Some types of radiation can damage cells and potentially lead to cancer. Although microwave ovens use radiation to heat food, healthcare professionals do not consider them a cancer risk.

Cancer occurs when certain cells grow out of control and spread through the body. Damage to the genetic material, including DNA, may cause cancer cells to develop. High-energy radiation, such as X-rays, can cause this damage and may lead to cancer over time.

Microwave ovens use a low-energy type of radiation called radiofrequency (RF). People can also find this type of radiation in the sky, earth, Wi-Fi, and radio signals.

This article discusses microwaves and cancer in more detail. It also answers some common questions about microwaves and cancer.

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for cancer, visit our dedicated hub.

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The term cancer describes many diseases that affect different parts of the body. These diseases all have links to atypical changes in the genes that control cell function.

In some cases, parents may pass these genetic changes down to their biological children. Other causes of cancer may include:

There are dozens of different types of cancer.

Types of cancer

There are many types of cancer specific to different body parts and tissue types.

Cancers that affect the digestive system range from anal cancer to stomach cancer. Those that occur in the reproductive system may include:

There is even variation in the cancer types within certain tissues. Basal cell carcinomas are the most common type of skin cancer.

These carcinomas generally occur if people spend extended periods in the sun or on tanning beds. However, melanomas can also develop on the skin. This form of skin cancer is the most dangerous and may develop in an existing mole or a new darker patch of skin.

Similarly, the term breast cancer refers to several different types of cancer that affect the breast tissue. These may include invasive ductal or lobular carcinomas or medullary cancer.

Cancer symptoms

Because there are so many different types of cancer, symptoms can vary widely between individuals. Some of the more common symptoms of the disease may include:

These are only a few potential cancer symptoms. In certain cases, the disease may cause no symptoms at all.

Individuals who notice unusual symptoms that do not improve within a few weeks should consult a doctor. Only a medical professional can conduct tests and provide an accurate diagnosis.

The term radiation refers to invisible energy comprising electric and magnetic fields. Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) contain both electric and magnetic energy.

Microwaves are a form of lower power EMFs. These waves produce nonionizing radiation, which does not have enough energy to damage cells directly.

Radar guns use microwaves to detect speeding cars. Telephones and television sets also use microwaves to transmit signals.

However, microwave ovens are the device that most people associate with microwaves. The microwaves within these machines make water molecules vibrate inside different foods. This vibration creates heat that warms up food.

The microwaves in microwave ovens do not contaminate food with radiation. Government guidelines require manufacturers to create these ovens according to specific criteria.

Microwave ovens must include safety features that contain all electromagnetic radiation within the device. They also have shielding that keeps radiation from leaking.

Because of these manufacturing requirements, microwave ovens are safe for general use. Although they do contain radiation, this stays within these devices. As such, there is virtually no chance of developing cancer from using a microwave oven safely.

EHS is a rare condition that some individuals experience after exposure to everyday EMF sources.

Individuals with this condition may experience reactions to EMFs that do not affect others. Some of the symptoms of EHS include:

Scientists do not fully understand the reasons behind this condition. Exposure to EMFs may affect some people more than others. Some researchers also believe that EHS has a psychological basis and affects individuals who are afraid of radiation.

Future studies may provide more insight into this rare condition. People who believe they may have EHS should consult a medical professional to learn more.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about microwave ovens and cancer.

Is the radiation from microwaves harmful?

Manufacturers make microwave ovens according to government safety guidelines that help ensure they are safe for general use. They work by containing the radiation, so they cannot cause harm to individuals using them.

However, a damaged microwave oven may have impaired radiation shielding, making them harmful to use.

Is it safe to stand in front of a microwave?

Although microwave ovens are not typically harmful, government agencies advise against standing directly in front of them during use. They also recommend not standing against a microwave oven while it is on.

Keeping a distance from the device will prevent radiation exposure in the rare case that a microwave oven has damage or is malfunctioning.

How long would it take to get cancer from a microwave?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tightly controls the amount of radiation a microwave oven can emit. Devices that undergo manufacturing in line with FDA guidelines should not cause cancer over any timeline.

If a microwave oven looks damaged or is not working properly, a person should consider replacing the device.

Microwave ovens heat food by using a low-energy form of electromagnetic radiation. The radiation they use is less powerful than X-rays.

Government guidelines require manufacturers to create safety features on all microwave ovens. These features ensure that any radiation stays contained inside the device.

Because of this, properly designed microwave ovens do not cause cancer. Instead, they offer a safe and easy option to quickly heat leftovers or a midday snack.