Cell phone use may cause cancer: WHO

Mobile phone users may be at increased risk from brain cancer and should use texting and hands-free devices to reduce exposure, the World Health Organisation's cancer experts said.

Radio-frequency electromagnetic fields generated by such devices are "possibly carcinogenic to humans," the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced at the end of an eight-day meeting in Lyon, France, on Tuesday.

Experts "reached this classification based on review of the human evidence coming from epidemiological studies" pointing to an increased incidence of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, said Jonathan Samet, president of the work group.

Two studies in particular, the largest conducted over the past decade, showed a higher risk "in those that had the most intensive use of such phones," he said in a telephone news conference.

Some individuals tracked in the studies had used their phones for an average of 30 minutes per day over a period of 10 years.

"We simply don't know what might happen as people use their phones over longer time periods, possibly over a lifetime," Samet said.

There are about five billion mobile phones registered in the world. The number of phones and the average time spent using them have both climbed steadily in recent years.

The IARC cautioned that current scientific evidence showed only a possible link, not a proven one, between wireless devices and cancers.

"There is some evidence of increased risk of glioma" and another form of non-malignant tumour called acoustic neuroma, said Kurt Straif, the scientist in charge of editing the IARC reports on potentially carcinogenic agents.

"But it is not at the moment clearly established that the use of mobile phones does in fact cause cancer in humans," he said.

The IARC does not issue formal recommendations, but experts pointed to a number of ways consumers can reduce risk.

"What probably entails some of the highest exposure is using your mobile for voice calls," Straif said.

"If you use it for texting, or as a hands-free set for voice calls, this is clearly lowering the exposure by at least an order of magnitude," or by tenfold, he said.

A year ago the IARC concluded that there was no link between cell phones and brain cancer, but that earlier report was criticised as based on out-of-date data.

The new review, conducted by a panel of 31 scientists from 14 countries, was reached on the basis of a "full consensus," said Robert Baan, in charge of the written report, which is yet to be released.

"This is the first scientific evaluation of all the literature published on the topic with regard to increased risk of cancer," he said.

But the panel stressed the need for more research, pointing to incomplete data, evolving technology and changing consumer habits.

"There's an improvement in the technology in terms of lower emissions but at the same time we see increased use, so it is hard to know how the two balance out," Baan noted.

The IARC ranks potentially cancer-causing elements as carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic or "probably not carcinogenic". It can also determine that a material is "not classifiable".

Cigarettes, sunbeds and asbestos, for example, fall in "Group 1", the top threat category.

Cell phones now join glass wool and gasoline exhaust in Group 2B as "possibly carcinogenic".

Industry groups however played down the findings.

Global industry group CTIA-The Wireless Association said the UN agency "conducts numerous reviews and in the past has given the same score to, for example, pickled vegetables and coffee".

It said that "limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though bias and other data flaws may be the basis for the results."

The French Federation of Telecoms said the health ministry there already took a precautionary approach, but no danger had been conclusively established and more research was needed.

Some consumer advocacy groups however said the new classification was overdue.

"As of today, no one can say the risk does not exist, and now everyone - politicians, telecoms, employers, consumers and parents - have to take this into account," said Janine Le Calvez, head of PRIARTEM, a consumer advocacy group concerned with cell phone safety.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

    £7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

    Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

    £27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'