Much noise has been made in the press recently about the WHO’s addition of “mobile phone use” to its list of things which it considers can possibly cause cancer. Lawmakers in San Francisco are likely excited by this as the city has been trying to pass ordinances requiring cancer warning stickers on cell phones.
But do they cause cancer? And what did the WHO really say?
Let’s start with what the WHO actually did and said.
There were no new studies performed, but rather this was the result of a 31-person team’s review of past studies. The category they added mobile phone use into is called “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. Note the use of the weasel-word “possibly”. Also, pay attention to the other items on this list, which includes 266 items (Group 2B) such as coffee, nickel, and talc-based body powder.
On their “known carcinogen” list (Group 1) is alcoholic drinks, wood and leather dust, salted fish (Chinese-style), and 104 other agents. Less fearful, their “probably carcinogen” list (Group 2A) includes night shift work, fried food, and 57 other entries. Read the whole list here.
Right now there are five billion cell phone users. That’s right, three-quarters of the world’s population uses cell phones. One might expect that with all these people using cell phones, and if that phone use increases the risk of brain cancer, we’d see an increase in the rate of brain cancer. After all, five billion is a lot of test cases. And the answer? No. There’s been no notable increase in the observed rate of brain cancer. But I’d bet there has been a detectable increase in the rate of people walking into parking meters.
What is happening, though, is groups are talking about the amount of radiation emitted by phones that is subsequently absorbed by your body. CNN published this article listing the ten highest and ten lowest radiators.
What’s not mentioned in this article, however, is that for that coveted piece of technology to perform its function, it must emit radiation – that’s how it communicates with the cell tower. So, if you select a model that’s low on this list for radiation, such as the LG Quantum (AT&T), it’s likely that it won’t connect nearly as well to the network as the Motorola Bravo (AT&T), which generates more than four times as much radiation. The lower performance of the Quantum is confirmed by reviewers here and here, and the higher performance of the Bravo here by the same folks that panned the Quantum.
In short, RF emissions are what a wireless device is all about. Less emissions, less range. Should you worry about cancer? So far the studies don’t support this connection, but if you’re worried, I do have a nice Princess Phone I can make you a deal on.