When I heard from the Associated Press that the World Health Organization just released this statement announcing that cell phones may indeed be carcinogenic, I felt my breath catch in my throat as I put my cell phone down.
As I wrote in this post cancer has been plaguing way too many friends and family members lately. The rise in the cancer rate seems out of proportion, and so many people I know have been asking, “Why is this happening?” I shake my head - pesticides, maybe? Chemicals in our water? Plastic? Hormones in our milk? Radiation from the air and medical tests?
Nobody knows for sure, but my mother swears that she never had three friends simultaneously battling late stage cancer in their forties when she was my age.
Well, rumors have been spreading that things like microwaves and cell phones may cause cancer for years now. But proof has been slow to trickle in. Last year, a big study failed to establish a link between cell phones and cancer, but it hinted towards a possible connection between very heavy cell phone use and glioma, a rare but often deadly form of brain tumor. The study wasn’t big enough to confirm such a link, however.
In about 30 other studies, patients with brain tumors did not report using their cell phones more than those without brain tumors.
Last May, the National Cancer Institute released this statement, which concluded that “Research studies have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancer.” But today, the WHO concluded, after reviewing dozens of published studies and meeting in Lyon, France for a week of discussion with experts, that cell phones may be carcinogenic.
The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited to among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate. The Working Group did not quantitate the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10‐year period).
Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that "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.
Then in another part of the statement, the WHO says:
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.
So what does all this mumbo jumbo mean? Well, the team of experts found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." The WHO gave cell phones a "2B" classification, meaning they are possibly carcinogenic in humans in line with other 2B substances like the pesticide DDT, chloroform, and gasoline engine exhaust. But where did that come from? To be honest, it baffles me. If there's not sufficient data, why are we blasting headlines all over the place about how cell phones cause cancer- when we still aren't sure they do? Frankly, I don't get it.
Cell phones signal nearby towers via radio frequency waves, a type of energy similar to microwaves and radio waves. But this is not Hiroshima radiation we’re talking about here. The non-ionizing radiation produced by cell phones does not directly damage DNA like ionizing radiation caused by nuclear radiation, X-rays, or ultraviolet light. At very high levels, however, radio frequency waves from cell phones can heat up your body tissue, and this may cause some risk.
First, don’t panic. The data supporting cell phone use as carcinogenic is extremely limited- nearly nonexistent, in fact. Based on my own review of the data, I'm shocked that an organization like the WHO made this leap.
But as a doctor who lost both her cell-phone loving father and mother-in-law to brain cancer, I’m definitely listening though. My father was one of those nerdy "Go-Go Gadget" guys who had to be the first to have every newfangled invention on the market. We had a microwave oven the size of a cow and he had one of those car phones that takes up the whole center console.
And of course, Dad had a cell phone before anybody had a cell phone. So he fits the profile.
As with any health care concern, make sure you tap into the wisdom of your Inner Pilot Light, the wisdom of your inner healer, when you consider whether this will affect how much time you spend on your cell phone. Ask your Inner Pilot Light whether your cell phone use is putting you in danger, and if the answer is yes, listen up.
The WHO intends to give guidelines, which have not yet been released, but until we hear more, here are some things you can do to reduce your risk if you're worried. Otherwise, chill out, keep on chatting, and don't let headline hype confuse you.
It’s sad that our technology-driven culture seems to be bad for our health, and it’s a lesson to remember that, the closer we return to our natural state of living, the safer we are and the longer we may live. How do we marry that with our desire to take advantage of what technology has to offer? Once again, tap into that Inner Pilot Light (sign up here to receive daily messages from your Inner Pilot Light).
So don’t worry. Have faith that you and your loved ones will stay healthy. But be educated and mindful about ways you can reduce your risk.
What do you think about all this? Are you freaked out? Chillaxin' about the whole thing? Ready to turn in your iPhone? Unconcerned? Tell me what you think!
Turning off my iPhone for today,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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