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WHO scientists classify cell phones as possible cause of cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Cell phone link to cancer a possibility.

Scientists from the World Health Organization, reviewing a number of studies, admit cell phones could potentially cause cancer.

The specific types of cancers linked to wireless phone use include a dangerous type of brain cancer known as glioma and acoustic neuroma.

According to estimates, there are 5 billion cell phones in use worldwide and those numbers are growing, making attention to the possible dangers of wireless phones timely and important.

If wireless phones are found to cause cancer, the impact on public health would be substantial.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “limited” evidence exists that cell phones could cause glioma and acoustic neuroma, leading to a "2B" classification of the risk.

IARC director, Christopher Wild, says, given the possibility that mobile devices might lead to cancer, “it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting.”

The recommendation is the first to come from a scientific agency, urging caution in keeping mobile phones away from the head.

For other types of cancer, the working group from the IARC concluded there is no evidence to suggest the devices are harmful.

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The conclusion comes from a group of 31 scientists from 14 countries who say the findings are relevant from a public health perspective, especially for children and young adults.

Does cell phone use lead to cancer?

No one can say that cell phone use does cause cancer, but there is mounting evidence that the potential exists.

In studies, researchers found cell phones cause abnormal brain activity that increases with longer exposure.

The implication from the study, conducted by a team of researchers led by the director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, psychiatrist Nora D. Volkow, MD was that increased brain activity produced by electromagnetic radiation can alter genes – something that is known to contribute to abnormal cell growth and cancer.

In 2008, Finnish research found cell phone radiation exposure for one hour resulted in changes in 8 proteins in10 volunteers and 2 proteins in two volunteers in the skin of the forearm.

Until more studies are done, something that takes time and funding, limiting possible carcinogens of any type – including cell phones, is probably a good practice. The good news is teens text more than they talk on mobile devices.

Several studies point to a possible link between cell phone use cancer, making the current statement from the IARC important and appropriate.

Though the study review is not “new ground”, the official statement supports multiple research efforts, conducted in the interest of public health, suggesting wireless phones could be yet another trigger for cancer.

This page is updated on May 10, 2013.