World Health Organization: Cell Phones Possibly Cause Cancer

Last Updated May 31, 2011 8:29 PM EDT

The potential risk of cell phone use just became more of a reality. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen, putting it in the same category as pesticides. It was based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use.

The WHO panel also concluded that cell phone use may increase the risk of acoustic neuromas, a benign brain tumor. The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group panel consisted of 31 leading international experts who had convened in Lyon, France to review hundreds of studies.

The panel did not quantify the risk but one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10"year period).

Dr. Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California, and chairman of the Working Group, said in a press release, "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."

IARC director Christopher Wild said that although more research is needed on long term heavy use of cell phones, "Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands"free devices or texting."

Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, said, "This is the first official acknowledgment that we may have a problem on our hands --and it could turn out to be a very big problem. We simply don't know yet."

"The public has been given a lot of contradictory and misleading information," said Slesin. "The IARC announcement should tell people to follow a precautionary approach. The first step should be limiting the use of cell phones by children."

A report summarizing the main conclusions of the IARC Working Group will be published in The Lancet Oncology in its July 1 issue, and in a few days online.

For now you can follow the steps Slesin spelled out in my previous blog post, Cell Phone Radiation: 9 Ways To Be Safer.

Are you going to change the way you use cell phones now?

Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for the New York Times, national magazines and websites. Follow her on twitter.
photo courtesy of Flickr user MikeSchinkel
  • Laurie Tarkan

    Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist who writes for The New York Times and many national magazines. She is a contributing editor at Fit Pregnancy magazine and the author of three books, Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility, Perfect Hormone Balance for Pregnancy and My Mother's Breast: Daughters Ace Their Mothers' Cancer.. You can follow her on Twitter at @LaurieTarkan.