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WHO Connects Cellphones With Cancer Risk

By Rachelle Dragani
Jun 1, 2011 9:32 AM PT

After reviewing data from previous studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a statement Tuesday asserting cellphones are possibly carcinogenic toward humans.

WHO Connects Cellphones With Cancer Risk

The report was put together in Lyon, France, after a week-long conference with international experts for the IARC, which is the cancer arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). They analyzed previous studies to determine links between radiation and cancer when using mobile devices like cellphones.

Some of the assessments reviewed questioned studies that showed connections between heavy cellphone use and glioma, a type of brain tumor that can be deadly.

Study in Question

Questions have been raised regarding how conclusive this statement is, since there were no new experiments done. Certain previous studies were considered controversial, since it is so difficult to create a controlled setting.

"There are methodological issues associated with all these studies; controls don't always want to participate, and those who develop gliomas may unconsciously be subject to recall bias about which side of the head they normally use a cellphone, which becomes something to blame for the cancer," David de Pomerai, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham who has expertise in harmful radiation, told TechNewsWorld.

Other problems with previous studies include receiving inconclusive answers from participants or not being able to fully monitor their cellphone use.

Additionally, many studies are industry-sponsored, which organizations such as the Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology (PSRAST) say can provide biased information.

"In most cases, including the Interphone study, the industry-funded studies included or covered only cases who had been using mobile phones for a too short time to get a tumor (it takes at least 10 years to develop a tumor)," Jaan Suurkula, M.D., a specialist in occupational health and advisor of PSRAST in cellphone radiation issues, told TechNewsWorld.

Avoiding Radiation

Since giving up cellphone use completely is unrealistic for many people, experts advise taking precautions if a mobile device user is worried about cancer risks.

Holding the phone as far away from the head can significantly lower the chance of radiation permeating the skull and entering the brain.

Reducing the intensity of radiation waves is simple as well, according to the Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology (PSRAST).

They suggest avoiding phone calls if the signal is weak or taking calls in confined areas like elevators, buses, subways or other underground vehicles. According to PSRAST, in these situations the radiation waves either have to work harder to pick up the call and are therefore more intense, or they are reflecting off metal walls and upping the risk of harm.

Cellphone users are also advised to keep their calls brief. The longer the cellphone is in use, the more exposure time waves have to damage.

Another safety measure could be switching to a hands-free device like a Bluetooth headset or a wired ear clip. Popular for their convenience, they can also cut back harmful rays.

"If you're really worried by this WHO re-categorization, you could always use hands-free or other remote devices that create a significant space between the hand-set and the side of your head," said de Pomerai.

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