World Health Organization: Mobile phone cancer risk 'possible'

Not 'probable'. Not yet


In a move that's sure to fan the flames of the ongoing debate about the safety of mobile phones, a panel of World Health Organization (WHO) experts has classified those ubiquitous handsets as "possibly carcinogenic to humans".

The group of 31 scientists from 14 countries, meeting in Lyon, France, under the auspices of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), formally classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as Group B carcinogenic agents due to their potential to induce gliomas, a particularly nasty type of brain cancer that, for example, killed US Senator Ted Kennedy in 2009.

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

The IARC's director Christopher Wild added: "Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings, it is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐term, heavy use of mobile phones."

Until mobile phones are bumped up to Group 2A – "Probably carcinogenic to humans" – or demoted to non-carcinogenic, Wild recommends that "it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting."

Among the IARC's classifications, Group 2B includes 266 "possibly" carcinogenic agents, including carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, lead, some versions of the human papilloma virus (HPV), and extremely low-frequency magnetic fields.

With mobile phones being classified along with those rather unnerving agents, it should also be noted that Group 2B also includes traditional Asian pickled vegetables and coffee.

Tuesday's IARC release notes that the group used as one of its sources the Interphone study published in March 2010. The 13-country, decade-long investigation of 7,416 tumor patients and about twice that number of controls concluded that "Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones" for normal users.

The Interphone study, however, also came to the conclusion that "There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation."

In addition, that study came to the paradoxical conclusion that those who use a mobile phone on a normal, but not heavy, basis actually had fewer tumors than those who use a corded phone.

Simply put, the jury is still out – but the IARC group, after studying "hundreds of scientific articles" on the topic, believes that caution is warranted and that further study is necessary.

A cynic, of course, might opine that the IARC is merely calling for further study in order to justify its existence and secure future funding. While it is impossible to either prove or disprove that assertion, the size, scope, literature-based research, and broad range of funding sources of the IARC argue against that accusation. A far more likely reason for the request for further study is the need for further study – Occam's Razor, y'know?

A "concise report" on the group's finding will be published in "a few days" in The Lancet's online oncology report. ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022