An international panel of scientific experts have decided that cell phones should be considered a possible cause of brain cancer and have expressed concern about their widespread use, particularly among young adults and children.
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release [PDF] last week announcing that its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was classifying radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless phones as a possible carcinogen. The determination comes after years of research and debate over whether cell phones can cause cancer.
The announcement came as a working group of 31 scientists from around the world met this week in Lyons, France, to determine whether cell phone emissions could cause cancer. They have determined that there is an increased risk of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, that appears to be linked to cell phone use.
While the working group did not provide a numerical risk for glioma from cell phone use, it did note that at least one previous study found a 40% increased risk of brain cancer among cell phone users who talked on their mobile phones for at least 30 minutes per day for 10 years. The IARC working group reportedly looked at hundreds of scientific articles before making its determination.
The working group’s report will be published in the July 1 issue of The Lancet Oncology.
There are more than 5 billion cell phone subscriptions across the planet, WHO warned, and they are heavily used by children and young adults. That number is steadily growing.
In the U.S. in recent years the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has reported that scientific evidence about the risk or safety of cell phones is conflicting and inconsistent, and that no conclusion could be made.
According to NCI, cellular telephones emit radiofrequency (RF) energy. RF energy is a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. Ionizing electromagnetic radiation, such as that emitted by x-ray machines, is known to cause cancer at high levels, but it is unknown whether non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation like RF energy has the same effect. The NCI says that studies so far seem to indicate that the amount of RF emitted by cell phone hand units is too low to result in tissue heating or raise body temperature, but there is not enough evidence to declare it completely harmless either.