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Cell Phones: Myth or Fact?

Nov 15, 2011

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MYTH:

The World Health Organization (WHO) statement does not mean cell phones cause cancer, because it is based on limited evidence.

FACT:

Thirty-one highly acclaimed members of the International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO committee, voted in a nearly unanimous decision after detailed examination of this data.  In their expert opinion, cell phone radiation, also known as microwave radiation,  is in the same rank as many things you would never let your child play with, including  jet and diesel fuel and some chlorinated pesticides like DDT and Kepone.

The WHO determined that “radiofrequency radiation and electromagnetic fields”warranted a 2b classification “as a “possible carcinogen,” based on an exhaustive examination of peer-reviewed, published epidemiology studies, industry-funded Interphone studies, and hundreds of scientific papers.

They concluded that human studies consistently found that with more than 10 years of use (with 30 minutes a day considered as high use), there is a significantly increased risk of glioma, a lethal brain tumor.  The WHO explicitly rejected the recent negative and widely publicized study from Denmark on brain cancer and cell phones in the British Medical Journal because it lacked detailed information on phone use and the power to find any change in risk.

MYTH:

“There is no known biological mechanism for cell phone radiation to cause cancer.” (Implication:  The data must be wrong.)

FACT:

This statement implies that science understands the underlying mechanisms through which cancer arises in all instances.  In the history of science, it often takes decades before a mechanism is understood.  We do not fully understand the biological mechanism through which tobacco causes lung cancer.  The experimental and human data reviewed by the WHO were substantial enough to bring them to an almost unanimous decision regarding this classification of cell phone radiation as a possible cause of cancer.

MYTH:

“If cell phones were really causing brain tumors, with so many people using them, we should be seeing an increase in brain tumor incidence, and we are not.”

FACT:

Many doctors report that they are seeing an increase in brain tumors in younger persons in their own practices.  Because more than 70% of all brain cancer occurs in persons over age 60, the overall age-adjusted rate of brain cancer reflects chiefly what has happened in older persons.  From other research we know that the average latency period between exposure and development of a glioma is 20 to 30 years (similar to all solid tumors such as lung cancer).  Studies of smokers find no increase in risk just ten years after most have begun to smoke.

A trivial segment of the population was using cell phones three decades ago, when cell phones were introduced to the US marketplace in 1983.  Most Americans did not begin using them routinely until the late 1990s.  Thus we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg now, with gliomas in early adopters.  But many others will be coming up on 20 years of use soon, and there may be a surge in gliomas around 2018.  Those who begin using cell phones as teenagers have a four to five-fold increased risk of brain tumors in less than a decade, according to studies carried out by Swedish physician-researcher Lennart Hardell.

In 2010 there was a significant increase in cancer of the brain and nervous system of Latinos, a group that uses phones more heavily.  Also, in the U.S., Norway, and Finland, there has been a rise in brain cancer in 20-29 year olds; the same subgroup that does not use a landline and has been using cell phones as teenagers.

MYTH:

“The FDA, ACS and FCC say cell phones are safe.”

FACT:

As Judge Alsup recently noted in his opinion, “The FCC has never said that RF radiation poses no danger at all only that RF radiation can be set at acceptable levels. “ Websites from these groups all include information on keeping phones at a safe distance from the body, as do fine print warnings that manufacturers provide.   Formerly, the ACS claimed there was no evidence linking brain tumors to cell phones.  Since the WHO classification, the
American Cancer Society notes that it’s sensible to take precautions with children and states, “the bottom line is the evidence is enough to warrant concern….”
In fact, the FCC and FDA advise that cell phones are safe ONLY IF HELD A CERTAIN DISTANCE FROM THE BODY.  THE FCC REQUIRES THIS SAFETY DISTANCE DATA TO BE IN EVERY MANUAL.  Currently this data is being hidden in fine-print warnings in user manuals that few read.

MYTH:

“The 2b classification labeling cell phones as a possible carcinogen is the same classification as pickled vegetables, talcum powder and coffee.”

FACT:

This is an attempt to dismiss the seriousness of this determination and mislead the public. The statement is correct and is not to be taken lightly.  Diets high in highly salted vegetables in China are tied with unusual increases in esophageal cancer.  Rates of this cancer have fallen when people stopped eating these foods.   Talcum powder was known to be contaminated with asbestos in some instances, which is why it increased cancer risk in long term users.
Like many chemotherapy agents, coffee can cause urinary tract cancer, while also lowering the risk of colon cancer.  The talc in talcum powder for years was heavily contaminated with asbestos which increases the risk of ovarian cancer.  Other major workplace hazards are also on this list of 2B carcinogens and remain the subject of major regulatory attention, including pesticides like DDT and Kepone, industrial materials such as PBBs, carbon black and carbon tetrachloride, and jet and diesel fuel, and mercury.

MYTH:

“The Interphone study showed no link between cell phones and brain tumors.”

FACT:

Not true.   The overall absence of risk is due to the fact that the average user in this study used a phone for less than eight years, and that a user was defined as someone who made one call a week for six months.  Because overall exposures were so low and limited, it is not surprising that there is no overall increase in risk.  But in the heaviest users in the Interphone study, a doubled or greater risk is evident.  This is why the IARC review considered the Interphone study as evidence of increased risk.

MYTH:

“This will never be as serious as tobacco.”

FACT:

This is potentially far worse than tobacco.  We never had 100% of people smoking, but we do have nearly all people using cell phones today.  Six billion people, including children, use cell phones regularly—some exclusively as landlines are abandoned—with considerable exposure.  We do not have the same scientific foundation for understanding cell phone radiation as we had for tobacco and lung cancer for two reasons:  The telecom industry has intentionally blocked studies, and it is more difficult to get funding now because of the economic downturn and the lack of training and funding in this field.
EHT urges that we take prudent steps now to reduce exposures while research begins to ask serious questions and programs are begun to train scientists and engineers in the field of bioelectromagnetics.

About Environmental Health Trust

 

Environmental Health Trust (EHT) educates individuals, health professionals and communities about controllable environmental health risks and policy changes needed to reduce those risks. Current multi-media projects include: local and national campaigns to ban smoking and asbestos; working with international physician and worker safety groups to warn about the risks of inappropriate use of diagnostic radiation and cell phones, promoting research and awareness of environmental causes of breast cancer, and building environmental wellness programs in Wyoming and Pennsylvania to address the environmental impacts of energy development, the built environment and radon. EHT was created with the goal of promoting health and preventing disease one person, one community and one nation at a time.  Chaired by Ronald B. Herberman, MD, a distinguished cancer biologist, the foundation’s website offers clear, science-based information to prevent environmentally based disease and promote health, for the general public, children, and health professionals. For more information about getting involved in the numerous special projects spearheaded by the EHT, please log on to www.ehtrust.org.

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