Mobile phones and other wireless communication devices may cause cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a subsidiary of the World Health Organization.
Announced overnight, the research agency handed radio frequency electromagnetic fields – produced by devices such as mobile phones – a Group 2B classification, which is “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
“[The decision was] based on an increased risk of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use,” according to IARC.
A group of 31 experts from 14 countries met in Lyon, France over the past eight days made the conclusion based on peer reviewed epidemiological studies, as the working group did not conduct their own research.
“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,” Dr Jonathan Samet, chairman of the working group, said in a statement.
He also said two studies in particular – one being last year’s Interphone study – provided evidence that mobile phone use was associated with higher rates of glioma.
However, IARC director Christopher Wild emphasised the importance of additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones before establishing a link between cancer and mobile phones.
Weighing in on the debate, UNSW professor, Bernard Stewart, who had once chaired the IARC’s working group and remains closely affiliated with them, does not believe the exposure to mobile phones increases the risk of developing cancer.
“In the case of electromagnetic (ELM) fields, and this is my opinion as an individual investigator, to my mind it is important that ELM fields have not produced tumours of any description in rats or mice,” he said.
“All the other agents that we know cause cancer in humans in one way or another cause cancer in experimental animals. So on the fundamental biological level, I have yet to be convinced of the ability of ELM fields to cause human cells to become malignant and the consideration that the data we have shows no net increase in brain cancer.
“In terms of the need for more research, we’ve only used mobile phones for a decade or so, so I have to confess we don’t know the long-term effects but at the moment, I don’t think the data [is] cause for immediate public concern.”
Other agents listed under the IARC’s broad 2B carcinogen category include coffee, gasoline and pickled vegetables.
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