WHO Says Cell Phones May Cause Cancer
By Kristina Fiore, Staff Writer, MedPage Today|
Published: May 31, 2011
A work group of the World Health Organization has declared the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones to be "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
The declaration was made after a week-long meeting of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, which involved 31 scientists from 14 countries, who decided there was enough evidence linking use of cellphones to an increased risk of glioblastoma.
The declaration puts these energy fields into the IARC's group 2B for carcinogenic agents -- one notch above compounds "not classifiable" as cancer-causing because of inadequate evidence.
Other agents in group 2B include progestins and anti-epileptics such as phenytoin and phenobarbital.
Jonathan Samet, MD, of the University of Southern California and chair of the work group, said the "evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification."
"The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cellphones and cancer risk," Samet said in a statement.
The IARC's group 2A classification -- probably carcinogenic to humans -- includes shift work involving circadian changes and high-temperature frying.
Benzene, hexavalent chromium, mustard gas, solar radiation, and other radioactive elements are among the agency's highest class of carcinogens, group 1, those with "sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity."
The WHO work group did not find that there was sufficient evidence linking cancer and environmental or occupational exposures with microwave energy.
The latest large-registry study on cancer and cellphone use -- the Interphone study, sponsored by both government and industry sources and reported last year -- found no conclusive link between talk time and glioblastoma. There was a significant increase associated with the highest levels of use, but researchers said spending that amount of time on the phone was "implausible."
In addition, odds ratios for other categories of cellphone use appeared to be protective.
Still, a recent study by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse -- known for their fMRI studies of the brains of addicts -- found that active cellphones changed glucose metabolism in the parts of the brain closest to the antenna.
Although the clinical significance of the findings is still unclear, it provides some of the first evidence that the brain is sensitive to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.
Antonio Chiocca, MD, chair of neurosurgery at Ohio State University, who was not involved in the work group, said in an email to MedPage Today and ABC News that the evidence tying cell phones to brain cancer is "still pretty circumstantial."
"The follow-up hasn't been long enough," he said. "If it takes 20-plus years for the effects to be seen, we may still not have enough time to really know whether the use is linked to brain cancer."
Still, he said that it wouldn't do any harm if the public were to hold their phones further from their heads, or use ear pieces.
An estimated five billion people around the world use cellphones.
The wireless industry group Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) emphasized that the IARC classification "does not mean cellphones cause cancer."
The group pointed out that in the past, IARC has given the same classification to "pickled vegetables and coffee," and highlighted that the Federal Communications Commission and the FDA have concluded that there's no firm evidence linking cellphones and cancer.
This article was developed in collaboration with ABC News.
· 10 Years Later, Cell Phone Study Inconclusive
Cell Phones Affect Brain Activity
WHO mobile phone-cancer link 'very weak'
By Barbara Miller
WHO has classified mobile phone usage as possibly carcinogenic. (Simon Brown)
Medical experts say the public should not be alarmed by a finding by the World Health Organisation that mobile phone usage could be linked to cancer.
WHO classified mobile phone usage as possibly carcinogenic after reviewing the available evidence.
But it also said more research was needed and cancer specialists say that if people are worried there are ways for them to reduce their exposure to the risks.
The WHO findings come after 31 scientists from 14 countries met for a week to review the evidence to date on whether electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones is linked to cancer.
The answer was inconclusive but WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) gave mobile phone usage a category 2B classification, meaning it is possibly carcinogenic to humans.
The agency says there is some limited evidence for a link between mobile phones and gliomas, a type of brain cancer.
The evidence was inadequate to draw conclusions for other cancers.
But Cancer Council NSW chief executive Dr Andrew Penman people should not panic about the findings.
"I think it's an admission by the WHO that the evidence such as it is in mobile phones and cancer is very weak," he said.
"Sure, it recognises there are some studies that show an increased risk for brain cancer but this is very inconsistent."
Dr Penman says the 2B classification category only means a link is possible.
"We continue to say that we think the evidence is weak. People should not be unduly alarmed but it is wise to take precautions about your degree of exposure to mobile phone and other microwave radiation," he said.
"So in the case of mobile phones, the use of hands-free systems, the use of texting rather than telephone conversation and the use of landlines, all play a role I think in reducing the degree of exposure."
Dr Penman says he believes the WHO are just being cautious by reporting these findings.
"I think it is extraordinarily difficult scientifically to absolutely rule out the possibility [of a cancer link]," he said.
"It's in many ways easier to find a positive association than it is to rule out a negative association.
"I think WHO is really just being very cautious on this issue."
IARC director Christopher Wild says more research is being carried out.
But Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association chief executive Chris Althaus says while he supports further research, he does not expect it to find a link.
"If the past is any guide, no they won't find anything because there's just no concrete evidence anywhere and this is after decades of very, very close study," he said.
"So we're not expecting something to be found."
IARC says it will publish a concise report online summarising its main conclusions in the next few days.
Weighing cell phone cancer risks
Jessica Van Sack By Jessica Van Sack
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Consumers who are concerned that a respected international panel yesterday classified cell phones as potential cancer-causing agents should limit their risk by using an earpiece and decreasing mobile phone use, especially among children, the American Cancer Society said yesterday.
"It is up to each individual to determine what changes they wish to make, if any, after weighing the potential benefits and risks of using a cell phone," said Otis Bawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. "If some feel the potential risk outweighs the benefit, they can take actions, including limiting cell phone use, or using a headset. Limiting use among children also seems reasonable in light of this uncertainty."
A working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries meeting with the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer yesterday classified radio-frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" based on some evidence that exposure increases the risk of glioma, a rare and deadly type of brain cancer. At a meeting in Lyon, France, the group analyzed dozens of studies on the topic.
Phonemakers are likely to continue downplaying any threat and citing studies that have found no link between cancer and cell phones, said Charles Golvin, a top telecom analyst at Forrester Research.
"When you get right down to it, this is a piece of electronics that is transmitting electromagnetic radiation," Golvin said. "The only way to make a cell phone stop doing that is to turn it off and take its battery out."