WHO: Cell phone radiation 'possibly' causes cancer

The World Health Organization said electromagnetic radiation from cell phones is "possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use."

The finding, by a scientific working group, is certain to lead to renewed speculation about the health risks that may be posed by mobile phones. The report was issued by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which conducts cancer research for the WHO, a United Nations organization. 

The IARC classified radiation from mobile phones in the category 2b, meaning that it is possibly carcinogenic to humans. Other substances in the same category include the pesticide DDT, lead and gasoline exhaust. Importantly, the IARC working group, which included 31 scientists from 14 countries, did not conduct new research but reviewed available scientific literature on the topic.

"There is some evidence for an increased risk of glioma," Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Program, told Bloomberg. "It's not at the moment clearly established that the use of mobile phones does in fact cause cancer."

Previously, the WHO had said that there were no possible adverse health effects associated with cell phone use.

Concerns about cell phone radiation have persisted since the late 1990s. However, because of the popularity of cell phone usage worldwide--there are more than 5 billion mobile connections--it is growing increasingly difficult to test people who use cell phones and develop brain tumors with those who do not use cell phones at all. Additionally, since tumors often take decades to develop, studies would have to track users for long periods of time; most studies on the topic have only tracked users for about a decade.

The wireless industry has long sought to cast doubt on health concerns over cell phone radiation. "IARC conducts numerous reviews and in the past has given the same score to, for example, pickled vegetables and coffee," John Walls, the CTIA's vice president of public affairs, said in a statement. "This IARC classification does not mean cell phones cause cancer. Under IARC rules, limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though bias and other data flaws may be the basis for the results."

Walls pointed out that the FCC has said there is no scientific evidence that cell phone use leads to cancer. The FCC has said that devices that have a specific range of absorption rate, or how much radiation enters the body, are safe. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration has said that the weight of scientific evidence shows that cell phones do not pose a health risk. 

For more:
- see this IARC release (PDF)
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this CNN article
- see this AP article

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