Cell phones might be killing you, after all

Another development has reignited attention as to what carcinogenic effect cell phones might actually have, thus giving new life to a topic that is harder to kill than most actual forms of cancer.

Believe it or not, I’ve written about this topic before. It seems that lots of people have strong opinions on the subject. Some like to yell using all capital letters that this is all hogwash. Others say we should be putting on aluminum hats and ditching cell phones as though they were packs of cigarettes. Most people are somewhere in between, taking a wait-and-see attitude. This latest development might shake them off the fence.

The World Health Organization announced May 31 that it’s listing cell phones as possibly carcinogenic. This is less dangerous than probably carcinogenic but apparently more dangerous than probably not carcinogenic, according to WHO’s rating system of, well, carcinogenic things.

Here is the press release if you want to try to figure out the rating system yourself. They seem to go out of their way to avoid simply listing things that cause cancer and those that don’t cause cancer.

Regardless, this is a complete turnaround from WHO’s earlier statements, in which it said that there were no risks from exposure to the devices. That’s pretty cut and dried but apparently not the way the organization’s panel on the subject feels now.

Today, instead of doing a new study to determine if cell phones cause cancer, the panel, which consisted of 31 scientists from 14 countries, evaluated hundreds of existing peer-reviewed reports on the subject. Panel members essentially came to the same conclusion I did after admittedly far less thorough perusal of far fewer reports and studies. I wrote that there seems to be a link between long-term exposure to cell phone radiation and certain kinds of cancer, but really, more study will be needed to draw definite conclusions.

Please note that, even with this new finding, you can’t say that cell phones cause cancer. Well, sure, you can say it if you want, but what I mean is you wouldn’t be correct in doing so. No study has yet to come out that indicates a causal relationship between the two things, so a more accurate statement would be that there is a relationship between them, which is exactly what WHO’s new report states. Of course, on the other hand, it’s equally incorrect to say that they don’t cause cancer.

So really, the only thing that will ever kill this debate is more study on the matter. We need to line a bunch of mice cages with cell phones and see if they mind the constant calls, or simply enjoy the warming vibrations over the years. But don’t hold your breath — a truly long-term study could take decades, and isolating cell phone use as an environmental factor might be difficult even then.

Until that day, we can take action on the one cell phone-related malignancy out there — using them while driving, which does cause death. Our lab director, John Breeden II, has seen the harm that talking while driving does first hand. 

Please be safe out there, and, if you are driving right now, stop browsing GCN while doing so! We do appreciate your readership, but we want you alive to read more of our content. So please, do us all a favor: put the phone down until you get where you’re going! Thank you.

Oh, and based on previous columns, you probably have an opinion on this topic. We are talking about, possibly, matters of life and death, after all. So let us know what you think. Are cell phones perfectly safe, or should we be updating our life insurance policy before we wish grandma in Tucson a happy birthday?

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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