Watch CBS News

New WHO Study Says Cell Phones Possibly Carcinogenic, May Cause Cancer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer, says a new study put out by the World Health Organization that now lists cell phones in the same category as pesticide, lead, DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

Last year, WHO cited a large study that found no clear link between cell phones and cancer. But after a week of meetings during which 31 scientists reviewed dozens of published studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the WHO released a statement classifying cell phone use with other possible carcinogens.

But 1010 WINS medical reporter Dr. Brian McDonough says while overdoing anything isn't good, he questions the warning.

"We now have five billion people using cell phones, so how do you isolate out cell phones or something else when you have that many people," said McDonough.

He also says things have changed a bit since the data for this study was collected.

"Today's role, a lot of people are texting, people have hands-free sets," said McDonough. "Back in those days, a lot of people were holding cell phones to their ears for extended periods of time, bigger phones, different phones."

What McDonough says is really needed is more long-term studies, although none have yet shown any danger with cell phone usage, at least nothing concrete.

1010 WINS' Al Jones reports: New WHO Study Says Cell Phones May Cause Cancer


Dr. Ronald Ennis, director of radiation oncology at St. Lukes/Roosevelt Hospital, also questions the study.

"It is clear that these radio waves and micro waves that come out can disturb cells a little bit. You can find changes in cells if you measure them very carefully. But whether that's enough to really cause a disease or problem is still very, very unclear," said Ennis.

The WHO's cancer agency is concerned about how people use cell phones; holding them to their head when they talk. Even though the level of radiation emitted by cell phones is tiny, scientists say they can't know for sure whether that's doing serious damage until very long term studies are conducted, because brain tumors caused by environmental factors take so long to develop.

Even the manufacturers of popular cell phones like iPhone and Blackberry, have for some time now, recommended people keep the phone away from their bodies.

But classifying agents as "possibly carcinogenic'' doesn't mean they automatically cause cancer and some experts said the ruling shouldn't change people's cell phone habits.

Dr. Ennis says if you are worried, there are easy ways to minimize any potential risk.

"If you use an earpiece and it's connected by a wire to your phone or you use a speaker phone and it's away from your body just a short distance, you have really nothing at all to be worried about," he said.

The expert panel said there was limited evidence cell phone use was linked to two types of brain tumors and inadequate evidence to draw conclusions for other cancers.

"We found some threads of evidence telling us how cancers might occur, but there were acknowledged gaps and uncertainties,'' said Jonathan Samet, the panel's chairman.

"The WHO's verdict means there is some evidence linking mobile phones to cancer but it is too weak to draw strong conclusions from,'' said Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research U.K. "If such a link exists, it is unlikely to be a large one.''

Last year, results of a large study found no clear link between cell phones and cancer. But some advocacy groups contend the study raised serious concerns because it showed a hint of a possible connection between very heavy phone use and glioma, a rare but often deadly form of brain tumor. However, the numbers in that subgroup weren't sufficient to make the case.

The study was controversial because it began with people who already had cancer and asked them to recall how often they used their cell phones more than a decade ago.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission have found no evidence cell phones are linked to cancer.

What do you think about the study? Let us know below in our comments section.

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.