The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organisation, has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
It says the evidence that electromagnetic fields are linked to the glioma brain cancer is ‘limited’, meaning it is possible the two are linked but other factors can’t be ruled out.
The IARC has rated RF fields as category 2B - possibly carcinogenic to humans - where they join a list of 266 items that includes coffee, petrol and lead. The definition reads:
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.
Dr Jonathan Samet, chairman of the IARC working group, said “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. 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.”
More details are due to be published in a few weeks; a lengthier report from the IARC is expected next year.
Dr Jack Rowley, GSMA Director for Research and Sustainability, said “The IARC classification suggests that a hazard is possible but not likely. Put simply, this comprehensive scientific review identified some suggestive evidence in the human studies but no consistent support from animal and cell studies. We recognise that some mobile phone users may be concerned. Importantly, present safety standards remain valid and the result should be understood as indicating the need for further research. Future studies will follow the health of mobile phone users over a long period of time. These are already underway in Europe, with the support of GSMA members, and will involve up to 250,000 subjects.”
John Cooke, Executive Director of the Mobile Operators Association, said “IARC has concluded that radiowaves are a possible carcinogen to humans. It is important to note that IARC has not established a direct link between mobile phone use and cancer. It has, however, concluded that there is the possibility of a hazard. Whether or not this represents a risk requires further scientific investigation. The UK Advisory Group on Non Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) is currently reviewing the science and is scheduled to report in the next 12 months. It is also important to note that the ICNIRP guidelines (established by an independent committee of international experts who carefully review all the relevant scientific literature) remain unchanged. The public exposure guidelines for mobile phones and base stations are protective for all people including children.”