Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cell Phones May Cause Cancer: 'May' is Enough for Precautions


COMMENTARY | The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a statement Tuesday that cell phones may cause cancer. Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific articles were looked at before the group came to the conclusion that cell phones may cause a limited increase in the risk of users getting two types of brain cancer: glioma and acoustic neuroma.

IARC gave cell phones a 2B classification, meaning possibly carcinogenic to humans. Also classified at this level are coffee (to the bladder), engine exhaust and talc-based body powder.

Risk is Minimal

There is some relief in the finding that the risk is limited to wireless telephone users. The study indicates that people are not put in danger by the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by devices they are not personally using. Unlike secondhand smoke, any damage is limited.

In fact, IARC findings declared the information "inadequate" to quantify with actual numbers of people at risk for cancer from cell phones. The Interphone Study was cited as finding a 40 percent increased risk of glioma in heavy cell phone users. Heavy use is defined as 30 minutes a day for 10 years.

Taking into consideration the 20,000 cases of the cancer in the United States per year, the number of those that would be caused by cell phones -- a percentage of heavy users thought to be at risk -- would be minimal. Not a significant enough number to panic and toss out my cell phone and all its benefits.

Any Risk of Cancer Warrants Precautions

While there doesn't seem to be enough findings to warrant panic, simple precautions should be taken. The study states that taking preventative measures would be pragmatic, and I agree. Communicating by texting, speakerphone and earpieces will keep the phone away from the head and prevent the risk of cancer. With such easy to implement precautions available, it would seem foolish not to take them, especially when the alternative could possibly, albeit a small possibility, be a malignant brain tumor.

More Info on Health Risks Needed

There is a great amount of assurance in the findings, but one thing that is troubling is that there has barely been enough time to study the long term effects of cell phones on the body. The technology just has not been around long enough. IARC's own multiple uses of the word "inadequate" -- although not meant in this context -- give pause long enough to wonder if the amount of information available is lacking in breadth and depth.

More studies are needed to judge the effect of cell phones on all parts of the human body. Given how we wear our cell phones, fertility and fetuses especially come to mind, as well as other cancers. While these studies would not have results in time to caution or stem the fears of current cell phone users, we can be the guinea pigs for coming generations.

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