Cell phones may raise cancer risk: WHO
London, June 1, 2011
Using a mobile phone might increase the risk of developing certain types of brain tumours and consumers should consider ways of reducing their exposure, World Health Organisation (WHO) cancer experts said.
A working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries meeting at the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said a review of all the available scientific evidence suggested cell phone use should be classified as "possibly carcinogenic."
The classification, which puts mobile phone use in the same broad IARC cancer risk category as lead, chloroform and coffee, could spur the United Nations health body to look again at its guidelines on mobile phones, the scientists said. But more lengthy and detailed research is needed before a more definitive answer on any link can be given.
The WHO had previously said there was no established evidence for a link between cell phone use and cancer.
"After reviewing essentially all the evidence that is relevant ... the working group classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans," Jonathan Samet, chair of the IARC group, said in a telebriefing.
He said some evidence suggested a link between an increased risk for glioma, a type of brain cancer, and mobile phone use.
Cellphone use has risen hugely since they were introduced in the early 1980s, with 5 billion in use today. And since phones have become such an key part of daily life -- used by many for Web surfing as well as talking -- industry experts say a health threat will not stop people using them.
Instead, concerned consumers might opt to buy more accessories such as headsets to reduce the risks, Avian Securities analyst Matthew Thornton said.
"It's going to take some compelling argument to change behavior," he said.
The WHO's position has been keenly awaited by mobile phone companies and by campaign groups who have raised concerns about whether cell phones might be harmful to health.
Industry groups immediately sought to play down the decision, stressing the "possibly carcinogenic" category also includes substances such as pickled vegetables and coffee.
"This IARC classification does not mean that cell phones cause cancer," said John Walls, vice president of public affairs for the United States-based wireless association CTIA.
He noted the IARC working group did not conduct any new research, but reviewed published studies, and said other regulatory bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration have stated that "the weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems."
John Cooke, executive director of the British-based Mobile Operators Association, said IARC had only found the possibility of a hazard.
"Whether or not this represents a risk requires further scientific investigation," he said in a statement. - Reuters