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WHO: Cellphones "Possibly" Carcinogenic

In a new report from thirty-one scientists who met at the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer,  a branch of the WHO found that using a mobile phone may increase risk for certain types of brain cancers. The organization placed cell phones on the 2B Carcinogens List. A statement released noted the possible connection between cell phones and two types of brain tumors, gliomas and acoustic neuromas.

But experts caution the public not to panic, as there is much still left to determine as far as how dangerous cell phone radiation truly is.  

“When we as consumers hear 'possibly carcinogenic,' we freak," says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. "But the data is not at all certain and needs further study."

It’s true that the thirty-one scientists convened last week in Lyon, France, and that they assessed existing studies, including two new reports which have yet to be published. But no new research was conducted; also, cell phones were placed on the list as only possible to be carcinogenic.

Peter Shields of Georgetown University Medical Center, cancer researcher, cited three categories of risk: possible, probable, and known.

Cell phone radiation, according to this most recent report, falls under possible."This is nothing like asbestos or smoking, which causes cancer in one of ten people who smoke cigarettes," stated Shields.

There are also many different groups that cell phones could have been placed into but weren’t. The difference between group 1, group 2, and group 2B carcinogenic is any substance placed into group 1 (such as cigarettes and alcohol) is known to be cancer-causing, and there is no doubt or room to argue otherwise; substances placed into group 2 probably cause cancer, and substances placed into group 2B are listed as possible because there is only data which suggests they may be carcinogenic.

"The panel somehow decided that there is maybe something here that's possibly carcinogenic, which ranks with everything else in the world," said Donald Berry of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Other experts would rather error on the side of caution.

"There could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cellphones and cancer risk," working group chair Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California said in a statement.

"It's not new news. They've been cautioning people for a long time," stated Sally Frautschy, professor of neurology at UCLA Medical Center. "I try to minimize use and keep my calls short. I think there's been adequate research to show we need to minimize use and make better phones that emit less radiation."

In the year 2000, there were 109.5 million wireless subscriber connections in the United States, according to the CTIA, a wireless industry group; that number has risen exponentially, as by the end of 2010, there were 302.9 million wireless subscriber connections.

Some consumers are worried about cell phones because they emit low-frequency radiation, but it is too weak to damage DNA, Brawley assured.

Berry also stated that there is no evidence of a rise in U.S. brain cancer rates, despite the large increase in cell phone use. Berry said that the idea of cell phones causing brain cancer is "just an urban myth that keeps coming up.”

According to Brawley, most cell phone studies have significant limitations. Researchers usually question individuals with brain cancer about their cell phone use in the past, and then they compare those answers with the answers of people who have never had cancer.

But the human mind is fallible, and participants may not remember correctly, especially if they have suffered an experience as traumatic as being diagnosed with a brain tumor, he said.

The research will be published in The Lancet Oncology in the July 1 issue, and it will be available online in several days.

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