Cellphone use may be linked to cancer: scientists

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Cellphone use may be linked to cancer:
scientists

CBC News

Posted: May 31, 2011 12:06 PM ET

Using cellphones is considered a possible cause of malignant brain cancer, an international panel
of scientists says.

"The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radio frequency
elect
romagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma,
a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use," the group said in a
statement Tuesday from Lyon, France.

"Given the potential consequences f
or public health of this classification and findings," said
IARC director Christopher Wild, "it is important that additional research be conducted into the
long
-
term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is
important

to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands
-
free devices or texting."

The agency's working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries met this week to review hundreds
of scientific papers on radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, including c
ellphones.

The cellphone review was controversial for several reasons. It started with people who already
had cancer and asked them to recall how often they used their cellphones more than a decade ago
with older cellphone devices.

Cellphones produce non
-
i
onizing radiation that can't damage DNA directly, so researchers don't
know how it may affect the body


an area the panel said still needs to be explored.

The agency is the cancer arm of the World Health Organization and the assessment now goes to
WHO and

national health agencies to consider guidelines for cellphone users.

The "possibly carcinogenic" category is used when there is inadequate evidence of cancer
-
causing effects in humans but there is sufficient evidence in animals.

Mary McBride of the BC Can
cer Agency said she agreed with the classification, given that the
science is not consistent.

In general, public health decisions are not made based on a classification of "possible
carcinogen," McBride said, since the definition states that the evidence i
s limited and other
explanations for the result are credible.

"Individuals on their own have a number of actions they can take to reduce exposure, notably
reducing cellphone use, using hands
-
free devices, or texting rather than talking, based on their
pers
onal approach to the evidence and conclusions of the expert groups," McBride said in an
email.

Industry groups for cellphone makers stressed that the "possibly carcinogenic" group also
includes substances such as pickled vegetables and coffee.

The panel "
did not state that there was a direct link to cancer," said Bernard Lord, president and
CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecomunnications Association, adding that the WHO has not
changed any of its standards or recommendations.

"When you consider that more t
han half of 911 calls made in Canada are made from mobile
devices, I think it's safe to say mobile devices have saved lives in Canada," Lord said.

Radiation factors

Placing voice calls on mobile devices rather than emailing or texting raises potential heal
th
concerns, because a user's level of exposure to radio
-
frequency energy is higher during a call.
Talking on a handset takes a lot more power than sending and receiving texts or other
information, and the handset is usually held closer to your body when y
ou're speaking than when
you're using the device for other purposes.

The amount of radiation


in this case, electromagnetic waves emitted by handsets


that
penetrates your body is based largely on how close the device is to your head during calls, the
nu
mber of phone calls you make, and how long your calls last.

The panel did not quantify the risk. A study
published in 2010

showed a suggestion of increased
risk for
gliomas in the highest category of cellphone users, which was a reported average of 30
minutes per day over a 10
-
year period. The authors said biases and errors limited the strength of
conclusions from the Interphone study of almost 13,000 cellphone users.

Regulators such as Health Canada will consider the new findings, said Daniel Krewski, who is
director of the R. Samuel McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment at the
University of Ottawa.

"The regulatory agencies worldwide will be looking
carefully at the implications of the IARC
determination for how they're going to advise people to deal with cellular telephones on a
personal level," said Krewski. "This is a very significant determination on the part of the
agency."

Health Canada's repres
entative at IARC in Lyon, James McNamee, who is with the department's
consumer and clinical radiation protection branch, called the evidence "credible", adding that it
will require more research.

There's been little research on the effect of cellphone radi
ation exposure on children, but a large
population study on children began last year seeking to address the question.

In about 30 other studies done in Europe, New Zealand and the U.S., patients with brain tumours
have not reported using their cellphones m
ore often than unaffected people.

The panel also looked at workers' exposure to radiation from radar and microwaves, as well as
environmental exposures from radio, TV and wireless telecommunication signals.

The new findings will be published as Volume 102
of the IARC Monographs, as well as the July
1 issue of the medical journal The Lancet Oncology, and in a few days online.

Nearly five billion people worldwide use cellphones, the panel estimated. About 78 per cent of
Canadian households indicated they had
a cellphone in 2010, according to Statistics Canada.


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Possible Reflection Questions: After reading the article, how do you feel about the safety of using cell
phones?

Do you own a cell
phone? Why or why not?

Do you feel that the concerns over cellphone
outweigh the benefits of having one?
Defend your answer.