I'm concerned about the safety and mechanism of RF cautery. The frequency of the radio waves used is 4Mhz so normally there should not be any DNA damage BUT the thing you read everywhere is that only UV, X-rays and Gamma rays have enough energy to pop an electron from the orbit. Can't the same energy be reached with radio waves (higher amplitude instead of higher frequency). After all the RF cautery evaporates the cells why wouldn't it damage the DNA of the remaining cells?

  • $\begingroup$ Please read the basics of electromagnetic radiation. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG May 15 '15 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ This might be better suited to physics, but I've answered it anyway from a biological point of view. $\endgroup$ – Resonating May 15 '15 at 21:53

The thing about DNA is that it's very durable, compared to the rest of the cell. It's not too difficult to extract DNA from cooked and processed food, even though the definition of "cooked" is "denatured and broken many of the proteins in the cell". The long DNA strands may be broken into long pieces, but overall the DNA holds up very well to heat. There's no risk of DNA damage to neighboring regions with RF radiation because the primary way RF energy destroys DNA is through heating, and at the temperatures where DNA starts to accumulate damage the cell around it is cooked/destroyed.

The quantum explanation for why ionizing radiation can destroy DNA is that high-frequency radiation is powerful enough to zip through the surrounding tissue and break/damage individual DNA molecules. Individual radio photons can't "gang up" on a DNA strand to do the same thing because of how quantum mechanics works, so you won't be able to break the strand or damage the bases without high-energy ionizing radiation.

Metaphorically speaking it's like trying to get at a peach pit. Ionizing radiation is like a knife, it zips through the flesh and can get at a peach pit without damaging the peach much. RF radiation is like a belt sander. You can definitely get at the peach pit, but you'll cause a lot of collateral damage doing it.

Mutations or DNA damage that might cause cancer can only happen to cells that are alive that receive DNA damage. If the DNA is damaged by heat, the cell around it is dead, and that DNA damage doesn't really matter.

I encourage you to read about ionizing radiation and the photoelectric effect.

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer. What you say does make sense. But the thing is that some (turned into a lot during the years) studies do show DNA damage in the microwave range. Quote: "The early studies showed that DNA tended to absorb microwave radiation “in the kilocycle range” (Takashima 1963, 1966, Grant 1978, Grandolfo 1983), but no biocidal effects in the range of 1 MHz to 60 MHz were observed." (rfsafe.com/dna-and-the-microwave-effect). $\endgroup$ – Al Bundy May 16 '15 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ I don't trust RFsafe (they're trying to sell me something). There have been no conclusive studies linking RF or microwave radiation to nonthermal damage of DNA, and several studies showing no effect. Either the effect is ridiculously hard to find, or it doesn't exist. Long story short: it doesn't exist. $\endgroup$ – Resonating May 16 '15 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent response. I especially like the knife vs. belt sander example :) $\endgroup$ – MattDMo May 16 '15 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @AlBundy interesting that the page you linked to doesn't indicate where the study was published. Anybody can run a study and publish on the internet, citations and all, but unless it's peer-reviewed and approved by a group of independent scientists in the field, it's meaningless. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo May 16 '15 at 19:17

The EMF/RF doesn’t directly damage the cell. It just deranges cellular metabolism.

The free radicals that are produced by this change in metabolism are what causes the damage.


In contrast with Xrays and gamma rays, Microwave radiation does not have sufficient power to directly break covalent bonds in DNA molecules. But microwave RF can produce resonance interactions with ions and with charged macromolecules, and such interactions can significantly alter biochemical functions. A large body of research has shown that microwave RF causes an increased production of free radicals and reactive oxidant species in living tissues, and that this increased oxidant stress damages DNA. This damage can and does occur at power levels well below those levels that could produce damage by thermal mechanisms. Any chronic exposure to conditions that damage DNA can lead to an increased risk of cancer.

Evidence of increased risk of certain types of cancer has been demonstrated in groups with occupational exposure to microwave RF, including radio technicians in private industry, military personnel, commercial airline pilots, and ham radio operators. Elevated levels of cancer have been demonstrated in populations with increased residential exposure to radio transmission towers. And in the last ten years, studies fro Israel, Germany, Austria, and Brazil have documented significant increased in breast cancer and other cancers in individuals living less than 500 meters from cell phone towers, with measured exposure levels much lower than those permitted by current FCC guidelines.

Research has also shown that RF exposure levels well within current guidelines can cause DNA damage and reduced fertility in insects, birds, amphibians and mammals, and can lower sperm counts, sperm motility, and sperm motility in human beings


  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your detailed answer. Though you provided a reference it would be great if it is an actual peer-reviewed article as they are considered more authentic than reports and monologues. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Feb 29 '16 at 18:29

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.