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WHO says cellphones could increase cancer risk

By Erica Johnson
Tuesday, May 31, 2011, 4:22 PM
The largest study ever done on cellphones makes some disturbing conclusions - cell phones could increase your risk of getting cancer.

The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found that radiation emitted by our cellphones could be as carcinogenic as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.

Thirty-one scientists -- including two Canadians -- assessed hundreds of studies of cancer in humans, as well as experimental studies on animals and other data. Their verdict:  radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by cellphones are "possibly carcinogenic." That means there's some evidence linking cell phones to cancer, but that more research is needed to make strong conclusions. Still, worrisome news for the more than five-billion cellphone users worldwide.

Related Marketplace stories:
Canada's Worst Cellphone Bill: The Sequel (2011)
We're looking for Canada's worst cellphone bill... again!
Do you know what the radiation level is for your cellphone? (2010)
There are about 23 million cellphone subscribers in Canada, but not many know that radio frequency energy, a type of radiation, is absorbed by the body when the phone is being used. It takes a bit of digging, but you can find your phone's radiation level in the manual, or online. It's called the SAR rate.
Canada's Worst Cellphone Bill (2010)
The story behind huge bills many Canadians rack up from using their cellphones.
Generation Cellphone (2009)
New evidence about possible health risks for children who use cellphones on a long-term basis.
Cellphone Secrets (2005)
The inside info carriers don't want you to hear
Cellphone Study (2003)
Marketplace took a "behind-the-scenes" look at the IARC study -- and the Canadian connections between a billion dollar industry and the science.
Cellphone Shields (2001)
Marketplace puts a cellphone radiation prevention device to the test.
We've covered the debate over mobile phones and cancer several times on Marketplace:  Cellphone Study looked at industry influence on cellphone research, Generation Cellphone looked at whether cellphones are safe for kids, and just last year, we asked why cellphone makers don't have to label their cellphones' radiation levels.

IARC's panel concluded that cellphones may pose a health risk for two types of brain tumours - glioma and acoustic neuroma, but that the research was "inadequate" when it comes to other types of cancer.  And of course, cellphones didn't become hugely popular until five to ten years ago, prompting the lead researcher of the massive study, Canadian Elisabeth Cardis, to note that most of the people in the study "were not heavy users by today's standards."

Industry has always insisted that cellphones are safe, but also recommends that people use ear pieces instead of holding phones close to the head, and that people text more.  Most manuals that accompany cellphones recommend users hold the device at least one inch from the head -- something that no one I know does.

Today's study also pointed out that we need cancer research into children's use of cellphones. No kidding.