Cutting Through All of the Cell Phone-Cancer Link Hype

The World Health Organization says that your phone could possible be carcinogenic, but there's only one report you need to read


Today, a research arm of the World Health Organization put out a report (PDF) saying that they'd classified cell phone usage as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Predictably, the nuanced report is being pounded flat as people try to understand what it means and whether they should be worried about using cell phones, which are proliferating across the globe.

The release of a report like this is a time to be grateful for science bloggers like Ed Yong, who take the time and effort to go through the actual report, look at the data, understand the metrics and baselines and then report back to the general public. For this study, Yong has put together a remarkably thorough explainer on the new report, the few studies that it was based on, and the nature of the evidence for the classification. This post is basically the opposite of how TV news will cover this announcement and I think it's the one thing you should read about the possible link between cell phones and cancer today.

Here is the takeaway:

It is understandable that people are concerned about mobile phones, especially because they are so widely used. But so far, the published studies do not show that mobile phones could increase the risk of cancer.  This conclusion is backed up by the lack of a solid biological mechanism, and the fact that brain cancer rates are not going up significantly.

However, all of the studies so far have weaknesses, which make it impossible to entirely rule out a risk. Mobile phones are still a new technology and there is little evidence about effects of long-term use.

Image: Reuters.