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Home News and Update Year 2011 Cell Use May Trigger Brain Cancer: WHO

Cell Use May Trigger Brain Cancer: WHO

Times of India
02 June 2011
By Malathy Iyer
Mumbai, India

Cell Use May Trigger Brain Cancer: WHO
It’s now official: overusing cell phones could possibly trigger brain cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) has, after years of dawdling, ruled that there is indeed an unhealthy link between tumors and mobile phone’s electromagnetic radiation.

On Tuesday, WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as Group 2B agents that could "possibly be carcinogenic to humans’’.

The cell phone–cancer link has been strongly debated for over a decade, but scientists had so far maintained that there is no indelible proof to nail electromagnetic radiation as the culprit. But the mood seems to have changed because of the phenomenal increase in the number of mobile phone subscriptions–5 billion globally and over 600 million users in India alone. The summation seems to be that it’s better to use prevention rather than hunt for cure(s) for mobile–related maladies.

The WHO/IARC classification is the result of a week–long deliberation between 31 scientists from 14 countries in Lyon, France. Cell scare: Don’t panic, limit use

Mumbai: A statement released on Tuesday by the working group categorically said that there is an increased risk of glioma–a malignant form of brain cancer–associated with wireless phone use. The WHO has warned that excessive cell phone usage could trigger brain cancer. International news agencies quoted Kurt Straif, the scientist in charge of editing the IARC reports that will be published in Lancet Oncology’s July 1 edition, as saying, "There is some evidence of increased risk of glioma and another form of non–malignant tumour called acoustic neuroma.’’

Cell Use May Trigger Brain Cancer: WHO
What has emerged as an area of major concern is the extensive use of mobile phones among the youth. "The number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children,’’ the working group said. The unwritten rule seems to be the WHO finding last year that problems could begin for those who have been speaking on a mobile phone for over 30 minutes every day for over 10 years.

Doctors have, however, asked people to not panic but be cautious. "Mobile phones are useful tools, but one should limit the use. Basically, you should cut down on talk time or use SMS,’’ said Dr Shashank Joshi, honorary editor of JAPI (Journal of Association of Physicians of India).

Cancer surgeon Dr P Jagannath said, "We have to ask people to either limit their calls or use more of handsfree. Manufacturers should be instructed to produce mobile with safe radiation levels.’’ He said the government should, in line with PUC certificate for vehicles, come up with EMR standards for cell phones and base towers.

Officially, India reacted with caution. Union health secretary Dr V M Katoch said, "There appears to be a lot of attention generated by WHO’s classification for electromagnetic radiation. But we will first go into the scientific merit of what has been said, analyze it and then react.’’

The Indian medical fraternity feels vindicated with the WHO/IARC classification. Said Dr Joshi, "We, in India, talked about the cancer–cell phone link three years back in our study.’’ The review study, published in JAPI, said that there is no denying that excessive use of phone could lead to health hazards in general and cancer in particular. "It’s not just cancer, cell phones can affect people’s hormonal levels, lead to acoustic neuromas in the ears and even anxiety about ring tones,’’ said Joshi.

In February, an inter–ministerial committee formed by Union Ministry of communications and IT concluded that radiation from mobile phones and towers poses serious health risks, including loss of memory, lack of concentration, disturbance in the digestive system and sleep disturbances.

The IARC monograph is based on WHO’s Interphone study, which was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology last year. The report had suggested that using a mobile phone for more than 30 minutes each day could increase the risk of glioma.

The IARC Monograph Working Group also discussed electromagnetic fields arising from occupational exposures to radar and to microwaves; environmental exposures associated with transmission of signals for radio, TV and wireless telecommunication and personal exposures associated with the use of wireless telephones.

Take a Break From Your Handset
Who–IARC’S Cell Phone–Cancer Link
IARC Monographs identify environmental factors, such as chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical and biological agents and lifestyle factors, that can increase the risk of human cancer. Since 1971, over 900 agents have been evaluated, of which approximately 400 have been identified as carcinogenic or potentially carcinogenic to humans

Group 1 The agent is carcinogenic to humans, based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans
Group 2 This category includes agents for which, at one extreme, the degree of evidence of carcinogenicity in humans is almost sufficient, as well as those for which, at the other extreme, there are no human data but there is evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Agents can be either Group 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans) or Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans)
Group 2A This means there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals
Group 2B Agents so classified have limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals Some agents (without inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and animals) may be classified as 2B based on mechanistic and other relevant data
Group 3 The agent is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans
Group 4 The agent is probably not carcinogenic to humans

What Indian Scientists\Doctors Have Said so Far
  • An inter–ministerial committee formed by Union ministry of communications and IT in February 2011 concluded that radiation from mobile phones and towers poses serious health risks, including loss of memory, lack of concentration, disturbance in the digestive system and sleep disturbances
  • It also attributed the disappearance of butterflies, bees, insects and sparrows vanishing from big cities to mobile phone–related radiation
  • Three years ago, Journal of Association of Physicians of India (JAPI) editor Shashank Joshi carried a comprehensive review on the harmful effects The review said:
  1. Thermal effect: Exposure to very high radio frequency power densities (100 mW/cm2 or more) can heat biological tissue and increase body temperature
  2. Neurological: Predominant one–sided usage, high daily usage and exposure for a large duration of time (usually more than 10 years) have been found in some studies to raise the risk of brain tumours
  3. Psychiatric: Experts report increasing incidence of ringtone anxiety in which users imagine their phone to be ringing or feel it vibrating
  4. Cardiovascular: Mobiles can cause electromagnetic interference in the working of implanted pacemakers
  5. Endocrine: A French group studied the influence of electromagnetic fields emitted by GSM–900 cellular telephones on steroid and pituitary hormone levels in healthy males and discovered that levels dropped
  6. Reproductive: Rats subjected to mobile radiation were found to have damaged DNA and low sperm count
  7. Miscellaneous: A study said that prolonged use of a cellphone leads to inactivity and is associated with an increased risk of obesity
What to Do With Cellphones Now
  • Limit the use to essential calls and keep them short, particularly in rural areas. Or, simply, text
  • Allow children to use a cellphone only in cases of emergency. Since their skulls are developing, radiation can penetrate deeper than in adults
  • Do not make a call when the signal strength is at one bar or less. It essentially means the phone must work harder to establish a connection
  • Buy a phone with a low specific absorption rate (SAR), which is a way to measure the quantity of RF energy that is absorbed by the body

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