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Cross posted here.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced this past week that cell phone use may cause brain cancer. Although we've heard this rumored and bandied about before, the official WHO report has created quite the international stir.

Frankly, I'm not at all surprised by the disclosure. A debate has been simmering for years about whether cell phone makers have misrepresented the risks inherent in the use of their products. And I've tried enough radiation-poisoning cases over the years to have built up a healthy suspicion of those hand-held devices that have become as indispensable as any of our other appendages.

If you're one of those people who always has a cell phone stuck to your ear, I've got two words for you: land line.

After analyzing all available scientific data, the "recommendation" from the working group of 31 WHO scientists from 14 countries is that cell phone use be classified as "possibly carcinogenic." Okay, but did we really need a working group of some of the top scientists in the world to tell us that? It's a relatively useless categorization, except that it paves the way for further official study to establish a definitive connection.

From a June 2 front-page USA Today article:

"There could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cellphones and cancer risk." working group chair Jonathan Samet, of the University of Southern California, said in a statement. It noted the possible connection between cellphones and two types of brain tumors: gliomas and acoustic neuromas.

The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer did take the additional step of recommending that the 5 billion cell phone users around the world consider ways to reduce their exposure. In an era in which consumers are devouring thousands and thousands of cell minutes every month, it's time to dust off those land lines and start using them again. The "reduce your exposure" suggestion from the WHO leads me to believe that the health agency will ultimately reveal that there is indeed a definitive connection – it is now simply a matter of how serious the risk.

A number of prominent mass tort attorneys, myself included, have been looking at this consumer-safety issue for a while. I personally am waiting for the perfect case to file. What makes these cell phone cases different from your garden-variety radiation case is that proof of exposure will be relatively simple because the phone companies are kind enough to document use by the minute.

The timing of the WHO announcement is sure to have an impact on the legal proceedings already underway, at the highest levels. From a June 1 Reuters article:

The WHO report comes as a proposed class-action lawsuit against 19 defendants, mostly cell phone manufacturers and telecommunications companies, has landed at the U.S. Supreme Court. The defendants – which include Nokia, AT&T Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. – are accused of misrepresenting that their cell phones are safe, when they in fact knew of potential dangers.

A lower appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs' claims were preempted by federal law. But on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court formally asked the U.S. Justice Department to weigh in on whether the high court should hear the plaintiffs' appeal.

We'll keep you posted on that decision as the story continues to unfold. The WHO announcement, featured in a front-page USA Today story, was heard around the world, and the collective heart of cell phone makers skipped a beat. Though I don't think we'll see a cratering of cell phone sales – at least not for the time being – there is definitely an economic issue inherent in all this. According to Gartner, a Connecticut-based information technology research and advisory firm, 428 million mobile communication devices were sold in the first quarter of 2011. That's a 19 percent increase over the first quarter of 2010. And according to CTIA, a wireless industry group, there were more than 300 million wireless-subscriber connections in the United States alone at the close of 2010, nearly tripling the 109 million hookups that were active in 2000. Those stats represent some serious revenue that the communication industry would hate to see dry up. My guess is manufacturers will have to make adjustments to keep sales soaring.

USA Today quotes Sally Frautschy, professor of neurology at UCLA Medical Center: "I try to minimize use and keep my calls short. I think there's been adequate research to show we need to minimize use and make better phones that emit less radiation."

So if you're one of those people who is constantly on a cell phone, you may want to dial that back. And if you're heavily invested in stocks tied to cell phone service providers and manufacturers, you may want to hedge your bet in the not-too-distant future. In both cases, it seems, there are risks to consider.

Read the USA Today story here:

Read the rundown on cell phone safety lawsuits here:

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Comment Preferences

  •  Quick questions (5+ / 0-)

    Would using a Bluetooth or other wireless ear piece be any better? Seems to me it's still sending radiation to your head but it should be a lot less then the phone itself.

    Also, why are your tags all about the BP spill?

    As soon as you have people telling other people how to live/think/behave because "god gave them authority" you effectively get dictators in funny looking hats.

    by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 07:26:30 AM PDT

  •  One word- bluetooth (6+ / 0-)

    This issue is well worth discussing.  Anytime the financial stakes are this high, the truth becomes hard to ascertain.

    Here's some facts for those asking about bluetooth headsets as a way to avoid cellphone use risk.

    A typical 900MHz GSM mobile phone has an average power of up to 250mW.

    My bluetooth headset has a transmit power of 0.26mW

    So the bluetooth headset has about .1 per cent of the transmit power of my mobile phone.  

    By far the biggest risk of cell phone use is incurred blabbing on it while driving, so at least a bluetooth will help keep your field of vision clear and both hands on the wheel.

    Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. ~Edward Abbey

    by martinjedlicka on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 07:28:16 AM PDT

    •  And thus answering my question (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Thanks, that's a huge difference. So how do you get teens to wear them? Face it, they give off a "major dorkarge" vibe.

      As soon as you have people telling other people how to live/think/behave because "god gave them authority" you effectively get dictators in funny looking hats.

      by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 07:39:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  teens are most likely texting (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        martinjedlicka, Catte Nappe

        so they're not holding the phone to their head (not that it matters).  Which makes them orders of magnitude more likely to die from walking into traffic or driving into a ditch than any (unlikely) cell-phone induced cancer.

        Plus . . . it it's any kind of "smart phone" they're probably already using it for their "music", which means hard-wired earbuds and no "radiation" by their head, even at bluetooth levels.

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 07:50:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  What is the mechanism (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gerard w, wader, quill, MKinTN

    Whereby we get cancer from radio waves?

    You do realize all you're talking about are radio waves, don't you?  Radio waves which lance through your and my bodies on a non-stop basis constantly, all day, every day.

    I'm just curious.  There is a tremendous amount of hysteria regarding cell phones and nobody seems to be immune from it.  Oh, and from one of your linked articles I notice there's a pretty hefty disclaimer you seem to have failed to reprint:

    Donald Berry of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston notes that there has been no increase in U.S. brain cancer rates despite huge growth in cellphone use. The notion that cellphones cause brain cancer is "just an urban myth that keeps coming up," Berry says. "The panel somehow decided that there is maybe something here that's possibly carcinogenic, which ranks with everything else in the world."

    That's all I need to hear.  I'll keep using my two cellphones whenever I need to, thanks.  I don't have time for urban myths.  I dont' know what the fuck the WHO thinks they're doing promoting fucking urban myths with ZERO data associated with them, but that is the end of my interest in this topic.  Have a nice day.


    by slippytoad on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 07:51:19 AM PDT

      Recommended by:
      gerard w, wader, MKinTN
      Thirty-one experts, convened last week in Lyon, France, by WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer, analyzed existing studies, including two new ones that have not yet been published. No new research was conducted.

      This is apparently nothing more than a bunch of urban mythologizing given an official stamp.

      What the hell?  The more I read your source material, the more convinced I become that you need to delete this piece of shit diary.

      Just in case you forgot today: REPUBLICANS VOTED TO END MEDICARE. AND THEY'LL DO IT AGAIN.

      by slippytoad on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 07:56:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I thought you might just be ranting, but you're (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        right. This study is bull crap (I'm de-tipping the jar)

        From the National Cancer Institute SEER (Surveillance Epidemilogy and End Results)

        The joinpoint trend in SEER cancer incidence with associated APC(%) for cancer of the brain and other nervous system between 1975-2008, All Races

        1975 - 1987 +1.2% Males +1.6% Females
        1988 - 2008 -0.5% Males -0.2% Females

        A negative trend in the last 20 years. Seems to me that cellphones prevent brain cancer. Sorry, I generally like the WHO but on this issue they appear to have blown it big time.

        As soon as you have people telling other people how to live/think/behave because "god gave them authority" you effectively get dictators in funny looking hats.

        by ontheleftcoast on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 08:39:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I've posted a plausible mechanism in (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      other of the numerous diaries on this topic . . .

      While it seems implausible, there definitely is a reasonable scientific basis for the cell phone-cancer link.

      •  Sorry but you haven't (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        You assert a change in local metabolic rate (from cellphones) increases the number of reactive chemical species and could cause cancer.

        The argument is specious or other activities which increase local metabolism  more, such as turning on a light bulb or thinking, would increase cancers. Basically your argument can be summarized as, if you remain alive, your chance getting cancer is increased, which while strictly accurate, is meaningless.

         The data from the paper of interest to you doesn't even see a metabolic change  except at the barely significant level meaning that without much more proof it is as likely chance as not. The glioma paper is badly compromised by retrospectiveness, with cancer victims as likely as not to report increased potato chip consumption if they had been warned that potatoes caused cancer the way they had with cellphones.

        WHO has kicked the political can down the road by refusing to take a stand on plausibility.

        •  It is a plausible mechanism (0+ / 0-)

          if the increased glucose metabolism is focused on a small number of cells - especially cells not "used to" thinking (using your example) - they might not be able to handle the added ROS and DNA damage.

          Look, I'm not saying that this is at all likely, just that there is an established scientific basis at the molecular level for this to happen.

          •  Has it occured to you that the areas of the... (0+ / 0-)

            ...cerebral cortex used to process auditory information are in the temporal lobes, which is to say, those that are on the side of the head, around the ears?

            Simple question: In the years since Republicans successfully urged the disempowering of workers and unions in the Midwest, what has happened to those states economies?

            by Stephen Daugherty on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 10:20:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  not plausible (0+ / 0-)

            It's not in the "violation of basic laws" category, but "plausible" is an overstatement.

            Michael Weissman UID 197542

            by docmidwest on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 10:20:20 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  No, it is absolutely plausible (0+ / 0-)

              Do you know what causes most cases of brain cancer?

              If you do, you are way ahead of the curve . . ..  but there are cases were there is no clear genetic or environment cause - in these cases, ROS produced from normal metabolism most likely DO contribute to carcinogenesis.

              What is firmly established is

              1) glucose metabolism (which is affected by cell phone use) creates copious amounts of ROS)

              2) cell phone use increases glucose metabolism (almost certainly increasing ROS production).

              Therefore, if endogenous ROS levels are implicated in 1,000 cases of brain cancer, it IS NOT implausible that the increased ROS burden could bump that number up to 1,003.

              This is the type of thing that cannot be proven conclusively through epidemiology without HUGE sample sizes in the study groups.  

              Nevertheless, a rock solid scientific basis exists to form reasonable hypothesis and test them.  IMHO, the resources needed to do so - e.g., to do an epidemiological study of 1 billion cell phone users - would be badly misallocated.   But still, it is absolutely plausible if 3 billion people used cell phones and if 1 billion of them got cancer for other reasons, it would not be surprising if the number were bumped up to 1,000,003,049 or so through the added contributions of cell phones . ..

              •  Very small effects (0+ / 0-)

                are hard to rule out. As you say, we don't know much about the causes. I agree with you that certain physics fundamentalists who completely dismiss any possible role for non-ionizing radiation are wrong.

                 However, given the absence of clearly established causal pathways, given the drop in brain cancer rates during the period when cell phone use has skyrocketed, given the low relative risk increases reported in the observational studies (and the ease with which reporting bias artifacts can create such effects), given the many routine factors that affect metabolic rate, "plausible" just seems a little strong to me.

                The obvious thing to worry about though is the effect on accident rates.

                Michael Weissman UID 197542

                by docmidwest on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 11:27:08 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  This is very interesting . . .. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  However, given the absence of clearly established causal pathways, given the drop in brain cancer rates during the period when cell phone use has skyrocketed,

                  and bears resemblance to the "radiation hormesis" hypothesis!

                  Quite frankly, if there is an effect of electromagnetic radiation on the brain, it would not surprise me that in more cases than not that it is protective.

                  My point in these threads is not to advocate one way or another whether cell phones cause cancer (or PREVENT CANCER!) - just to point out that the many posters who always hasten to question the scientific plausibility of the entire connection probably need to think about things just a tad more deeply . ..

                  •  agreed (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Roadbed Guy

                    I've had a running argument for years with a physicist who insists that no direct DNA breakage must mean no cancer.

                    I doubt there is a protective effect either. You can't have a relative risk factor of lower than zero, the effect on non-users should be exactly zero, and most people only started using cell phones extensively recently. So any signifcant reduction sounds implausible.

                    Michael Weissman UID 197542

                    by docmidwest on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 12:44:29 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Hmm, guess he's never heard of (0+ / 0-)

                      things like genetic predisposition to cancer (e.g., BRCA1) or viruses that carry oncogenes . . .

                      Or chemical mutagens (like vinyl chloride or afflatoxin) that form DNA adducts w/o breaking DNA strands (as do ROS, for that matter).

                      And recently, all the rage has been to uncover epigenetic factors involved in cancer progression.

                      Bottom line: even if cell phones do contribute to a few cases of cancer here or there, there are probably much larger health issues to worry about.

                      A case in point is the million or so malaria deaths - until the WHO figures that one out, I suggest they don't worry about cell phones so much.

  •  There is no science to back up the IARC claim. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, apostrophobia

    According to Bob Parks, professor of physics and former chair of the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland:

    All cancers are caused by mutant strands of DNA. Electromagnetic radiation can't create mutant strands of DNA unless the frequency is at or higher than the blue limit of the visible spectrum the near-ultraviolet. The frequency of cell phone radiation is about 1 million times too low.

    (emphasis mine)

    Public policy based upon superstition is never a good idea.

    by gerard w on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 08:02:40 AM PDT

    •  Here's a link (0+ / 0-)

      to some science backing up the claim.  

      Just because ER isn't at frequencies high enough to knock ions out of atom's orbit doesn't necessarily mean they're harmless.  

      The main problem is that ten years of widespread cellphone usage isn't enough of a timeframe to produce the data needed to corroborate or falsify this linkage.  

      I've decided to err on the side of safety and use an earpiece, even at the risk of looking like I'm talking to myself in public.

      Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. ~Edward Abbey

      by martinjedlicka on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 09:26:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I can understand a tort attorney's interest (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gerard w, Catte Nappe, nzanne

    But, do not understand the science - since this appears to be another speculative report on a subject in this area, nothing new or demonstrably conclusive.

    From my Overnight News Digest of last Tuesday:

    The World Health Organization, cell phones, and cancer—what's actually going on
    By Maggie Koerth-Baker

    Today, I was surprised to see posts popping up on Twitter implying that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research into Cancer had declared radiation from cell phones to be a cancer risk. As you've read here before, and as sources like the National Cancer Institute have reported, the evidence linking cell phone use and cancer risk is actually pretty slim. So I was waiting to hear about some new study or analysis. Instead, it looks like this is really a story about context.

    If you don't have the context, it's easy to look at the headlines and assume that the WHO just told you to stop using your cell phone. But, add context, and the news looks very different. In fact, with context in place, it appears the WHO isn't saying cell phones are dangerous, and isn't saying anything you haven't heard before.

    . . .

    Basically, this is where we start talking about semantics, and the difference between official, bureaucratic categories and how people actually talk about risk in everyday life. When you hear someone say, "Using your cell phone probably won't give you cancer. The evidence supporting that idea is very weak," they are, more or less, saying the same thing that the World Health Organization is saying. Only the WHO has also added the (very reasonable) assertion that more research is needed if we want to say anything definitive about cell phones and cancer.

    "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

    by wader on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 08:08:45 AM PDT

  •  Basically saying we should keep an eye on it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, greengemini

    Definitions from the actual release (pdf), which isn't linked in the diary:

    Group 2B: The agent is possibly carcinogenic to humans. This category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In some instances, an agent for which there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals together with supporting evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data may be placed in this group. An agent may be classified in this category solely on the basis of strong evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data
    Limited evidence of carcinogenicity: A positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.
    "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."

    Too soon to be filing lawsuits, but shifting to hands-free might not be a bad idea, just in case.

    I should check my tire pressure.

    by George on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 08:20:50 AM PDT

  •  I keep a cellphone for emergencies & travel (0+ / 0-)

    but practically all my telephoning is done by land line. Never got used to this newfangled nonsense, and maybe it's just as well. ;-)

    If it's
    Not your body
    Then it's
    Not your choice
    AND it's
    None of your damn business!

    by TheOtherMaven on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 08:29:59 AM PDT

  •  Other "possibly carcinogenic" things... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    T100R, apostrophobia, MKinTN

    ...according to WHO that are in the same category as cell phones include coffee (no more joe in the morning), pickled vegetables (you'd best avoid that ginger next time you're out for sushi), working at a dry cleaner (um, don't take that job?), progesterone-only contraceptives (use a condom?), and talcum powder (baby's gonna get diaper rash).

    At the end of the day, just about everything causes cancer... even checking for cancer. Given that the increase in risk from cell phone use is miniscule, I think I'll take that chance.

    •  Those other things (0+ / 0-)

      are in many cases much more plausible dangers. E.g. there seems to be an enormous esophogeal cancer risk in parts of China associated with heavy consumption of types of pickled vegetables. Traditional dry cleaners used high concentrations of known carcinogens. Talcum powder has significant amounts of asbestos-like fibers in it.

      Dunno what they have against coffee.

      Cell phones are at the bottom of the list, with at most tiny risk if any. That's not counting car accidents, which is their obvious danger.

      Michael Weissman UID 197542

      by docmidwest on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 10:25:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Simple answer: No. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    T100R, docmidwest, MKinTN

    From Pharyngula:

    One problem here is that all we've got is a brief press release, no data, with a promise of a scientific paper to be published in The Lancelet Oncology in a few days. Here, almost nothing is reported: they have a one paragraph conclusion.
    This is merely a reworking of the INTERPHONE study from last year, in which the final conclusion was that there was no credible evidence of a cancer risk
    That study had methodological problems that an epidemiologist for Nature summarized this way:

    "There are standard criteria for assessing whether data from epidemiological studies show causality or not," says Swerdlow. "The results for this study don't get close to passing the standard tests for whether the results show causation."

    "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions." - Thomas Jefferson

    by rfall on Mon Jun 06, 2011 at 10:02:02 AM PDT

  •  This is really (0+ / 0-)

    much ado over nothing.

    All they've done is to name cell phone usage as a "Category 2b (Possible)" carcinogen; a list that includes substances and activities like coffee, nickel, talc-based body powders, running a printing press and woodworking.

    All the WHO 2b category means is that it's worth keeping an eye on. No  studies have actually turned up a link.

    And I wonder, in my cynical bemused way, how many of those people getting their knickers in a twist over this report think nothing of sitting around a roaring fireplace or campfire, an activity that exposes one to substantial amounts of Category 1 (Proven) Carcinogens, including benopyrenes (which are also mutagenic) and dioxin. Not to mention significant amounts of radioactive cesium.

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