Cancer Calling

The question of whether or not cell phones cause cancer is not new. Until now we’ve shied away from reporting such stories because the debate literally has our brains buzzing and our pockets vibrating. Now however, after reviewing details from dozens of published studies, an international panel of experts says: yes – cell phones could cause cancer.

During a weeklong meeting, 31 experts from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed possible links between cancer and the type of electromagnetic radiation found in cellphones, microwaves and radar. The agency has credibility and the ear of the world. As the cancer arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), their assessment will now be sent to the WHO and national health agencies for possible guidance on cellphone use. The group classified cellphones in category 2B, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic to humans. Other substances in that category include the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

These recent findings are at odds with the results of a large 2010 study that found no clear link between cellphones and cancer. But some advocacy groups contend the study raised serious concerns because it showed a hint of a possible connection between very heavy phone use and glioma, a rare but often deadly form of brain tumor. The study was controversial because it began with people who already had cancer and asked them to recall how often they used their cellphones more than a decade ago. In about 30 other studies done in Europe, New Zealand and the U.S., patients with brain tumors have not reported using their cellphones more often than unaffected people. Furthermore, because cellphones are so popular, it may be impossible for experts to compare cellphone users who develop brain tumors with people who don’t use the devices.

According to a survey last year, the number of cellphone subscribers worldwide has hit 5 billion, or nearly three-quarters of the global population. People’s cellphone habits have also changed dramatically since the first studies began years ago and it’s unclear if the results of previous research would still apply today.  Since many cancerous tumors take decades to develop, experts say it’s impossible to conclude cellphones have no long-term health risks. The studies conducted so far haven’t tracked people for longer than a decade.

However, before you throw away your phone it’s worth noting that in the past the IARC has given the same classification to pickled vegetables and coffee!