Microwaves cook food by a different mechanism. So putting yourself in an operating oven, if you could find one large enough, is still not a good idea. But in that case, you have more immediate worries than cancer. Likewise with the old scares about AC power (either 50 or 60 Hz depending on your location): it might be an issue if you are walking barefoot along an electrified railroad track in the rain, but in that scenario you have more immediate concerns.

If this was true, shouldn’t cell phones also cause much cancer around waist/pants pockets/hands?

Based on where a lot of people I know keep their phones, shouldn’t there be a huge increase in the number of cases of butt cancer? Or whatever would be the closest oregon to the front pockets? (In some young men this would be their knees, but I digress.)

And isn’t this really just a variation on the old “cell phones cause brain cancer” thing?

I’m sure that if someone really wanted to dissect this you could find all kinds of allegories about the evils of modern technology and the importance of modesty, but I’m not very good at that.

@ Eric Lund:

What’s hilarious about the various ‘radiation’ scares in woo-ville is that the most shrieking scare-mongers-at-large claim to be well-versed in the intricacies of physics.
You know who I mean. Heh.

By the logic of cell phones in bra’s causing breast cancer, since virtually all men carry cell phones either in a pocket or on a belt holster, shouldn’t we be seeing a tremendous surge in testicular cancers and rhabdomyosarcomas and osteosarcomas in the hip area?

It’s not cellphones that cause breast cancer. It’s bras! They restrict the flow of lymph, causing lymph stagnation in the breasts. The correct solution is not to wear bras at all!

The “cellphone / brain tumour” story at least had the vestige of plausibility in that the cellphone is close to your head at the times when it’s actually in use, i.e. transmitting energy. How much does a cellphone transmit when it is idling, sitting in the receptacle of choice, waiting to receive a call?

It is obvious that Dr Oz is in the pocket of Big Deodorant and is pushing this story to distract from the *real* cause of breast cancer, i.e. the aluminium salts in deodorants & antiperspirants.

I love those Wikipedia chaps sometimes, “There is sometimes no medical necessity for men to wear bras…”

I can’t resist relating, once again, this story from South Africa in which a microwave tower was alleged to be causing continuing, “headaches, nausea, tinnitus, dry burning itchy skins, gastric imbalances and totally disrupted sleep patterns”. It transpired that it had been turned off for the previous six weeks.

Even with the smaller cell phones of the current day, if you can fit one in your bra, you need a bra fitting.

Orac, as a surgical oncologist are you really justmiddle class? I tthought doctors and surgeons were well represented in the top 10% and top 1%

@Chris Hickie #38: Haha! Sadly, they don’t ship the Quantum Shield Quantum* Pendant Thingy to Australia. There are only 3 left, & 167 people apparently still watching…

I’d like to say I find this whole thing unbelievable – but, sadly, nope.

As it is, I have a friend who remains convinced of a “link” between a purported spike in the number of childhood brain tumours & mobile phones (Dr. Charlie Teo says so, ergo it must be true). An old school friend of my mother STILL buys into the drivel about microwave ovens causing cancer. I once attempted to explain how this simply isn’t true & for my trouble was informed “Well, all I know is Such&Such says they change the molecular structure of food!”. Cue eye-roll etc. [Such&Such has a Certificate in Bowen Therapy.] Somewhat ironically, the microwave/modernity-in-general refusnik now has ovarian cancer.

*You can never use the word Quantum too much in a quack ad/article/whatever

mike: “I tthought doctors and surgeons were well represented in the top 10% and top 1%”

Not if they are in academics. I live near a university with a medical school, and so through our kids’ school we have been acquainted with some doctors who do research, and they solidly middle class. They live in our neighborhood, drive older cars and are paying off their student loans.

I think the only one who would be close to the top 10% is a department head.

@Liz, I was thinking the same thing. But I suppose if a woman is willing to fish her phone out of her bra when it rings, she might not really worry if it pokes out here and there.

Clue the twilight zone music:

Also, Narad posted a comment yesterday around #167 that had a link to an Elsevier article in press on how EM radiation might cause autism. This had the look-and-feel of a real scholarly article, with reference and whatnot, and in a quick skim it seemed to take as a given that there were established effects and mechanisms.

I’m wondering if anyone would like a nice, tall, refereshing glass of polywater.

Also, Narad posted a comment yesterday around #167 that had a link to an Elsevier article in press on how EM radiation might cause autism.

About the only particulars I was able to extract from the two papers were “the Fenton reaction” and “transductive coupling to membranes.” Everything else would require running down the references, which kind of scream “in vitro” and “it would really help if you didn’t know anything about rats.”

I’m wondering if anyone would like a nice, tall, refereshing glass of polywater.

We do not all look like Shirtless George Takei.


A group of schoolgirls claims to have made a scientific breakthrough that shows wifi signals could damage your health – by experimenting with cress.

When the girls grew trays of garden cress next to wifi routers, they found that most of the seedlings died. In the experiment, they placed six trays in a room without any equipment and another six trays in a room next to two routers.

Over 12 days many of the seedlings in the wifi room turned brown and died, whereas those in the others room thrived.
But critics claim that the cress seedlings left next to the routers probably struggled because they were dried out by heat emitted from the devices.

So if they’d done the same thing with cacti, they’d probably have ‘proven’ that wifi signals are extremely good for you and energise your chakras or something.

“When the girls grew trays of garden cress next to wifi routers, they found that most of the seedlings died. In the experiment, they placed six trays in a room without any equipment and another six trays in a room next to two routers.”

This would be a good time to introduce the schoolgirls to the concepts of experimental condition equivalence, blinding and reproducibility.

But this is what you get when Andrew Wakefield is your adviser. 😉

Narad posted a comment yesterday around #167 that had a link to an Elsevier article in press on how EM radiation might cause autism.

Was the journal in question by any chance Medical Hypotheses? IIRC that is an Elsevier title.

*laughs* The WiFi watercress experiment reminds me of my dad’s story of one of his college classmates in freshman biology, who I think must’ve been taking the class to satisfy the science requirement rather than because of any particular aptitude. She came up with an experiment to determine how bad dishwashing detergent is for plants. She planted ten plants, and watered the first one with 10% detergent, the next with 20%, the next with 30%, and so on. Of course, all of them died.

Eric @66 — No, it wasn’t Medical Hypotheses, it was Pathophysiology. As you know, I am not a biomed type, so I have no idea if this has any heft in the relevant community.

TBruce wrote:

I’m anticipating hearing about the men who develop testicular cancer after keeping their mobiles in their pants pockets. OMG!!! Radio waves! Zapping my nuts!!!

You haven’t already? I’ve been being told variations of “carrying your cellphone in your pants pocket makes you get testicular cancer” for a decade and a half now.

(I note, however, that the circles I move in are so tragically unhip that most women wear pants with pockets, yet I don’t recall anyone citing cellphones as a risk factor for cervical cancer.)

hdb #50: “How much does a cellphone transmit when it is idling, sitting in the receptacle of choice, waiting to receive a call?”

This can be difficult to exactly determine. However if you want a ballpark figure I’ll give it a shot. You should be able discover the data I use with any modern smart phone.

The Li-ion battery in my phone has a 1400 mAh capacity at a nominal 4.2 volts. This is a little over 21,000 joules of energy.

My phone statistics say that “cell idle” consumed 11% of the battery, and the battery is 42% charged. More simple arithmetic brings us to 1340 joules consumed by the radio on standby.

Let’s be generous and say that 1/2 that is transmitted RF. The rest is dissipated as heat by the electronics. We now have 670 joules of transmitted RF. Since the phone uptime is 20.5 hours this works out to an average of 9 milliwatts.

In reality most of the time there is no RF transmitted. At periodic intervals the phone transmits a few watts. If we assume around 3 watts this works out to a duty cycle of 0.3%.

Add in variables for carrier spectrum allocation (typically in range of 1 to 2 GHz), distance to base stations, and greater duty cycle when the phone can’t find a base station.

YMMV – I didn’t carefully check my arithmetic. In any case I’d say you can put the phone anywhere you please without endangering health due to RF exposure.

“In any case I’d say you can put the phone anywhere you please…”

I’m having way too much fun with that image.

The sad thing is, I can’t even tell if Mark Thorson is serious, because I was still hearing the bras cause breast cancer thing a few years ago (at least a few times as part of a pick up line from fine young men at bars or parties who clearly had only young ladies’ health on their brains.).

I don’t store anything in my bra besides the intended contents because I have pain issues and skin sensitivities that would make it uncomfortable (I also almost never wear underwires for the same reasons–basic comfort, not feat of metal), but even my hippie liberal arts education could shred Dr. Oz’s evidence apart.

I was still hearing the bras cause breast cancer thing a few years ago

The concept that anybody would seriously believe this caused me to headdesk so fast it hurt. OK, there is a correlation, but how does somebody with two or more functioning brain cells not realize that this particular correlation is not a causation?

Even as a pickup line…I suppose I could come up with something creepier, but it would take me some effort.

I have been known to put freshly-hatched chicks into a bra after they have been rejected for whatever reason by their broody hen while heading to town for a new brooder bulb, bedding or whatever else I might need to safely raise them. Have read of women hatching eggs that way on a bet (and one male who chose to do so in his underwear – that seemed a bit more risky to me!).

Strangely, I’ve put money there in desperate straits, but worry about having to retrieve it.

It is kind of fun (I might have a strange sense of humor) to walk through Wally world with your chest peeping…

In reality most of the time there is no RF transmitted. At periodic intervals the phone transmits a few watts. If we assume around 3 watts this works out to a duty cycle of 0.3%.

So whatever about the phones is causing the cancer, it’s not RF output. Must be the plastics (as Mike suggested @28). Or rare earth elements leaking out from the chips. Perhaps lithium leaking from the batteries… that’s a heavy metal, right?

Not having watched the original videos, I have no idea whether Drs Oz, West or Bailey specifically link breast cancer with the cellphone RF.

to walk through Wally world with your chest peeping…

Usually it is the other way around.

Nobody peeps at your chest when it peeps? What’s up with that, peeps?

“At periodic intervals the phone transmits a few watts.”

Cell phones are commonly limited to 6/10th of a watt. They negotiate with the tower to use the least amount of power needed to reach it, so usually it’s much less. There’s some techy details, like GSM phones which time-slice transmit, but even the fraction of a second peaks are generally under one watt and the average 1/8 as much.

There’s only about five watt-hours in high end smartphone battery. Some of that goes to heating the phone, as neither the battery nor the electronics are anywhere near 100% efficient. A basic cheap-phone has about a 2watt/hour batt. Considering that a smartphone will idle 48 hours and a dumbphone with its little battery much longer, it can’t be putting out much transmit power when idle.

Don’t waste your breath explaining this to a hippie/conspiracy type.

Maybe everyone’s wearing a different style of bra than I am, or something, but if I tried to keep a cell phone in my bra, it’d fall out. There’s no room for anything else in there but boob.

Admittedly, I do sometimes put my chapstick in my sports bra when I’m working out, but a sports bra has a different design to my normal bras.

A friend of mine is currently in hospice, busily dying of cancer. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate cancer? Thanks for all you do, Orac, because it’s less scary when you know what’s going on.

Guess what. The evidence is goingto becoming in soon enough. The initial way many illlnesses are seen is by anecdotal evidence you numnuts. You are ther same kind of idiots who said that tobacco doesn’t hurt yu and that the industry is telling the truth. You likely believed that asbestos was not harmful. Then maybe you injested some tallidamide or DES. Possibly after that you ate some of the lead paint that was ‘proven’ not to hurt people. It is amazing that you people can make it through the day without someone telling you what yu should do and think., Oh wait, you probably are connected to your phone constantly and surely the cell phone people would tell you the truth about their products harming people. Why do you thionk that they have gotten immunity from being sued? Is it because thier product is so safe? Why do large insurance agencies ignore the studies that the industry does and opt not to insure the wireless industry? Why have the silenced research and why do they vehemently attact those people and studies that show (more than 70 % of NONINDUSTRY) bioeffects from microwave radiation? I know it is because they are telling the truth and don’t care about the billions of dollars they are making. It is all about you. They care about you. They only want to help YOU. Enjoy your brain cancer!

Veronica: “The evidence is goingto becoming in soon enough.”

Really? From who? What research institution?

“You are ther same kind of idiots who said that tobacco doesn’t hurt yu and that the industry is telling the truth.”

You do realize those were advertisements? We’ve known tobacco was bad for over a century (chewing tobacco), and that cigarette smoke caused cancer just after WWII. Here is some reading: The price paid: Manipulation of otolaryngologists by the tobacco industry to obfuscate the emerging truth that smoking causes cancer.

“Why have the silenced research and why do they vehemently attact those people and studies that show (more than 70 % of NONINDUSTRY) bioeffects from microwave radiation?”

Really? Do give us some of those citations.

Enjoy your brain cancer!

Veronica, given the seeming damage to your language and motor processing skills evidenced in your comment, I’m not sure that whatever you’re doing instead is working out all that well.

She can’t even spell “ingest.”

Incidentally, after reading this thread I was inspired.

A roll of quarters fits in there quite nicely and very unobtrusively. Very good on laundry day.

Oh wait, you probably are connected to your phone constantly and surely the cell phone people would tell you the truth about their products harming people. Why do you thionk that they have gotten immunity from being sued?

This is a mildly amusing conflation with preemption under the NCVIA in the post-Bruesewitz era. State personal-injury suits of the CELL PHONZ DONE GIMME DA LOSS UH CONSORSHYUM ANNA SOME OTHER STUF variety have had a rough go of it on the basis of conflict preemption, which is simply the doctrine that federal law wins if it conflicts with state law.

In the case of vaccines, the upshot of Bruesewitz is that what’s going on is express preemption, i.e., unless Congress says otherwise, the NCVIA as read on its face (after a fashion) explicitly asserts preemption to the Court of Federal Claims.

For a while, there was a disagreement about conflict preemption in tinfoil-hat cases, with the Fourth Circuit rejecting it in Pinney v. Nokia, but in the meantime, out of the Third Circuit, Farina v. Nokia proceeded to a big ol’ cert. denied.

Veronica’s claim that “they have gotten immunity from being sued” is not even wrong. AoA would cough up personal data on its most faithful commenters to be used in vivisection experiments for a piece of this action, even though it ain’t going nowhere.

Then maybe you injested some tallidamide

Come Mr Tally-man, tallidamide banana…


You likely believed that asbestos was not harmful.

Lovely, natural asbestos? Can you find me an example of a scientist claiming that asbestos is harmless? Or of a scientific study that concluded this? A scientific study published in 1962 found a connection between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma (PMID: 13782506). Industry and legislators ignored the science.

Then maybe you injested some tallidamide

What effect do you think that would have on us, unless we were pregnant? Many people with multiple myeloma are currently being treated very successfully with thalidomide, and its teratogenic effects were noticed over half a century ago. The safety mechanisms in place today would not allow thalidomide to reach the market for pregnant women, and it was never approved for that purpose in the USA.

or DES.

Diethylstilbestrol, known to cause problems for over 40 years? That was a scandal, I agree, as its use was controversial from the outset, and proper safety studies were not carried out. Again, current safety mechanisms would never allow a drug like that to reach the market.

Possibly after that you ate some of the lead paint that was ‘proven’ not to hurt people.

When and by whom was ingestion of lead pain proven not to be harmful? An article in the Lancet in 1952 pointed out the hazards of children ingesting lead paint (PMID: 14956002).

It is amazing that you people can make it through the day without someone telling you what yu should do and think.,

Who told you to think cell phones are dangerous? Who told you to think science hasn’t progressed for the past 40 years or more? I can back up what I think with solid evidence. You appear to have nothing but decades-old tales and hot air.

Why have the silenced research and why do they vehemently attact those people and studies that show (more than 70 % of NONINDUSTRY) bioeffects from microwave radiation?

Of course there are bioeffects from microwave radiation (I will be utilizing these to heat up some food in a moment), but are they at the frequencies and doses people get from using a cell phone? I have never seen any convincing research that showed this, and there is no plausible mechanism for these effects. Also, whose research has been silenced, how and by whom?

I know it is because they are telling the truth and don’t care about the billions of dollars they are making. It is all about you. They care about you. They only want to help YOU. Enjoy your brain cancer!

With the enormous increase in the use of cell phones, wouldn’t we expect to have seen an equally enormous increase in the incidence of brain cancer? We don’t, in fact during the explosive increase in cell phone use since 1990 we see a slight decrease in incidence of brain cancer. I suppose SEER is lying to us about cancer incidence too.

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