Do Microwaves Cause Cancer? Separating Science from Speculation

Is there a possibility that microwaves do cause cancer? 

Cancer can grow when particular cells proliferate and disperse throughout the body. Cancer cells can develop when the genetic material, including DNA, is damaged. These types of damage can be triggered by high-energy radiation like X-rays, which have been present in the body over time and may result in cancer.

Radiation is an invisible form of energy that includes magnetic and electric fields. Magnetic and Electric Energy can be found in Electro Magnetic Fields (EMFs). A type of lower-power EMF is a microwave. These waves create non-ionizing radiation, which lacks the energy to directly harm human body cells.

1. What Is a Microwave?

Microwaves are electromagnetic waves with a frequency between 300 MHz and 300 GHz and a wavelength ranging from 1 mm to about 30 cm. Microwaves are a common name for electromagnetic radiation.

1.1 What Is Microwave Oven Radiation?

The emission of energy as moving subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves is known as “Radiation.” Numerous naturally occurring radioactive substances are present in the body, and the environment and water and soil are the source of natural radiation. People consume radiation in the form of food, water, and breathable air every day.

Microwave Radiation
Image by Bambara from Unlimphotos

In varying amounts, radiation is present everywhere. In essence, it is the release of energy that is kept on releasing by commonplace objects like the sun and home electrical appliances. Natural background radiation is something that we are constantly exposed to. From the earth’s radioactive gases to radioactive elements in the soil.

1.2 Microwave Application

Radio waves and Microwaves both have similar applications. They are used in radio astronomy, remote sensing, radar, communications, and cooking due to the heating application. To find the speed of the vehicles, radar guns use microwaves. Microwaves are also used in telephones and televisions to transmit signals.

Microwaves are used in the industry to cook potato chips, raise bread and doughnuts, cure rubber and resins, and dry and cure plywood. 

2. Do Microwaves Cause Cancer?

Foods that are heated by microwave radiation in microwave ovens, do not necessarily make the food radioactive. The foods are heated up by the vibration causing water molecules inside brought on by microwaves. This concept is distinct from how food absorbs heat energy, which is the foundation of traditional cooking.

Have you had an x-ray before? That is another type of radiation.

Ever used a sunbed? Also, radiation.

Computers, heaters, radios, and mobile phones all emit radiation. Radiation is all around us! Does this imply that microwaves constantly pose a threat to us? To get a clear picture. First, we need to understand the operation of a microwave.

3. How Do Microwave Ovens Work?

The microwave’s radiation is absorbed by the water molecules inside the food when it is heated in the microwave. Through this harmless friction, which is caused by the energy, the water molecules vibrate, heating the food by producing heat. Microwaves heat food so quickly compared to other methods due to this mechanism.

When food is cooked using other methods, the heat is transferred gradually into the food through conduction, such as when a pan’s bottom touches a hot stove ring, but when food is cooked using steam, the heat is transferred directly to the molecules about an inch below the food’s surface.

3.1 Do Microwaves Destroy Beneficial Nutrients?

The likelihood that nutrients will get harmed by microwave cooking is actually among the lowest. This is so because microwave cooking takes less time. Longer cooking tends to cause nutrients to break down more. Accordingly, roasting a roast in the oven rather than the microwave is more likely to result in some nutrient loss.

Moreover, compared to baking or microwaving vegetables, boiling them is more likely to deplete them of their nutrients. That’s why some nutrients from food leach into the water.

Therefore, cooking in the microwave can occasionally be quicker and healthier, when it comes to nutrition. We are consuming industry-made chips, bread, and doughnuts.

3.2 Do Microwaves Pose Other Risks?

Using a microwave oven commonly results in burns from spilling hot food or while heating water. For Example, heating a cup of water in the microwave differs from heating water on a stove, where steam can escape. Water that has been heated above its boiling point but does rather than show signs of boiling is said to be superheated.

The result is that bubbles cannot form in a cup in a microwave, in contrast to boiling water on the stove. By moving or dipping a spoon into the superheated water, we overlook the risk of causing it to bubble and boil quickly, which could end in an explosion. The result could be severe burns.

Injuries caused by hot containers, overheated food, superheated water, or exploding liquids account for most microwave-related injuries. The majority of injuries are not caused by radiation. Nowhere does the food become radioactive or nutrient-less or cause a change in DNA, due to cooking in the microwave.

4. Risks of Microwave Cooking

The same way microwave radiation heats food. It can heat bodily tissue. A painful burn may result from prolonged exposure to microwaves. Due to the lack of adequate blood flow to remove excess heat, two body parts—the eyes and the testicles are particularly susceptible to Radio Frequency heating.

In addition, because of how sensitive the eye’s lens is to extreme heat,  prolonged exposure to microwave radiation can result in cataracts. But only exposure to a lot of microwave radiation can result in these kinds of wounds, such as burns and cataracts.

Regarding handling hot foods and beverages, consumers should use them with caution.

5. Microwave Cooking and Carcinogens

Non-ionizing radiation includes radio waves, microwaves, and the light we can see. People are advised to avoid overexposure to the sun when UV levels are high because ultraviolet (UV) light is the only non-ionizing radiation that can cause cancer. It is unknown if microwaves can cause cancers.

Although microwave radiation is used in microwave ovens to heat food, this does not make the food radioactive. The food heated with microwaves is done because the radiation water molecules to vibrate. The foundation of traditional cooking is the food absorbing heat energy, which is different from this.

6. Microwave Oven Safety Measures

Microwave ovens are built to keep the microwaves inside themselves. The radiations only exist when the oven is turned ON and the door is closed. Design constraints keep leakage in and around the glass door to maintain the signal which is significantly lower than what is advised by International Standards.

However, microwave leakage could still happen near soiled, damaged, or altered microwave ovens. Therefore, it’s essential to maintain the Microwave Oven in good working order. The safety interlock devices installed on the door to stop microwaves from being generated while it is open should be tested by users to ensure proper operation.

Young repairman fixing and repairing microwave oven
Image by Elnur from Unlimphotos

The oven’s outer shell and the door seals should keep clean and free of any readily apparent damage. The microwave oven should not be used until it is fixed, if any fault is discovered, or if any parts of the microwave oven are damaged.

7. Facts and Myths

The following Myths and Facts will detailly explain about doing microwaves cause cancer.

Myth: Using a microwave causes cancer.

Fact: Radiofrequency (RF) radiations are at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum, and are used in microwave technology. Whether or not you use a microwave, this kind of radiation is all around you every minute of the day.

Even though microwave ovens produce more concentrated RF radiation, it is safe to use. Neither gamma rays nor x-rays are produced from microwave ovens. Therefore, a skin burn may be the worst consequence of microwave radiation leakage. However, that can only occur if the microwave has undergone some sort of alteration or damage.

Myth: Microwaves turn food radioactive.

Fact: Speeding car detection, telephone, and television communications are all done using non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation or microwaves. Microwaves, however, have a low energy level and cannot radioactively contaminate food. The technique that microwaves heat food is different. 

Myth: The bacteria in food are destroyed by the microwave oven.

Fact: Bacteria found inside or on the surfaces of foods are killed by the heat the microwaves produce, not by the microwaves themselves. Food is cooked in a microwave by heating water molecules. Or, to put it another way, microwaves make water molecules vibrate, and this friction causes the water to turn into steam, which heats and cooks food.

Myth: Food cooked in a microwave oven is less in rich nutrients than food cooked on a stove.

Fact: Only the food is heated when cooking in a microwave oven, not the entire oven compartment will get heated. Compared to other cooking methods, this quick cooking may help microwaved food retain more vitamins and minerals. It is especially true when food is microwaved without any additional water.

Myths: Microwaved water will damage DNA.

Fact: Water does not naturally contain DNA, but it can become contaminated with the DNA of living things. More importantly, as was previously mentioned, microwave cooking only causes the molecules in the food to vibrate; it does not affect their structure.

8. Conclusion

In many situations, cooking in a microwave may be a good choice. While compared with traditional cooking, microwave cooking retains nutrients like vitamins and phytochemicals better. Through features like safety locks that prevent the oven from operating when the door is open, microwaves are subject to strict regulations. This can prevent high levels of radiation leakages. 

Do microwaves cause cancer
Image by
Cottonbro studio from Unsplash

The FDA permits microwave radiation leakage at a rate of 5 milliwatts per square centimeter at distances of two inches or more from the microwave, which is a significant reduction from the level considered harmful to people.

While we can reduce the amount of microwave radiation we are exposed to, by moving farther away from the appliance while it is on, the waves emitted from this appliance are not harmful to people at any range. If the microwave build-up is under the FDA-permitted levels and features it is very much safe to cook in a microwave.

Harina is a Freelance WordPress Writer. She writes about Technology, Health & Wellness and Travels.

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