We all use technology on a regular basis, relying on computers, smartphones, televisions, and other highly advanced devices and appliances to work, entertain ourselves, and socialize with others. We are all acutely aware of a handful of risks associated with using technology for prolonged periods of time, such as computer vision syndrome or difficulty sleeping, but could excessive or irresponsible technology use lead to the development of cancer?
The Many Causes of Cancer
Cancer has many potential “causes,” in part because there are so many different types of cancer. Some types of cancer develop almost exclusively in response to a particular type of exposure; for example, mesothelioma can typically develop only in people who have been exposed to asbestos, a carcinogenic material that is no longer in active use.
Aside from these highly niche forms of cancer, it’s hard to assess specific causes. That’s because cancer is a complex disease that can arise even in a person with few, if any risk factors – and because there are literally hundreds of different risk factors to consider.
Cancer emerges as a result of a cell mutation, which can happen in response to any number of environmental hazards or substance exposures. It can also happen as a natural byproduct of cell division, which is why older people are more likely to develop cancer.
Technology and Cancer
It was once hypothesized that cellphone use could lead to the development of cancer. Cellphones emit electromagnetic radiation, and other forms of radiation, so it was thought that exposure to these frequencies could lead to some mutations, especially in the brain, since people hold phones close to their heads to talk. However, this has been ruled out, and most scientists uniformly accept that using a cell phone does not increase your risk of developing cancer.
This also applies to most other devices and appliances, including household microwaves; while microwave radiation itself can increase your risk of cancer, the safety mechanisms built into microwaves do an excellent job of eliminating this risk.
That said, there does appear to be a correlation between heightened levels of screen time and cancer (as well as heart disease). Why is this the case?
Secondary Factors Associated With Technology
The most plausible explanation is that excessive use of technology is associated with secondary variables, and it’s these secondary variables that increase your risk of developing cancer.
- Sedentary lifestyles. If you spend most of your days browsing the web, watching TV, or playing video games, you probably won’t get much exercise. Sedentary lifestyles are associated with higher risks of cancer, and for several reasons. Using technology in itself may not be risky, but living a sedentary lifestyle is.
- Lack of socialization. Socializing on the web can be beneficial, but many people feel unfulfilled by these relationships, and it’s hard to match the intimacy of an in-person interaction. Socialization and better relationships lead to better overall health, which can decrease your risk of various illnesses.
- Sleep disruption. Sleep and cancer are complexly intertwined with each other. If you suffer from a lack of sleep, especially chronically, your risk of certain cancers can increase. Too much screen time during the day can interfere with your sleep patterns, and if you stare at screens that emit blue light late at night, your circadian rhythms can be disrupted, resulting in lower quality sleep.
- Social and cultural factors. There are also a variety of social and cultural factors worth addressing. For example, if you use technology excessively because of work, you may have higher levels of stress, which can lead to higher cancer rates.
It’s also worth noting that using technology may have a more positive effect when it comes to cancer prevention and treatment:
- Education and knowledge. Most of us use technology in part to educate ourselves and communicate with others. Thanks to widely available news publications and public databases, we all have access to more information on cancer than any past generation. People are in a much better position to learn how to minimize cancer risk, identify potential cancer symptoms, and even schedule appointments for cancer screenings.
- General tech developments. Don’t forget that technology is a big part of why cancer mortality rates have declined in recent years. We have access to much better diagnostic tools, far superior treatment methods, and a wider range of treatment options than we ever have before. Technology is a good thing in the fight against cancer.
For the most part, you don’t have to worry that your use of technology is going to cause the development of cancer. However, there are some side effects and consequences of excessively using technology that can increase your cancer risk.
Be mindful of your activities, prioritize your health, and make sure to take plenty of breaks from your digital screens.