A World Health Organisation (WHO) panel has concluded that
use of mobile phones are “possibly carcinogenic,’’ putting the devices
in a category of 266 existing
items in the 'possibly' category such as pesticides, coconut oil diethanolamine
condensate, Diesel fuel, dry cleaning chemicals, lead, cobalt and bitumen as a
potential threat to human health.
The WHO/International Agency for Research on
Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans
(Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use [237,913 new cases of brain cancers (all types combined) occurred around the
world in 2008 (gliomas represent 2/3 of these). Source: Globocan 2008].
Among research which the scientists reviewed was the 2010
13-country study called Interphone - - the largest
and longest study of the link between mobile phone use
and brain tumours, that found no overall increased risk,
but reported that participants with the highest
level of phone use had a 40% higher risk of
glioma. (However, even if the elevated risk is confirmed, gliomas are relatively rare and individual risk
The panel said that over the last few years, there has been mounting concern
about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to
radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless
communication devices. The number of mobile phone subscriptions is estimated at
5bn globally .
From May 24–31 2011, a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries had been
meeting at IARC in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards
from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.
These assessments will be published as Volume 102 of the IARC Monographs, which will be the fifth volume in this series to focus on physical agents, after Volume 55 (Solar Radiation), Volume 75
and Volume 78 on ionizing radiation (X-rays,
gamma-rays, neutrons, radio- nuclides, and Volume 80 on non-ionizing radiation (extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields).
The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed the possibility
that these exposures might induce long -term health effects, in particular an increased risk for cancer. This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children.
The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed and evaluated
the available literature on the following exposure categories involving
radiofrequency electromagnetic fields:
exposures to radar and to microwaves;
exposures associated with transmission of signals for radio, television
and wireless telecommunication; and
- personal exposures
associated with the use of wireless telephones.
International experts shared the complex task of tackling the
the studies of cancer in
humans, the studies of cancer in experimental
animals, and the mechanistic and other relevant data.
Results: IARC said theevidence was reviewed
critically, and overall evaluated as being limited among users of wireless
telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate to draw conclusions
for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental
exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate. The Working Group did
not quantify the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year
2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy
users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10-year period).
Conclusions: Dr Jonathan Samet (University of
Southern California, USA), overall chairman of the Working Group, indicated that
"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 cell
phones and cancer risk."
"Given the potential consequences for 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 Working Group considered hundreds of scientific
articles; the complete list will be published in the Monograph. IARC said it is
noteworthy to mention that several recent in-press scientific articles resulting
from the Interphone study were made available to the panel shortly before it was
due to convene, reflecting their acceptance for publication at that time, and
were included in the evaluation.
A concise report summarising the main conclusions of the
IARC Working Group and the evaluations of the carcinogenic hazard from
radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including the use of mobile telephones)
will be published in The Lancet Oncology in its July 1 issue, and in a few days