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World Health Organization Says Mobile Phones May Cause Cancer 354

Schiphol writes "A new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) concludes that mobile phone radiation presents a carcinogenic hazard. Are cell phones going to be the new tobacco, then?" This seems to be a new interpretation of a long-tern WHO study of possible cellphone health risks that had "inconclusive results" last May.
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World Health Organization Says Mobile Phones May Cause Cancer

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @08:56AM (#36307090) Journal
    I heard this on NPR and they did a better job of putting this new classification into context (and probably detoothing the newsworthiness). It's classified by the IARC as Group 2B, not even Group 2A. The serious list is Group 1 [] which indicates they are carcinogenic to humans. Group 2B [] simply means "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

    I would like to point out that also in Group 2B are Magnetic fields (extremely low frequency), pickled vegetables, coffee, nickel and the occupation of carpentry and joinery. And you know what else? Citrus Red No. 2 which is used to color the oranges you buy in supermarkets.

    So they've put it next to coffee, coinage and food coloring. Why doesn't everyone flip out when things like those are added to Group 2B?
  • by Shadowmist ( 57488 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @09:12AM (#36307210)

    Real story: the WHO lacked the guts to put this cellphone nonsense to bed once and for all. Studies that ask people with brain cancers "How much did you use your phone?" are pretty much all they had, and they seem to be the definition of "Confirmation Bias."

    In other news, the media fails science forever, but we knew that already.

    I think they did put in a bit more effort than that. low level EMF radiation is not a trivial issue. And if you read the reports instead of concentrating on being shrill they did identify particular groups at risk, such as infants whose parents use cellphone music to keep their toddlers quiet and basically park an active phone next to young developing skulls and brains for hours on end. It also depended a lot on shape, Many flip phones because of their geometry kept the radiating part sufficiently away to be much less a concern, but almsot all smartphones today are unibody designs which means the EMF emitting body and screen is in direct contact with your head.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @09:29AM (#36307362)

    Polycarbonate, the plastic used in most cellphones, out-gas various chemicals some of which are known carcinogens. These include benzene, toluene, and chlorobenzene. Since you usually hold the phone up to your face I would bet that you breath enough of this in to cause the amount of cancer found in any study. Real research is done with a negative control for a reason. Since, there is so much radio waves all around us, there is no where that you can exist without the presence of them. Not only that, there is no way for any EM of the wavelength (> than 1 M) or frequency to cause damage to any tissue. The microwave frequency can but it's wavelength is 10 cm and only interacts with molecules on the vibrational frequency that gets absorbed and converted into heat.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @09:35AM (#36307410)

    Claiming that cell phones can cause cancer is like saying that the wake from a surfboard could capsize a passing supertanker.

    (And the orders of magnitude in this analogy are not exaggerated. The long-wavelength photons emitted by cell phones would need to be millions of times more energetic to break a peptide bond.)

  • by toppavak ( 943659 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @09:50AM (#36307592)
    The problem is that the evidence goes both ways, some studies show a correlation, others don't. Keep in mind that what's been said by the WHO isn't that the studies that showed a correlation are correct, just that they might be. The end result for the WHO is to say "well, there *might* be a link so we should at least continue to watch the issue" which is basically all that classifying cell phones as class 2B carcinogens says. As noted by other commentors, this class of potential carcinogen includes things like caffeine, nickel and Red No. 2 food coloring. Basically the slightly misleading name of the category (calling it a carcinogen) has the media all in a tizzy since of course journalists never actually read the quotes they're relaying or look into what that pesky 2B in front means.

    "This IARC classification does not mean cell phones cause cancer. Under IARC rules, limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though bias and other data flaws may be the basis for the results."

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @10:36AM (#36308088)

    That does not make it medicine at all. It is still just a pesticide. Otherwise it could be the safest car too.

    DDT is not banned where it is needed for Malaria control. The very treaty that made it illegal in most nations has a health exemption.

    The fact that you call people nutcases based on your lack of understanding of the actual situation is why it is most reasonable to call you an asshole. It's a perfectly accurate description of the situation.

  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @11:43AM (#36308912) Journal

    DDT wasn't outlawed for being in group 2B, it's use was highly restricted to indoor use only due to it's extreme persistence in the environment and it's tendency to cause bird eggs to have thin shells. DDT is probably one of the least toxic (to mammals) of all insecticides, it was directly applied to people as a delousing agent and DDT salesmen used to eat it to demonstrate it's safety. It's use is increasing in the fight against Malaria in Africa, we'll probably see it used in the US to combat the present bedbug infestations that are occuring.

  • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @11:46AM (#36308950) Journal

    Are cell phones going to be the new tobacco, then?



    If cell phones were anywhere near as bad as tobacco - or even anywhere near as bad as the doomsayers insist - then the extensive, large-scale, costly, long-term studies already conducted would have picked up a clear effect already.

    Detecting the negative health effects of tobacco was some pretty low-hanging epidemiological fruit. Smokers die between ten and fifteen years younger than their non-smoking peers. Between one half and two thirds will die from a smoking-related illness. Their risk of lung cancer is elevated more than tenfold; about one in six smokers will be killed by it.

    For cellular phones, the absolute worst-case scenario is a statistically-significant increase in the risk of certain rare cancers, affecting a minuscule portion of the population. The WHO's caution is based principally on a single study that found a 40% increase in glioma incidence among heavy cell phone users; the WHO report noted that while there is reason for suspicion, chance or coincidence couldn't be ruled out as a cause of the apparent effect.

    The incidence of central nervous system tumors is something like 7 per 100,000 population per year; gliomas are about half of that total []. If we assume that the full 40% increase in risk is real and accurate, then we're looking at something like 1 or 2 cases per 100,000 population per year. This isn't the next tobacco. This isn't tobacco's kid brother. This isn't even tobacco's fifth cousin's hamster. Heavy cell phone use is something like a thousand-fold less risky than lighting up.

    You're more likely to be killed [] by a car (either as a pedestrian or as an occupant), or drowning, or accidental poisoning. You're appreciably more likely to be shot and killed (though slightly less likely to be stabbed to death). Statistically speaking, the average American is quite a bit more likely to deliberately kill himself rather than wait for his cell phone to do it for him.

    The most likely way for cell phone use to kill or maim anyone isn't through radiation, but through distracted driving.

  • by Sipper ( 462582 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @12:07PM (#36309174)

    Cell phones cannot cause cancer.

    The reason is that the frequencies cell phones use are below the spectrum of ultraviolet light. It is near the spectrum of ultraviolet light where the first ionizing radiation occurs, which is required to be able to cause cancer. Ionizing means that the energy level of the individual photons of the transmission have enough energy to disturb the molecular structure of live cells. Microwave "radiation" (which has absolutely nothing to do with nuclear radiation) is far within the level of the non-ionizing radiation spectrum, so there is no possibility of it having the energy required to cause cancer.

    Cell phones use frequencies around 800 MHz to around 2 GHz or so. 3 GHz has an energy level of about 12.4 ueV; ultraviolet light where the first ionizing radiation is possible is around 124ev -- that's a 10 million to one difference in energy level. Have a look at the energy level chart on the right hand side of: []

    or even better, see page 3 of FCC OET Bulletin 56, which is a Q&A on Biological Effects and Potential Hazards of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields: []

    People are also afraid of the cell base stations, because they don't know how safe they actually are. The transmitters for these typically send 20 - 40 watts -- that's all. This is then sent through directional "sectored" antennas that typically have 120 degrees of horizontal beam width and only 6 to 15 degrees of vertical beam width; so the three-dimensional antenna pattern is like a 120 degree slice of a pancake, yielding gain of about 13 dBi. This focusing is where the "gain" of antennas comes from -- by focusing where the energy is transmitted.

    In the U.S., the standard for specifically what frequencies and power levels are considered safe is the IEEE C95.1 standard, which is unfortunately not freely available, however there's a an overview here: []

    This standard is incredibly long to read, but boils down to this: the only proven effect of microwave radiation in 60 years of research is the effect of microwave heating. No cancer. Further than that, the standard narrows down to the power levels that are safe for various frequency regions concerning microwave heating.

    But if you really want something to "bite your teeth on", have a look at the international ICNIRP guidelines: []

    Now, if you go through the MATH of how close you have to be to the antennas of a cell tower for it to be "unsafe", the result is pretty interesting:

    Spec limit for human-absorbed power per IEEE C95-1 at 900 MHz: 50 Watts/m^2
    13 dBi gain = gain of 20
    EIRP = 20 W transmitted power * gain of 20 = 400 W
    400 W / 4*pi*R^2 = 50 W/m^2
    R = 0.636 meters
    0.636 meters = 2.09 feet

    So at 900 MHz and with a typical transmit power of 20 Watts and a sectored antenna with 13 dBi gain, you need to be 2 feet in front of the antenna while it's transmitting for it to be considered unsafe. This means the only way it's unsafe for a human being is if they're not only on the tower, but right in front of the antenna while it's operating at full power.

    The cell phones themselves have a limit on how much power they are allowed to transmit. There are different power limits in various countries; in the U.S. the limit is 1.6 W/kg SAR, in Canada I believe t

  • by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @12:52PM (#36309592)

    Incorrect. You can not tell ripeness of an orange by it's color. Color is affected mostly by climate. You can tell the ripeness of a picked orange by weight and firmness. Oranges are dyed precisely because people like you think that color actually means something.

  • by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @01:21PM (#36309934)

    Most of the rat studies have, um, phenomenally low samples. You'd think that with today's technology they could run thousands of experiments for each group (cage, control, exposed). The results are really touch-and-go in all the papers you mentioned. Of course they have statistical validity, but the degree to which they are valid (likelihood of same outcome happening by random) leaves something to be desired IMHO.

    Alas, that's not where the main issue is. The main issues I have is with blaming GSM specifically, and are as follows, and if you have any citations that address those I'd love to hear:

    1. Did anyone test with continuous, wideband noise with same overall absorption?
    2. Did anyone test with wideband noise pulse-modulated to typical GSM envelope?
    3. Did anyone test with penetrating longwave infrared radiation (from a laser), at same absorption, running with same GSM envelope?
    4. Did anyone consider that the effects may be of thermo-mechanical origin, where the envelope causes repetitive thermal shock?

    At this point it's very unclear what is to blame, and at best the results indicate that a whole lot of other research needs to be done.

  • by pyrr ( 1170465 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @01:41PM (#36310226)

    But that's not how cancers work. Every time you're exposed to a carcinogen, there's a probability that it will cause damage to your DNA relative to its carcinogenic properties. There's a range of damage it can potentially do. There's a chance that the damage will be repaired. There's a chance that the damage won't really amount to anything, but it might also prove to be malignant. Roll all these probabilities together, but wind-up being pretty unlucky, you get life-threatening, malignant cancer. Carcinogens aren't really cumulative-damage sorts of things; you could chain-smoke for 50 years and not get lung cancer (in which case you'd probably be beating the odds in a death-defying manner), or you could possibly be unlucky enough to have some toxic particulate act on your lung tissue and start a cancer from one whiff of secondhand smoke when you're 5 years old. Every single exposure is a roll of the dice, with one of the static multipliers being the exposure's potential for causing damage to DNA. If that probability is "0", it doesn't matter how many times you roll the dice, you cannot get cancer from that exposure, period.

    That leaves the only question, "What is the potential mechanism for radio waves to damage DNA?" There could be some element we don't understand, but from what we do understand, there is essentially zero chance that the radio transmitters in mobile phones can damage DNA in the skin of your ears, much less your brain cells. If it *could* be demonstrably proven to cause damage to any DNA, then there might be cause for concern. But there is no evidence at all to support such suppositions.

  • by a_nonamiss ( 743253 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @03:17PM (#36311382)

    paying higher prices for no measurable gain in nutrition or the number of your days left on the planet

    Organic Eggs have twice the Omega-3 fatty acid content, three times the Vitamin E and seven times as much beta-carotene. Eggs are food, and the gain in nutrition is measurable. This is based on science, as the diet of the chicken significantly affects the nutrient content in the eggs. Caged chickens are five times more likely to have salmonella infections than organic raised chickens. While it's not a gain in nutrition, per se, it's most definitely going to statistically affect the number of days you have left on the planet.

    Regular milk is flash-pasteurized at between 140F - 160F for a short time. Organic milk is pasteurized using UHT (Ultra High Temperature) at 275F. Because of this, organic milk has measurably less bacteria content, and it takes longer to spoil. If you don't believe me, next time you're at the grocery store, compare the expiration dates of the organic milk vs. non-organic. This is not a nutritional consideration, but for me, less trips to the store is a measurable gain.

    Because organic raised cattle graze on grass versus grain, the omega-3 fatty acid content of organic beef is significantly higher than beef raised in a CAFO. Grass-fed beef also tastes different in double-blind taste tests, as the composition of the muscle tissue is different. (I didn't say better, I said different.) This makes sense, because they have a different level of physical activity and grow at different rates.

    So next time you try to say something, especially if you are chastising someone else for their ignorance, first ask yourself, "Is this just some crap I heard, or does what I'm saying actually have some truth to it."

Profanity is the one language all programmers know best.