Mobile Phones and Cancer – the Next Asbestos?

Earlier this month an Italian court held that excessive use of a mobile phone (3 to 4 hours a day over 15 years) caused a benign form of cancer affecting Roberto Romeo’s acoustic nerve. Italy’s workers’ compensation insurer, INAIL, was ordered to pay him €500 per month for what was assessed as a 23% loss of bodily function (deafness following surgical removal of the acoustic nerve). Romeo said he did not want to demonise mobiles,

but I believe we have to be more aware about how to use them.”

The award came as something of a surprise, there having been a previously long held view, based on scientific assessment, that mobile phones are unlikely to cause cancer.

The New Scientist magazine recently noted the case and reported “there is still no convincing evidence that mobile phones increase the risk of cancer” and that

It is understandable that if a person spends years with a cellphone pressed to their ear, they blame the phone if they get a tumour in that ear. But correlation is not causation

so on the basis of those assessments, there is probably no need at this stage for any urgent risk minimisation steps to be taken. However, given the ubiquity of mobile phone usage, it would be worthwhile monitoring developments particularly bearing in mind that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer is taking a cautious approach, listing mobiles phones as “possibly carcinogenic” as recently as 2011.

The Italian decision is subject to appeal and we will monitor the case and report further. We will also attempt to obtain a copy of the judgment to see what the court’s reasoning was.


As it stands today, the injuries most likely to be caused by mobile phone usage are those arising out of motor vehicle accidents due to driver distraction. As a reminder, whilst driving, you can only touch a mobile phone to receive and terminate a call if the phone is secured in a mounting affixed to the vehicle.

If the phone is not secured in a mounting, it can only be used to receive or terminate a call without touching it (e.g. using voice activation, a Bluetooth hands-free car kit, ear piece or headset). Whilst driving, it is illegal to create, send or look at a text message, video message, email or similar communication, even when the phone is secured in a mounting or can be operated without touching it. GPS may be used by a driver whilst driving if no touch of the keypad or screen is required.

For more information visit the Road Safety Commission’s Mobil Phone page.

The information published in this paper is of a general nature and should not be construed as legal advice. Whilst we aim to provide timely, relevant and accurate information, the law may change and circumstances may differ. You should not therefore act in reliance on it without first obtaining specific legal advice.