There are a lot of rumors that the heat from a laptop causes cancer.

But I haven't found a lot of proper citations in these articles. Would there be be anything else regarding putting your laptop on your lap causing cancer?

I don't mean the minor warm air near a laptop, because nobody is making that claim. I mean the significant heat going direct to skin, caused by putting it on your lap/thighs/belly.

  • 1
    subtle XKCD reference -- the mouse-over blurb cannot be missed: He holds the laptop like that on purpose, to make you cringe.
    – nik
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 17:11
  • Cancer seems like a bit of a stretch...there may be other detrimental physiological changes due to prolonged heating but I would not figure cancer to be one of them. People have been living without air conditioning in hotter climates (baking in the sun for hours a day, which I would estimate to be hotter) for quite some time.
    – Nick T
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 19:30
  • @NickT There are some effects from the laptop heat, like pigmentation. People do get skin cancer from being under intense sunlight, the kind that causes pigmentation. There is some correlation between skin cancer and pigmentation obviously, but IIRC the skin cancer is caused by UV rays not the heat itself.
    – Muz
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 2:55
  • @Muz No...pigmentation is a response to the UV light (which is absolutely carcinogenic), which is totally absent from a heater. The point I was trying to make is that "warm" is fairly relative.
    – Nick T
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 6:31
  • 1
    According to the daily mail, computers both cause and prevent cancer
    – Jamiec
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 10:37

1 Answer 1


Two quick references.

  1. Can You Hear Me Now? The Truth about Cell Phones and Cancer,
    Michael Shermer in Scientific American a couple of years back
    I know you are talking about laptops -- do read on.
  2. Does home-WiFi expose you to less radiation than using the 3G on your cell-phone?
    (this one is local here)


  • These laptop stories appear to have a background in the mobile phone ones
  • Radio emissions and heat producing actions of laptop (like the phone) are usually suspect
    (in these stories)
  • The heat itself in the worst case might scar you but it is not sufficient to cause Cancer or Tumors; the nearest I can think of is a bad battery blowing up in your hands
  • RSI or eye-strain is a lot more likely problem and you should care about these a lot more; also of importance is -- distraction from real life (as the mind tends to avoid moving focus away from the screen :-)
  • Which brings us to the radio angle
  • There are a lot of indications that mobile phone radio is not strong enough power (even the 3G version) to cause such problems
  • WiFi is in the same ball park (if not further)

With these things in mind I'll suggest reading those two references that discuss and elaborate at length.

  • 1
    The link about Wifi radiation doesn't hold true if the laptop is on your lap (close enough to feel heat). It makes the assumption that the Wifi is not against your skin - radiation goes down exponentially with distance. Since it has a higher power output, it should have higher radiation. But the point of the question is that some people say that the heat itself causes cancer.
    – Muz
    Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 3:23
  • @Muz "radiation goes down exponentially with distance". No, with 1/(distance squared).
    – Jens
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 12:22

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