Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: Calling all men: Cell phones and sperm

Medical memo

Calling all men: Cell phones and sperm

Cell phones have revolutionized communication. Like many innovations, however, these devices have been greeted with concern as well as celebration. Because cell phones emit radiofrequency electromagnetic waves, they can interfere with some implanted cardiac pacemakers — but only if the user holds the phone directly over the pacemaker. Similarly, cell phones have the potential to disrupt sensitive electronic monitoring devices in hospital intensive care units — but only a minority of monitors are vulnerable, and even then, only very close proximity between phone and monitor poses a risk.

Because electromagnetic waves can also have biological effects, some people worry that cell phones may cause cancer. Fortunately, many studies have failed to link cell phones to malignancies of the brain, eye, salivary gland, and the acoustic nerve in the ear, though a 2008 study reported an association between cell phone use and benign tumors of the parotid gland, which is located beneath the lower jaw.

It's easy to see why scientists have wondered if cell phones might have ill effects on tissues in the head and neck. But researchers in Cleveland have asked quite a different question. Based on animal studies that indicate electromagnetic waves may damage testicular function, they wondered if cell phones might affect human sperm.

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