Can Microwaves Cause Cancer?

In decree to determine if microwave ovens can cause cancer, there are several factors to consider, including :

  • Whether electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range could cause cancer (such as by standing near a microwave oven)
  • Whether microwave cooking can create carcinogens in foods
  • How microwave cooking may affect the nutrients in foods that may protect against cancer

We ‘ll look at each of these questions individually, discuss how the effects may differ with different foods, and partake some pointers on when microwave inflame could actually be dangerous.

Asian mother and child using a microwave oven
Prapat Aowsakorn / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Microwaves and Cancer Risk

On the electromagnetic spectrum, microwaves are a type of low-energy radiation sickness classified as non-ionizing radiotherapy. other forms of non-ionizing radiation include :

  • Radio waves (slightly lower energy/frequency radiation)
  • Infrared/visible light waves (slightly higher energy/frequency radiation)

The type of radiation sickness that has been associated with cancer, in contrast, is ionizing radiation. This includes higher energy/frequency radiation such as :

  • Ultraviolet light
  • X-rays
  • Gamma rays
  • Cosmic rays

Ionizing radiation has the ability to knock electrons off of atoms in molecules ( which can damage DNA and potentially lead to cancer ), whereas non-ionizing radiation ( such as microwaves ) do not. In summation, microwaves can not make food radioactive .

How They Work and Potential exposure

A microwave oven is powered by a device known as a magnetron. The magnetron converts electricity to microwave energy. When food is placed in the microwave oven, this energy causes water molecules within food to vibrate. These vibrations, in change state, cause the liberation of heat. During microwave heat, the actual structure of the food is not changed in any means .

When a microwave oven is working by rights ( and the door has a good seal ), very little microwave energy can leak out. According to the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ), the sum that does then is considered to be well below the level that could cause harm to humans.

Microwave Cooking and Carcinogens

If radiation from a microwave is not a concern, what about the potential for carcinogens being formed in some foods, or alternatively, be leached into foods from cooking containers ?

Carcinogens That May Be Formed During Cooking

In the action of heat, chemical reactions may occur in some foods that result in the formation of carcinogens .

Acrylamides are chemicals that are formed when sugars and starches are heated at senior high school temperatures and are classified as group 2A carcinogens according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer ( IARC ). While a few studies have found a link between acrylamide inhalation and cancers of the kidneys, uterus, and ovaries, most studies have not.

Whether microwave heating system is more or less likely to result in acrylamide constitution is changeable at this meter. Some studies suggest that microwave heating on high office may result in greater acrylamide formation, but the inverse may be genuine when microwaves are used to blanch or thaw foods on low power.

What About Microwave Cooking Prior to Grilling?

Microwave cooking prior to grilling may lower the concentration of carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ( PAHs ) and heterocyclic compound amines, which are chemicals formed when muscle kernel, including beef, pork barrel, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan-fry or grilling immediately over an open flame.

Plastics in the Microwave and Cancer Risk

While there are no direct studies linking plastics in the microwave to cancer, it is important to use only plastics that are considered “ microwave condom ” according to the FDA. For many people, this is n’t a major concern, as plastics would n’t be recommended in a conventional oven either. There is concern that some plastics could melt to some degree, and chemicals present in the plastic could leach into foods .

Some plastics should be avoided due to potential exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals ( EDCs ). EDCs are chemicals that can mimic or alter hormonal processes in the body and have been linked to cancers of the thyroid gland, breast, and prostate .

Two of these, in detail, are best avoid :

  • Bisphenol A (BPA): A substance used to make plastics hard (and clear).
  • Phthalates: These are added to some plastics in order to make them softer and flexible.

When Microwave Cooking May Lower Carcinogens

There are some situations in which microwaving foods may actually reduce your exposure to carcinogens, and hence, the gamble of cancer .

When kernel is grilled or cooked by other methods ( with the inflame over 300 degrees F ), substances known as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can form .

  • Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when amino acids, creatine (found in muscle), and sugars react while heating at high temperatures.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed from smoke that sticks to meat after juices and fats drip onto the flames beneath the meat.

In summation to being known to cause the kind of changes in deoxyribonucleic acid that can lead to cancer ( being mutagenic ), the consumption of grill meats has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate gland cancers in some studies ( but not all ) .

Since vegetables do not contain creatine or animal fats, grilling vegetables is generally dependable from these carcinogens .

Effects of Microwave Cooking on Foods

Any method acting of heating can alter food. consequently, when looking at changes in food subject, it ‘s crucial to look not merely at raw foods anterior to cooking, but early cook methods. Common cooking methods in accession to microwave heating include :

  • Baking
  • Boiling
  • Blanching
  • Steaming
  • Frying
  • Air frying
  • Pressure cooking
  • Grilling

In addition to the cook method, food subject may vary with cooking clock, temperature, and moisture levels. Of these, the moisture level is frequently most crucial as water system can leach out nutrients from many foods. With steam, the food is not in direct contact with the water system so the nutrients are often less likely to leach out into the body of water .

many vegetables already have a significant water concentration so that body of water does not need to be added during microwave heat ( and hence, nutrients are less likely to be leached out ) .

In addition, the effect of heating on different foods may vary based on :

  • The water content of the food
  • Structure of the food matrix (softening of the food matrix of some foods via cooking can make the nutrients more or less accessible for digestion) 
  • Chemical nature of the nutrient (phytochemical) being evaluated
  • Food storage time after preparation (nutrients may either decrease or, as with cooked carrots, increase with storage)

Foods contain macronutrients—such as proteins—carbohydrates and fats, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Cooking methods may vary in how they affect these nutrients .


Phytonutrients are establish chemicals that have a wide roll of functions in the body. Some potentially play a function in the prevention and/or treatment of cancer. They may do this by performing as antioxidants, by enhancing unsusceptibility, by blocking the constitution of carcinogens, and other mechanisms.

Some major categories of phytonutrients include :

  • Polyphenols (such as flavonoids)
  • Terpenoids (such as the carotenoid beta-carotene)
  • Thiols (such as glucosinolates)

Phytonutrients often give color and relish to fruits and vegetables, and are the reason that some oncologists recommend eating a “ rainbow of foods. ”

An aged ( 2003 ) study raised refer about microwave cook as it was found that microwaving broccoli removed 97.2 % of the flavonoids ( vs. 66 % with boiling and only 11.1 % with steaming ). In this study, steaming resulted in the best memory of flavonoids. The problem with this discipline, however, is that the broccoli was cooked in the microwave with add water. Since broccoli ( and most vegetables ) have a significant natural moisture content, microwave cook can be done without adding body of water .

A different sketch looking at a another type of phytochemical in broccoli ( glucosinolates ) found—in contrast—that microwave cooking fell in the center of the spectrum. Glucosinolates were best preserved with piping and least preserved with churn or stir-frying .

More late studies suggest that microwaves may actually be one of the better ways to cook vegetables ( american samoa long as water is not added ). A 2019 learn looking at the polyphenol capacity in broccoli following three cooking methods demonstrated that microwave heating resulted in the best retention of polyphenols. This was followed by steaming .

Since the food matrix of different foods varies, the effect of microwave cook on broccoli may not translate to other vegetables .

A 2020 discipline looked at the effect of boil, steaming, and microwaving on the food subject of cauliflower, carrots, and dessert potatoes. The stud found that :

  • Boiling reduced phenolic concentration and antioxidant activity, but enhanced the availability of carotene.
  • Steaming increased both phenolics and carotenoids.
  • Microwave cooking preserved carotenoids and increased total phenolics.

In this case, both microwave and steaming had no damaging effect on the phytonutrients measured, and actually increase activity in some cases .

What About Garlic?

few studies have been done looking at the effect of cooking on garlic alone, but it ‘s noteworthy that the cooking of garlic anterior to cook may be equally or more significant than the cook method used.
In one older study, either 60 seconds of microwave cook or 45 minutes of oven cooking blocked most of garlic ‘s anti-cancer effects ( by a specific measurement ). When the garlic was first prepare ( such as in a garlic press ) and allowed to sit for 10 minutes before heat, the effect of cook had a lot less affect. ( This is one reason why some chefs first prepare the garlic and allow it to stand while preparing other ingredients. )

Vitamins and Minerals

The effects of heating on vitamins and minerals can be different than effects on phytochemicals, and in the case of vitamin C, microwave cook may be the best choice .

The 2020 study looking at cauliflower, carrots, and odoriferous potatoes besides evaluated vitamin C contentedness with boil, steamer, and microwaving. Boiling and steaming both significantly reduced vitamin C message. In contrast, microwaving best preserved the vitamin, possibly due to less leaching into water than boiling and a shorter cook meter than steaming.

Reducing Carcinogens When Grilling/Heating Meats

Preheating meats in the microwave prior to cooking may reduce the formation of both categories of carcinogens. By preheating meats in the microwave ( for 60 to 90 seconds ), the surface of the meat does not get as hot, and consequently there is reduce constitution of HCAs. In accession, precooking and throwing away juices released may reduce the geological formation of PAHs. Decreasing the cook clock time ascribable to preheating can reduce the formation of both .

Risks of Microwave Cooking

There are some risks associated with microwave cook that may differ from other methods of food cooking .

radiation Injuries

While very rare, a few cases of radiation sickness injury ( not cancer, but burns or cataracts ) have been documented related to improper haunt of a break microwave or strange circumstances. In these cases, a big come of microwave radiation was allowed to leak through the oven seals. fortunately, the FDA regulates the design and fabrication of microwave ovens so that this should not occur.

Microwave ovens should not be used if the door cachet is broken, or if the light/turntable remains on with the door clear .

Uneven/Irregular heat

possibly the most normally encountered risk of microwave food training is that of odd heat. Microwave rays penetrate food merely to a depth of one or sol inches. For this rationality, foods may be quite hot on the inside while cold ( or even frozen ) on the inside. Some foods like summit milk may burn on the external even though they remain cold on the inside. Uneven inflame, in turn, can cause more than one problem.

Burns may occur if a person tests one depart of a meal thinking it is the right temperature but another part is very hot. This is one of the basal concerns behind the recommendation that baby bottles not be heated in the microwave .

Another significant concern, however, is that of food poison. Some foods—especially undercooked meats—could result in food poison ascribable to inadequate inflame of part of the meal. The claim incidence is unknown, but outbreaks of foodborne illness have now been clearly documented due to inadequate microwave heating.

When cooking sensitive meats in the microwave, it ‘s important to stir the food frequently and make indisputable it is adequately heated throughout. Checking with a food thermometer is a good choice ( american samoa long as it is done after a exhaustive rousing and the inmost separate of the kernel is tested ) .

plosion of Liquids

normally, when heating water and other liquids on the stove it ‘s possible to determine if it ‘s boiling based on visible cues ( such as bubbling ). In the microwave, however, superheated body of water may be created that does not appear to boil. When removed from the microwave this can actually result in an plosion ( and the likely for austere burns ). Adding solids to water, such as boodle or clamant coffee, reduces the luck that superheating will occur .

While rare, there have been several cases of severe facial burns due to exploding microwaved foods. In addition to superheated water, this normally occurs with foods such as eggs and potatoes. In cosmopolitan, the risk is very first gear if you follow recommendations on heating times for coarse foods. In accession, it ‘s best to limit the cook time at first, and complete the full-time recommendation only if needed .

Metals in the Microwave

unintentionally placing metallic element objects in the microwave may confer more gamble for the microwave than people, but is however inexpedient. It ‘s important to avoid placing any metal or aluminum thwart in the microwave. This includes metallic painting on cups or bowl, twist ties, etc. that may not immediately be obvious .

Microwave Oven Safety

A few simpleton pointers can help ensure your microwave oven is safe and effective in preparing the foods you eat. These include :

  • Making sure the door is properly shut
  • Using microwave-safe containers
  • Covering your bowls with paper plates or napkins
  • Standing back a few feet and not directly in front of the microwave
  • Being aware of the potential fo superheated water
  • Using the turntable and stir food often while cooking
  • Not exceeding recommended cooking times
  • Letting hot food sit for some time before removing it from the microwave
  • Using a potholder when removing hot bowls

A Word From Verywell

While we surely do not have a comprehensive understand of the best cook method acting for each particular type of food, microwave cook may be a thoroughly choice in many cases. fortunately, studies in holocene years suggest that nutrients such as phytochemicals and vitamins are retained better than was thought in the past. And the public toilet of microwave cook might even give you time to eat those cancer-fighting foods like broccoli you might otherwise forfeit .

While other cooking methods such as steaming might be ideal in some cases, the stress of trying to cook everything absolutely might just outweigh any belittled differences in alimentary message. Until we know more, using a assortment of cooking methods, eating a wide variety show of colored foods, and practicing the honest-to-god proverb “ easing in everything ” remains a wise choice .