Doctors reveal shock results of major study into effect on the brain
By Fiona Macrae
Mobile phone owners were urged to limit their use last night after the World Health Organisation admitted they may cause cancer.
The UN’s health agency advised ‘pragmatic’ measures to reduce exposure, such as using hands-free kits and texting instead of calling.
The disturbing report marks the first time the WHO has linked mobiles with cancer, and follows earlier research linking just half an hour’s use a day with up to 40 per cent higher odds of brain cancer.
However the mobile phone industry was quick to point out that the devices had not been directly shown to cause cancer.
More than 70million mobile phones are now in use in Britain – more than one for every man, woman and child. Worldwide, the total tops five billion.
Dr Christopher Wild, director of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, said: ‘Given the potential consequences for public health, it is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones.
‘Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure, such as hands-free devices and texting.’
IARC’s conclusion follows a week-long review of all available scientific evidence by 21 scientists from 14 countries, including fresh research that has yet to be published.
The working group concluded that mobile phone use is ‘possibly carcinogenic’, a term which places the phones in the middle of five tiers of possible carcinogens.
They are below smoking, asbestos, sunbeds and other things which definitely cause cancer, but still a potential risk.
The review’s results could lead to the WHO redrawing its guidelines on mobile phone use. Until now, it has stated that there are no adverse health effects associated with it.
Dr Jonathan Samet, chairman of the working group, said while the evidence is still accumulating, it is strong enough to support the classification.
He added: ‘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.’
The working group did not quantify the risk – but pointed to a study from last year that linked just half an hour of mobile phone use a day for ten years with an increased use of glioma, a type of brain tumour.
Some of the scientists behind that research said the figures were flawed and urged people not to worry, but others warned against dismissing the link.
Professor Denis Henshaw, a Bristol University radiation expert, said at the time: ‘Why should it come as a surprise that pressing mobiles to people’s ears increases the risk of brain tumours?’
The new review also found a possible link between mobile phones and non-cancerous tumours of the nerve that transmits information about sound from the ear to the brain.
John Cooke, executive director of the Mobile Operators Association, said that the industry takes all questions regarding the safety of mobile phones seriously, and is strongly committed to supporting ongoing scientific research.
He added that all mobile phones sold in the UK comply with international health and safety exposure guidelines.
Cancer Research UK urged people not to panic. Ed Yong, the charity’s head of health information, said: ‘The risk of brain cancer is similar in people who use mobile phones compared to those who don’t, and rates of this cancer have not gone up in recent years despite a dramatic rise in phone use during the 1980s.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘This does not change our position which has been to adopt a precautionary approach.
‘Children should only use mobile phones for essential purposes and keep all calls short.’