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WHO Panel Connects Potential Cancer Cause to Cellphone Use

5 comments

As reported by the Associated Press, the New York Times‘ "Well" blog, and by CNN.com (among others), an international panel of experts has issued a statement announcing their findings that cellphones are possibly carcinogenic to humans after reviewing details from dozens of published studies.

The statement was issued in Lyon, France, on Tuesday by the International Agency for Research on Cancer after a weeklong meeting of experts. As reported by Bloomberg, the IARC reviewed possible links between cancer and the type of electromagnetic radiation found in cellphones, microwaves and radar. The agency is the cancer arm of the World Health Organization.

A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the U.S., made the decision after reviewing peer-reviewed studies on cell phone safety. The team found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." This means they found some evidence of increase in glioma and acoustic neuroma brain cancer for mobile phone users, but have not been able to draw conclusions for other types of cancers.

Of course, if the WHO decides after further consideration that cellphones are indeed dangerous to users, this news is potentially the biggest story of the year. The agency has known for many years the direct ties to cancer that dangerous drugs, medical devices and treatment therapies can sometimes possess – but according to recent research by cellphone industry group CTIA, more than 80% of US citizens own a cellphone, so this news could shape an entire agency.

The panel of experts classified cellphones in category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans. Other substances in that category include the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

Last year, results of a large study found no clear link between cellphones and cancer. But some advocacy groups contend the study raised serious concerns because it showed a hint of a possible connection between very heavy phone use and glioma, a rare but often deadly form of brain tumor. However, the numbers in that subgroup weren’t sufficient to make the case. The study was controversial because it began with people who already had cancer and asked them to recall how often they used their cellphones more than a decade ago. – Associated Press report, May 31, 2011

Cellphones send signals to nearby towers via radio frequency waves, a form of energy similar to FM radio waves and microwaves. But the radiation produced by cellphones cannot directly damage DNA and is different from stronger types of radiation like X-rays or ultraviolet light. At very high levels, radio frequency waves from cellphones can heat up body tissue, but that is not believed to damage human cells.

"The biggest problem we have is that we know most environmental factors take several decades of exposure before we really see the consequences. What microwave radiation does in most simplistic terms is similar to what happens to food in microwaves, essentially cooking the brain. So in addition to leading to a development of cancer and tumors, there could be a whole host of other effects like cognitive memory function, since the memory temporal lobes are where we hold our cell phones." Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to CNN.com

The European Environmental Agency has pushed for more studies, saying cell phones could be as big a public health risk as smoking, asbestos and leaded gasoline. Manufacturers of many popular cell phones already warn consumers to keep their device away from their body: the Apple iPhone 4 safety manual, for instance, says users’ radiation exposure should not exceed FCC guidelines. This means keeping the phone at least 15 millimeters (5/8 inch) away from your body when using the phone over a cellular network.

5 Comments

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  1. up arrow

    Thanks Brett for writing about this important topic. For those concerned about radiofrequency radiation (RFR) from cell phones, read the top 10 tips for safer cell phone use.

    In addition to brain tumors, which can take decades to form, research has shown cell phone use can increase your risk of parotid gland tumors and effect sperm quality. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-412179/Men-use-mobile-phones-face-increased-risk-infertility.html

    People may not realize that RFR from cell phones can cause:

    Headaches
    Insomnia
    Hormone disruption
    Impaired cognition
    Difficulty concentrating Inattention
    Depression
    Loss of memory

    The WHO determined that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields are a possible human carcinogen. These fields are also emitted from many other common products such as Wi-Fi, laptops cordless phones, wireless video game controllers,and baby monitors. There is no research on these products, except one on Wi-Fi in which it was determined that sperm quality was negatively impacted when a male keeps a wireless laptop on his lap. We simply don’t know if these products negatively impact our health over the long-term.

    Children are most vulnerable. For example,RFR penetrates much further into the brain of an child than an adult.You can see an MRI image of the RFR penetration comparing a child’s brain to an adult brain at http://www.centerforsaferwireless.org/Cell-Phones-and-Children.php.

  2. Ellen Marks says:
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    Thank you for reporting the truth. This is of great importance. Unfortunately this despicable industry is attempting to downplay this and continue to mislead the public. They have their new sound bites such as comparing this to pickled vegetables- not funny. There is a fermented vegetable in China that causes esophageal cancer. Their next sound bite is brain tumors are not on the rise in the U.S. We have seen an increase in 20-29 year olds- the same group using only cell phones. Our brain registry is 5 years behind and there is a long latency period in gliomas.
    My husband has a glioma attributed to his 20 years of ipsilateral cell phone use. I have testified to congress and met so many other people dying or now dead and their neurosurgeons told them it was their cell phones. I beg people to realize the WHO is conservative and this is a critical issue. Many doctors have come out against the WHO statement- they are either egotistical or receiving money from this industry. Even if only possible why would people not want to take precautions? Because they are addicted and creatures of habit? We need the experts to speak out reinforcing the WHO statement and we are working on that now.
    We never thought this would happen to us. The 28 year old who died from this never thought it would happen to him. Ted Kennedy. Johnnie Cochran. Seve Ballesteros. YES, it can happen to you. DO not hold it to your head or body. READ YOUR USER MANUAL. The FCC requires the safe distance information – if you hold it to the body you are exceeding the FCC exposure limits!
    You will be seeing major changes soon and I thank the IARC and WHO and Dr. Samet for their courage and committment to public health. The doctors speaking out against the 31 experts took the hippocritical oath and they should be ashamed of themselves for misleading innocent people. Dr. Snyderman, Dr. Maris and Dr. Feytching are just a few- they are not the experts and the WHO is.
    Ever wonder why this industry resists as they do- they were never given liability insurance! They remind me of my kids when they were teenagers. Grow up CTIA and get it right. Otherwise we all lose. Thank you.

  3. Eric says:
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    Studies from professor Lennart Hardell had a strong impact on the decision by IARC. He writes about the meeting in his blog (in Swedish), a translation can be found here:

    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=sv&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Flennarthardell.wordpress.com%2F

  4. up arrow

    It is also interesting to note that the large cell phone companies are actively developing products that will reduce the amount of radiation to the brain from cell phones. The RFs emitted from the phones do penetrate the skull and blood-brain barrier. In a 5 year old child, 75% of the radiation from a cell phone penetrates the skull.

    It’s not only brain cancer that is the issue – kidney cancer is as well. Unless the phone is completely off when in a back pocket, the RFs are penetrating into the kidneys.

    Many countries now have warnings and/or laws pertaining to the use of cell phones by children and pregnant women. As a result, many schools have banned the use of Wi-Fi and cell phones (not due to discipline, but due to independent studies that have confirmed EMF radiation with many serious health issues.

  5. devra davis says:
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    Italian and Austrian workers receive compensation for cellphone related injuries, including brain cancer. Americans have the right to know that cellphones are two-way microwave radios that must be used safely and not held directly next to the brain or body–as the manufacturers’ fine print warnings all advise. for more information please see http://www.ehtrust.org