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WHO says cell phone use "possibly carcinogenic"

posted 1 Jun 2011, 15:32 by Mpelembe   [ updated 1 Jun 2011, 15:36 ]

People in New York City say they are not very concerned about a new cell phone warning from the World Health Organization.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (JUNE 1, 2011) REUTERS - Many people in New York City said they are not concerned about a new warning about cell phones and an increased risk of cancer on Wednesday (June 1).

On Tuesday (May 31), World Health Organization (WHO) cancer experts said using a mobile phone might increase the risk of developing certain types of brain tumors and consumers should consider ways of reducing their exposure.

A working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries meeting at the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said a review of all the available scientific evidence suggested cell phone use should be classified as "possibly carcinogenic."

The classification, which puts mobile phone use in the same broad IARC cancer risk category as lead, chloroform and coffee, could spur the United Nations health body to look again at its guidelines on mobile phones, the scientists said.

But more lengthy and detailed research is needed before a more definitive answer on any link can be given.

The WHO had previously said there was no established evidence for a link between cell phone use and cancer.

In New York's Times Square, visitors voiced little concern about the study.

"I've been this for years and years, but I just heard that you need mass dosages of cell phone radiation to your head to really get any affects, but it's not going to stop anyone from using a cell phone, you know. It's just like smoking cigarettes. Everyone knows it's bad for you, but it's an addiction, you know, people need their cell phones all the time," said Scott Marceau.

George Serrano said, "The only thing I've seen is they've say use a headpiece, use a wireless headpiece, you know the little earphone, but I still haven't done it. Like I said, until it actually strikes close to home, you know a family member or a friend, I guess I won't change."

Thomas O'Connor and Michelle Siegel said they would probably text more often.

"I would probably talk less and text more, but most people just text more than talk. I mean texting does work, so it might as well just text more because you won't get as much radiation and you won't have an increased risk of cancer," said O'Connor.

"Teenagers now, we mostly text rather than hold the phone directly up to our ear," added Siegel.

Cellphone use has risen hugely since they were introduced in the early 1980s, with 5 billion in use today. And since phones have become such a key part of daily life -- used by many for Web surfing as well as talking -- industry experts say a health threat will not stop people using them.

"There's much worse things to worry about these days than just getting cancer from a cell phone. I mean you get cancer from pretty much anything these days," added Marceau.

The WHO's position has been keenly awaited by mobile phone companies and by campaign groups who have raised concerns about whether cell phones might be harmful to health.

Industry groups immediately sought to play down the decision, stressing the "possibly carcinogenic" category also includes substances such as pickled vegetables and coffee.

Dr. Phillip E, Stieg, Neurosurgeon In Chief at New York Presbyterian Hospital, urged people not to panic.

"In the absence of definitive evidence that links cell phones to brain tumors, one would have to suggest that people can continue with their cell phones as they are. Does that mean that I don't think we should gather information? No. I think we should gather more information, do the definitive study and try to put everybody's mind at ease, but people's mind currently should be at ease. They shouldn't walk on eggshells because there isn't definitive data," said Stieg.

Many previous studies have also failed to establish any clear cancer link, but a U.S. study in February found that using a mobile phone can change brain cell activity.

IARC director Christopher Wild said it was important that more research be conducted, particularly into long-term and heavy use of mobile phones.