Early exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields and cancer

We don’t know for certain whether radio waves produced by mobile phones and base stations can cause cancer. This research project will contribute evidence from experiments involving rats exposed to radio waves throughout their life. This could potentially lead to new public health measures to reduce risks for children.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Early exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields and cancer: complete evaluation of the Ramazzini Institute long-term carcinogenicity bioassays on Sprague-Dawley rats

  • Lead Researcher

    Dr Fiorella Belpoggi

  • Research Centre

    Ramazzini Institute

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Bologna, Italy

  • Start Date

    10 October 2020

  • Duration

    36 months

  • Grant Amount


female researcher in white lab coat smiling at camera fiorella belpoggi


A wide variety of modern technology, including mobile phones and base stations, produce radio waves. This kind of radiation is different to that known to cause cancer in the higher frequency range, in particular ionizing radiation such as UV radiation or gamma radiation. Nevertheless, some scientists are concerned that these radio waves might increase a person’s chances of developing certain cancers. Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to things that cause cancer (carcinogens), because their bodies are still growing and developing. We therefore need to learn more about the risks associated with long-term exposure to the type of radio waves emitted by mobile phones and radiobase stations.

Dr Fiorella Belpoggi and colleagues have been studying the effects of radio- waves on rats exposed long-term to radio base stations. They have conducted experiments where rats are exposed to this radiation before birth and then throughout their entire lives. They also tested the potential carcinogenic effects of radiofrequency radiation in combination with low dose of a known carcinogen (gamma radiation). The team have already collected samples of tissues from all the rats’ organs after their natural death. In this project, they will study these samples to look for tumours and other changes. This will enable to them to assess whether early exposure to radio waves increases the risk of these rats developing cancer and how the risk vary depending on co-exposure with other carcinogens.

Potential impact

The results of this study will provide evidence as to whether or not long-term exposure to radio waves produced by mobile phone and base stations increases risk of cancer and if synergistic or enhancing effects occur when associated with exposure to other known carcinogens such as gamma radiation. This is a particularly important question in relation to children, who are more susceptible to carcinogens than adults. Understanding the causes of cancer in children could potentially lead to new public health measure to reduce these risks.

About the research team

Dr Fiorella Belpoggi is a PhD focused on Pathology, with more than 30 years of experience in the planning, conducting and performing pathological analysis of acute and chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity in rodent bioassays. Dr Belpoggi is the Scientific Director of the Ramazzini Institute, a non-profit, independent organization located in Bologna, Italy. Over the last 40 years, long -term studies have been conducted at this institute on more than 200 substances present in the industrial and general environment which could be toxic and carcinogenic. Dr Belpoggi and colleagues are uniquely experienced to conduct this project using cutting edge facilities available at the Ramazzini Institute.

Research Involving Animals

Children with Cancer UK is a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and supports the AMRC’s position statement on using animals in research. We support the principle of using animals in research when it is necessary to advance understanding of health and disease and to develop new treatments; we want to find improved treatments that will cure even the hardest-to-treat forms of childhood cancer, causing minimal side effects for the child. This research only takes place where there is no other alternative available and projects are only funded by us after rigorous assessment that specifically addresses the proposed use of animals.

Children with Cancer UK has signed the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, alongside over 120 other organisations. Together, we have committed to enhancing our communication about the use of animals in research. For our full Position Statement on animal research, please click the link below.

Children with Cancer UK Animal Research Position Statement – June 2020