Vanessa Wasta

Vanessa Wasta

This isn't a new story, nor one that has a definitive answer.  Public health and other experts are still trying to sort out any link between cell phones and brain cancer, and now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has added radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones and other devices to a list of "possible" carcinogens.  Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California and former epidemiology director at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health led the group that made the announcement from the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  Experts have said it may take several more decades for clear evidence to emerge on brain cancer risk from cell phone use, and the ubiquitous devices are used by increasing numbers of children.  Even so, one of my colleagues pointed out that since texting has become a preferred mode of communication for younger generations, she's never seen her children ever talk on a cell phone.

Patrick N. Breysse, Ph.D., professor in the division of Environmental Health Engineering and director of the Industrial Hygiene Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, offered his take on the WHO/IARC announcement:

"The IARC classification is based on a review of existing literature and concludes that the epidemiologic literature provides evidence that cell phones can possibly cause brain cancer (glioma and acoustic neuroma).  IARC uses a graded scale to classify carcinogenic evidence - the 2B designation is the lowest ranking on the scale.  According to IARC the 2B classification is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. According to IARC, limited evidence means that:
'A positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.'

Other agents currently listed as 2B carcinogens include coffee, lead, chloroform, and magnetic fields from power lines.

The good news is that there are many things cell phone users can do to reduce their exposure. These include texting, using hands free devices, and holding the phone a few inches from your head when in use. "

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