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Cellphones Listed As ‘Possibly Carcinogenic’

May 31, 2011

Experts reported on Tuesday that cellphones are possibly cancer-causing agents that are in the same category as the pesticide DDT, gasoline engine exhaust and coffee.

The International Agency or Research on Cancer (IARC) issued the classification on Tuesday in Lyon, France.  The agency is an arm of the World Health Organization and its assessment goes to WHO and national health agencies for possible guidance on cellphone use.

Classifying agents as “possibly carcinogenic” does not mean they cause cancer, and some experts said the ruling should not change people’s cellphone habits.

“Anything is a possible carcinogen,” Donald Berry, a professor of biostatistics at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, told the Associated Press (AP).

“This is not something I worry about and it will not in any way change how I use my cellphone,” he added.

The international panel said there was limited evidence cellphone use was linked to two types of brain tumors and inadequate evidence to draw conclusions for other cancers.

“We found some threads of evidence telling us how cancers might occur, but there were acknowledged gaps and uncertainties,” Jonathan Samet, the panel’s chairman, said in a statement.

“The WHO’s verdict means there is some evidence linking mobile phones to cancer but it is too weak to draw strong conclusions from,” Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research U.K., said in a statement.  “If such a link exists, it is unlikely to be a large one.”

A large study last year found no clear link between cellphones and cancer.   However, some advocacy groups said the study raised concerns because it showed a hint of a possible connection between very heavy phone use and glioma. 

The study was controversial because it began with people who already had cancer and asked them to recall how often they used their cellphones over a decade ago.

The IARC does not issue formal recommendations, but 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,” Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs Program, said in a statement posted by Bloomberg.

“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 ten fold, he said.

Robert Baan, who was in charge of the written report, said the new review was based on a “full consensus” and was conducted by a panel of 31 scientists from 14 countries.

Exposure data, studies on cancer in humans, experiments on animals and other data were all evaluated in establishing the new classification.

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