Cell phones could increase cancer risk: WHO

The use of cell phones and other wireless communication devices are “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research agency said on May 31.

By Sarah Schmidt and Carmen Chai

A World Health Organization panel has concluded that cellphones are “possibly carcinogenic,” weighing in on the ongoing and often murky scientific debate about whether widespread cellphone use may be linked to cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said there is enough evidence for the new classification of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields, which puts the widely used devices in the same category as certain dry-cleaning chemicals and pesticides as a potential health threat.

But James McNamee, a research scientist at Health Canada’s electromagnetics division and member of IARC’s working group, said it is vital to put the new classification in perspective.

“The best way to define this is it’s a recognition that there is some evidence from human studies and from animal studies.

“It’s very important to state that this evidence is far from established and it’s far from causal, but it is a recognition that a lot of work has been done, a great deal of work has been reviewed and it’s a statement of where the science is in time,” Dr. McNamee said in an interview.

A working group of 31 scientists, including two Canadians, assessed the evidence of the potential link between health and cellphone use at a week-long session in Lyon, France. The group did not conduct any new research but reviewed numerous existing studies that focused on the health effects of radio frequency magnetic fields, which are emitted by cellphones.

Dr. Jonathan Samet, a University of Southern California professor who was chairman of IARC’s working group, said the panel’s decision was based largely on epidemiological data showing an increased risk among heavy cellphone users of a rare type of brain tumour called a glioma.

The decision flagged results of an IARC study showing a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of cellphone users. This was calculated as a reported average use of 30 minutes per day over a 10-year period.

The panel made no comment on how large or small a risk cellphone radiation may pose to human health.

Working group member and University of Montreal epidemiologist Jack Siemiatycki said regulators such as Health Canada should take note of the classification, even though, he said, it’s a “first-level concern” or “probably the lowest level of flag that IARC uses for raising concern about possible carcinogens.”

Postmedia News, with files from news services

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