Today the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that cell phone use may be carcinogenic to humans. After a week-long meeting in France, during which 31 scientists from 14 countries reviewed the available data, the group assigned radiofrequency EMF a “2B” classification. Prior to today’s announcement, the WHO’s position was that no adverse health effects had been established.
This does not mean that cell phone use causes cancer, only that the IARC’s position is that the available data is insufficient and further research is needed.
2B is the mid-level classification, and it only means that it’s “possibly” carcinogenic. Here are the classes:
Other items in the 2B category are lead, engine exhaust, and chloroform.
The IARC seems to have based their assessment largely on a study that showed a 40% increase in glioma (a malignant brain tumor) in high-volume (30 minutes per day) long-term (10 years) users. The study in question has been the subject of criticism for various reasons including the self-reported frequency of cell phone use. The IARC considers the existing data correllating cell phone use to glioma and acoustic neuroma “limited”, but is urging further research into a possible connection. IARC Director Christopher Wild said:
“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.”
Critics of the announcement point out that the incidence of brain cancer hasn’t risen since cell phone use became popular, and that there’s no known biological mechanism to explain how cell phone use could cause cancer. This blog post is an excellent, thorough critique of the issue.
Taking action based on this announcement is a cautious measure: there’s not enough data to show cell phone use causes cancer, but there’s also not enough to show that it’s safe. Be sure to put it in perspective and focus on known health risk such as smoking or being overweight, if applicable, before focusing on precautionary measures.