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Will Using a Microwave Oven Increase My Cancer Risk?

To microwave, or not to microwave? That is the question.

Find out if those waves are really as scary as everyone says. By Dawn Chen

Is it safe to use a microwave? Will using a microwave cause cancer?

Photo: Maksim Kostenko / www.123rf.com

I have a microwave oven at home, and it has honestly made my life so much easier when it comes to heating up food. I’ll use it to warm up leftover food, and even use it to clean my kitchen sponge (just nuke the sponge for 30 seconds to kill off bacteria and germs). Yet whenever the microwave oven is on, I’m always careful not to stand near it, for fear that there may be radiation leaks, or that it’s somehow hazardous to my health. 

(Also read: 9 Lifestyle changes to reduce your cancer risk)

It’s time to finally answer the age old question: Will using a microwave oven really increase my cancer risk? Experts from Parkway Cancer Centre – medical director and senior consultant Dr Ang Peng Tiam and senior consultant Dr See Hui Ti, say you don’t have to worry as there is no scientific basis for this claim. 

(Also read: Can you really get cancer from eating bacon?)

Microwave ovens work by super charging water molecules in food, causing them to rapidly vibrate and produce heat, which in turn cooks the food. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), microwave ovens are safe for heating and cooking food as long as they are used in accordance with the manufacturers’ instructions. The WHO also states that “it is important to realise that food cooked in a microwave oven does not become ‘radioactive’. Nor does any microwave energy remain in the cavity or the food after the microwave oven is switched off.” Simply put, microwave ovens just heat food, and don’t cause them to become dangerous or more cancer-causing. 

Here are some tips on using a microwave oven safely:

- Always check that your microwave oven is in good working condition. If the door doesn’t close properly or is warped or bent, it’s time to replace your appliance.

- Only use containers, bowls, plates or cups that are labelled microwave-safe. Plastics that aren’t meant to be microwaved can melt and leak chemicals into your food when nuked. 

- Avoid using metal or aluminium foil in the microwave oven.

- Do not overheat food for too long either, as the nutritional value of food can be quickly compromised when overcooked. On this note, be very careful not to overheat plain water as well. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that doing so may lead to “erupted hot water phenomena” where the water becomes hot beyond boiling temperature, and violently explodes out of the cup upon movement.

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