World Health Organization: Mobile phone cancer risk 'possible'
Not 'probable'. Not yet
In a move that's sure to fan the flames of the ongoing debate about the safety of mobile phones, a panel of World Health Organization (WHO) experts has classified those ubiquitous handsets as "possibly carcinogenic to humans".
The group of 31 scientists from 14 countries, meeting in Lyon, France, under the auspices of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), formally classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as Group B carcinogenic agents due to their potential to induce gliomas, a particularly nasty type of brain cancer that, for example, killed US Senator Ted Kennedy in 2009.
"The evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification," said Dr. Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California and the chairman of the group. "The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk."
The IARC's director Christopher Wild added: "Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings, it is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐term, heavy use of mobile phones."
Until mobile phones are bumped up to Group 2A – "Probably carcinogenic to humans" – or demoted to non-carcinogenic, Wild recommends that "it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting."
Among the IARC's classifications, Group 2B includes 266 "possibly" carcinogenic agents, including carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, lead, some versions of the human papilloma virus (HPV), and extremely low-frequency magnetic fields.
With mobile phones being classified along with those rather unnerving agents, it should also be noted that Group 2B also includes traditional Asian pickled vegetables and coffee.
Tuesday's IARC release notes that the group used as one of its sources the Interphone study published in March 2010. The 13-country, decade-long investigation of 7,416 tumor patients and about twice that number of controls concluded that "Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones" for normal users.
The Interphone study, however, also came to the conclusion that "There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation."
In addition, that study came to the paradoxical conclusion that those who use a mobile phone on a normal, but not heavy, basis actually had fewer tumors than those who use a corded phone.
Simply put, the jury is still out – but the IARC group, after studying "hundreds of scientific articles" on the topic, believes that caution is warranted and that further study is necessary.
A cynic, of course, might opine that the IARC is merely calling for further study in order to justify its existence and secure future funding. While it is impossible to either prove or disprove that assertion, the size, scope, literature-based research, and broad range of funding sources of the IARC argue against that accusation. A far more likely reason for the request for further study is the need for further study – Occam's Razor, y'know?
A "concise report" on the group's finding will be published in "a few days" in The Lancet's online oncology report. ®
Lets be 100% totally safe...
And turn the universes off.
(new tobacco, my arse!)
@Really f***ing basic here guys
Non-ionising doesn't mean safe, I used to program a non-ionising source of radiation that was used to slice through steel plate to make ships.
Mind you, the control group is going to be tricky if LF fields and coffee also cause cancer. We need to find some people who have been heavy users of mobiles for 25years who didn't drink coffee or work near CRTs !
@RF Guy -- Right, and I'm still around!
Once upon a time before OH&S do-gooder dictators came to power, in the days when we climbed transmitting towers to adjust antennas with the RF still switched on, I'd be up there tweaking away, and yet I've lived to tell the tale.
Atop the transmitting tower with my legs wrapped around the mast, the RF arcs would jump from my knees right through two layers of clothes onto the tower. The magenta-violet arcs would burn round holes clean through my jeans and overalls just like the sun and a magnifying glass burn through paper--only much more quickly. The only side effect was some small holes zapped or burned into one's skin around the vicinity of one's knees, and this only occurred because one's clothes prevented direct contact of one's skin with the tower. (Coming into direct contact with the tower prevents any RF arcing from occurring and at VHF/UHF frequencies one simply can't feel electric shocks even though current is flowing.)
My digital watch LCD screen would go completely black with the RF intensity; the only measuring instrument one could use up there was a moving-coil AVO-8 multimeter, as it used a copper oxide rectifier whose frequency response petered out in the upper audio range, thus it remained unaffected by the high intensity RF field.
The radio frequency field strengths that I and others worked in were in the range of hundreds to thousands of volts per metre. Whilst the frequencies were only about one quarter to third that of mobile/cell phones, the radiation intensity was, nevertheless, 10,000 to 100s of thousands of times stronger than that emitted by a single mobile phone.
We were all aware that frequencies with which we worked were all well within the non-ionizing radiation part of the spectrum by MANY, MANY orders of magnitude. Moreover, we too were well aware of the simple heading effects of RF energy and the safety precautions needed. For example, under certain circumstances, RF heading could be dangerous--being accidentally locked in a resonant cavity/tank circuit room with a 100kW or so of RF energy could easily fry one--even though the heating effect was simple molecular (vibrating) agitation.
One precaution we always observed was to take special precautions with our eyes when working with frequencies of 3GHz and above [i.e.: 10cm wavelength and shorter]. At these frequencies (3GHz is the beginning of the microwave band), the wavelength is effectively relatively short. Here, its 1/4 wavelength--the distance where maximum potential difference occurs (where voltage goes from 0 minimum to maximum across the wavefront)--approaches the length of the eyeball. If exposed to excessive RF field strengths at microwave frequencies, localised heating of the eyeball can occur and cataracts of the eye can form.
Well known and normal work practice was never to stand near or in front of waveguides nor to ever look down them, especially so if the RF power level exceeded 1W or above.
Despite this being decades ago, all the people that I worked with in this high level RF field environment are still alive and well.
Radio Frequency energy in the vicinity of mobile phone wavelengths may produce cancer but it's clear the effect is exceedingly small. Over a period of 80 or so years since the 1930s and especially so from WWII onwards--times in which a few people were first exposed to sufficient RF energy to suffer burns--researchers have been looking for evidence that RF energy causes damage to the human body in ways other than straight penetrative heating. Despite hundreds of research efforts all over the world since the war and that there is some theoretical evidence, especially of possibility of harm to young children, it's very doubtful that we'll see a major change in the usage of cell phones.
Frankly, IMHO, the population's addiction to these devices is so total and complete, that it'd take a scare magnitudes larger than some remote possibility of cancer to have any significant affect on usage. Moreover, I don't see power levels coming down much further either, as the same addiction won't tolerate a lessening of the service area, quality and bandwidth throughput.