Here's an earful: Cell phones may pose a brain cancer risk

Cell phones have become a highly integrated part of society, including long-term care. But users might face a heightened brain cancer risk, the World Health Organization is warning.

“Clearly, the evidence’s classification is ‘possible,’ so it means that there night be a link; the evidence was sufficient to say that,” said Jonathan Samet, M.D., of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. This branch recently met for a week to assess the available data compiled in dozens of previous studies. Their conclusion: Cell phones might be carcinogenic to humans. The agency did not specifically say there is a link, but there was a clear implication that one is possible.

Robert Baan, a spokesman for the agency, noted that cell phone handsets expose users to more radio waves than are seen with mobile-phone towers or base stations.

These electromagnetic fields are rated “possibly carcinogenic,” the same category as diesel fuel, chloroform and working as a firefighter, according to the agency.

“There is some evidence for an increased risk of glioma,” or brain cancer, said Kurt Straif, head of the International Agency for Research On Cancer’s Monographs Program. “It’s not at the moment clearly established that the use of mobile phones does in fact cause cancer.”

This is the first time an agency working group has examined research on radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to make a definitive recommendation.

The agency didn’t issue guidelines for cell phone use. It said more study is needed.

Some cancer researchers in the United States took issue with the statement, noting that the WHO did not conduct any new research, just a review of what was out there already.

The Federal Communications Commission has said devices with a specific absorption rate, the amount of radio-frequency energy absorbed by the body, are safe within a set limit.