Wireless Industry Questions WHO Report on Mobile Phone Cancer Risk

The wireless industry strove to downplay the claims of a report issued May 31 by the World Health Organization alerting the public to a possible connection between mobile phones and brain cancer.

After the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a warning of a heightened risk of a type of brain cancer from heavy use of mobile phones, wireless industry experts have claimed that the research to date was not substantive enough to support the report's conclusion.

From May 24 to 31, 31 scientists from 14 countries met in Lyon, France, to discuss non-ionizing radiation and the exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields, which mobile phones emit. In particular, the IARC examined whether cell phone use could be linked to the development of a form of brain tumors called gliomas.

"The evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification," Dr. Jonathan Samet, from the University of Southern California and chairman of the WHO working group that met, said in a statement. "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."

An IARC 2B classification means that an item has been found to be "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

The IARC based its May 31 warning on hundreds of scientific articles and conducted no additional research. The full report will be published on the IARC's Monographs site.

The scientific research used by the IARC as a basis for its report included the results of its Interphone project, an international study on the risk of cancer when using mobile phones. Interphone concluded that a risk of cancer did not exist among cell phone users despite the most intensive mobile users experiencing a possible slight increase in tumors.

Meanwhile, CTIA-The Wireless Association downplayed the IARC's warning. The results can be compared with the same scores given to "pickled vegetables and coffee," John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA, said in a statement. "This IARC classification does not mean cell phones cause cancer," Walls said. "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."

In the past, both the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have indicated that not enough information exists to link mobile phone usage with health problems.

On its Website, the FDA states that if a health hazard exists with cell phones, it would require manufacturers to "repair, replace or recall the phones so that the hazard no longer exists."

The National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, described the IARC report as "neither new research nor at odds with previous findings." Still, like with IARC, NCI recommended continued monitoring of brain-cancer patterns, particularly for young users.

Meanwhile, The NTP (National Toxicology Program) at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has been conducting a study on mobile phone radio-frequency exposure using rodents. "The studies are designed to mimic human exposure and are based on the frequencies and modulations currently in use in the United States," NCI reports.