Cell phones could possibly cause a certain type of brain tumor in people, the World Health Organization's cancer arm said on Tuesday.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, said there is some evidence that cell phone use may cause gliomas, a class of brain tumor. While the World Health Organization agency doesn't say they do cause cancer, the question needs close study.
"Over the last few years, there has been mounting concern about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices. The number of mobile phone subscriptions is estimated at 5 billion globally," IARC said in a statement posted on its website.
"The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate to draw conclusions for other types of cancers."
The statement reverses WHO's years-long stand that there is no evidence linking cellphone use with cancer. It puts cellphones on a par with caffeine and talcum powder, both of which have potential links with cancer without definitive evidence.
"The Working Group did not quantitate the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40 percent increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10‐year period)."
IARC recommended more research and said people may want to consider using hands-free devices to lower any risk they may have.
“The evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk,” said Dr. Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California, who chairs IARC’s working group on the issue.
Some U.S. government scientists have said regulators are not doing enough to determine whether cell phones pose a health risk.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., died of a glioma in 2009. Gliomas are the most common class of brain tumor amd the most common type of malignant brain tumor. The American Cancer Society estimates that around 22,000 Americans will be diagnosed with malignant tumors of the brain or spinal cord and 13,070 will die. Gliomas account for about 1.3 percent of all cancers in the U.S. These types of tumors have become less common in recent years.
IARC says its recommendations will be published in the Lancet Oncology medical journal.
It said a team of 31 scientists from 14 countries met to discuss all the potential cancer risks from radiofrequency exposures. These include not just cell phones but TV transmission, microwaves, and radar.
“This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children,” the group said.
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