Cell-Phone Cancer Warning Met with a Shrug

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By Peter Svensson
A mostly lackadaisical attitude greeted the World Health Organization’s warning that cell phones may be carcinogenic. Some people vowed to get headsets to shield themselves from radiation, but most seemed to either dismiss the warning as too vague, or reason that if the most useful device in modern life poses a slight health risk, then so be it.

News last week that an arm of the World Health Organization said cell phones might raise the risk of brain cancer has been greeted by Americans mostly with a shrug of the shoulder — one that’s pinning a cell phone to the ear.
Google searches for “cancer” and “cell phones” spiked this week. And some people vowed to get headsets to shield themselves from radiation. But most seemed to either dismiss the warning as too vague, or reason that if the most useful device in modern life poses a slight health risk, then so be it.

“I was watching the news about it, and I thought, `I’m already screwed because I’ve been talking on the phone for seven years,'” said Genevieve Chamorro, a 31-year-old New Yorker who was shopping for a phone.
John Gottani, a manager at a cell phone store in New York, said he’s been selling phones for six years and has never heard anyone ask if they cause cancer. The only things customers really care about, Gottani said, are “if it works, and if it texts.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed dozens of published studies on cell phones and cancer before classifying cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic” on Tuesday. It’s a risk category that includes night-shift work, engine exhaust and coffee.
Studies haven’t been able to rule out a link between cell phones and cancer. But experts say that if there is a link, it’s unlikely to be strong. Cell phones emit weak radio waves, which, under the conventional understanding of physics, can’t wreak the same sort of cellular changes that sunlight and radioactivity can.

A common tip offered to those who want to reduce their exposure to cell phone radiation is to use a headset. Even wireless Bluetooth headsets reduce radiation exposure. Though they emit radio signals of their own, they’re much weaker than cell phone signals.
But there seems to be little rush to get Bluetooth headsets. They’ve been declining in popularity for at least four years, according to research firm Strategy Analytics. It’s also found that most headset owners don’t intend to replace the one they have when it wears out.
According to Strategy Analytics analyst Chris Schreiner, the main reason is that when you’re wearing a Bluetooth headset, you look like a person who’s wearing a Bluetooth headset.
“Style has always been a huge issue in terms of Bluetooth headsets,” Schreiner said.

On Twitter this week, the most common posts mentioning “headset” and “cancer” have been repeats of a joke from humor site Someecards.com: “I can’t decide between being seen wearing a Bluetooth headset or just getting brain cancer.”
Cell phones differ in how much radiation they emit. Proposals in a few states would force cell phone stores to display these radiation ratings.
But CTIA-The Wireless Association, the cell phone industry trade group, is fighting these moves. It says there’s no evidence the measured ratings have any correlation with risks. And cell phone manufacturers and carriers are showing no sign of breaking ranks with each other to use the ratings to their advantage — for instance, by touting “low-radiation phones.”

Spokesman John Walls said CTIA wouldn’t fight a manufacturer that wanted to market a “low-radiation phone.” But claiming a phone to be safer than any other would cross the line, he said.
“They’re all deemed safe by science,” Walls said.
Americans on average talk about 700 minutes a month on their cell phones, making them some of the most talkative people in the world, well ahead of Europeans.

In San Francisco, Chuck Luter, 42, said he doesn’t plan to change his habits as a result of the radiation warning. When the advertising-shoot prop stylist talks on his Sidekick phone, he usually uses the speakerphone, so it’s not close to his head. ‘
And in any case, he texts more than he talks. Besides, he added, there are few alternatives to owning a cell phone.
“What are the other options? To not have one? To try to keep it all in your head? There are so many bad things for you — just add this to the pile.”‘

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Cell-Phone Use Not Related To Increased Brain Cancer Risk

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Radio frequency exposure from cell phone use does not appear to increase the risk of developing brain cancers by any significant amount, a study by University of Manchester scientists suggests.
The researchers used publically available data from the UK Office of National Statistics to look at trends in rates of newly diagnosed brain cancers in England between 1998 and 2007.

The study, published in the journal Bioelectromagnetics, reported no statistically significant change in the incidence of brain cancers in men or women during the nine-year time period under observation.
“Cell phone use in the United Kingdom and other countries has risen steeply since the early 1990s when the first digital cell phones were introduced,” said lead researcher Dr Frank de Vocht, an expert in occupational and environmental health in the University of Manchester’s School of Community-Based Medicine.

“There is an on-going controversy about whether radio frequency exposure from cell phones increases the risk of brain cancer. Our findings indicate that a causal link between cell phone use and cancer is unlikely because there is no evidence of any significant increase in the disease since their introduction and rapid proliferation”
The authors say that because there is no plausible biological mechanism for radio waves to damage our genes directly, thereby causing cells to become cancerous, radio frequency exposure, they argue, if related to cancer is more likely to promote growth in an existing brain tumour.

As such, the researchers say they would expect an increase in the number of diagnosed cases within five to 10 years of the introduction of cell phones and for this increase to continue as cell phone use became more widespread. The 1998 to 2007 study period would therefore relate to the period 1990 to 2002 when cell phone use in the UK increased from zero to 65% of households.

The team, which included researchers from the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh and Drexel University, Philadelphia, found a small increase in the incidence of cancers in the temporal lobe of 0.6 cases per 100,000 people or 31 extra cases per year in a population of 52 million. Brain cancers of the parietal lobe, cerebrum and cerebellum in men actually fell slightly between 1998 and 2007.
“Our research suggests that the increased and widespread use of cell phones, which in some studies was associated to increased brain cancer risk, has not led to a noticeable increase in the incidence of brain cancer in England between 1998 and 2007,” said Dr de Vocht.

“It is very unlikely that we are at the forefront of a brain cancer epidemic related to cell phones, as some have suggested, although we did observe a small increased rate of brain cancers in the temporal lobe corresponding to the time period when cell phone use rose from zero to 65% of households. However, to put this into perspective, if this specific rise in tumour incidence was caused by cell phone use, it would contribute to less than one additional case per 100,000 population in a decade.

“We cannot exclude the possibility that there are people who are susceptible to radio-frequency exposure or that some rare brain cancers are associated with it but we interpret our data as not indicating a pressing need to implement public health measures to reduce radio-frequency exposure from cell phones.”

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