The World Health Organization yesterday placed cell phone use on its list of items that can potentially cause cancer in humans, based on studies suggesting an increased risk of glioma, a rare type of brain cancer. The group based its new classification on a review of the research by a group of 31 scientists from various countries, which found the data were limited but enough to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
"The evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion ... that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk," said University of Southern California epidemiologist Dr. Jonathan Samet, who chaired the group of scientists, in a statement released to the media.
The group emphasized that more research needs to be conducted before the real risks of cell phone use are known. But that could take years, leaving all of us cell phone users with the question: What should we do in the meantime?
Dr. William Curry, a neurosurgeon at Mass. General Hospital says that he generally tries to text or use his cellphone on speaker mode. Still, he noted, studies of cancer risk and cellphone use have been largely inconclusive, and some have been flawed in their methodology -- asking brain cancer patients, for example, to recall how many hours they've spent on their cellphones through the years.
He also reassures patients diagnosed with brain cancer that their cell phone use probably had little or nothing to do with their diagnosis. "I am asked about it almost daily by patients who already have brain tumors" on whether their cellphone use might have contributed to their cancer.
A large international study published last year found no increased risk of two common types of brain cancer with cellphone use. That study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found a small increased risk of glioma in those who used their phones the most, but the finding hasn't been borne out by other research conducted by the National Cancer Institute.
One intriguing finding published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that cellphones lead to a temporary change in the brain's metabolism of sugar -- which suggests that cell phones have an impact on brain function though not necessarily a harmful one.
Still, that was enough to get study author Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse, to limit her cellphone use; she said in a previous interview that she only uses her cell on speaker or with wired ear pieces to keep the antenna away from close contact with her brain.
John Walls, vice president, public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a cellphone manufacturer industry group, said in a statement that the new the WHO categorization and "does not mean cellphones cause cancer" and pointed out that federal agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration have stated that the weight of the scientific evidence doesn't link cellphones with any health problems.
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