• First comments on the outcome of IARC evaluation of mobile phone radiation carcinogenicity


Participants of the IARC evaluation meeting were asked to not speak “who-said-what” and “who-voted-for-and-who-voted-against” as well as about the numbers of “yes” and “no” in the voting and that is why such information is not here…

This is the first time when IARC (and WHO) evaluated mobile phone radiation carcinogenicity. So far, WHO relied on the evaluations made by ICNIRP where conclusion was that there is no link between mobile phone radiation and cancer and that any such link is unlikely. 

As it was mentioned in the news, clear majority of the members of the IARC working group have voted for the 2B classification. It is necessary to correct that the working group had only 30 members and not 31 as reported in media. The original number of invited experts was indeed 31 but, at the “last moment”, one person has been removed from the group for the potential conflict of interest, and the final number of experts invited to Lyon was 30 persons. Furthermore, 2 persons, as seen from the participants list on IARC website (http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Meetings/vol102-participants.pdf), did not come to Lyon, and did not participate in the voting. Also, one working group member was absent during the procedures on the last day of the meeting and did not vote. So, in practice, in the voting have actively participated 27 working group members.

In the final vote, the clear and overwhelming majority of the working group voted for the 2B classification. It was not just a few experts voting for 2B… This should be recognized as a strong mandate, for the IARC and the WHO, to classify RF-EMF (including mobile phone radiation) as 2B agent – possibly carcinogenic to humans. 

The classification of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF; including radiation from wireless communication devices and networks) as possibly carcinogenic to humans by IARC, and the WHO, might be considered by some as no news and by others as big news.

No news because it is not based on any new research. IARC evaluation is based on the existing published studies and it only confirms what many have been thinking and suspecting for quite some time – there might be some connection between cancer and RF-EMF. In short – no new scientific discovery – just re-evaluation of the existing evidence.

Big news because for the first time a very prominent evaluation report states it so openly and clearly: RF-EMF is possibly carcinogenic to humans. One has to remember that IARC monographs are considered as “gold standard” in evaluation of carcinogenicity of physical and chemical agents. If IARC says it so clearly then there must be sufficient scientific reason for it, or IARC would not put its reputation behind such claim. Furthermore, what we are used to, are statements that “so-and-so-many-review-reports” from various organizations and expert groups have not found any link between RF-EMF and cancer. These “no-link-found” reviews are many and that is why the news from IARC is big news indeed.

There are two possible consequences stemming out from the IARC evaluation, though IARC is not the organization making any recommendations.

The first consequence is about the impact of the classification on the habits of phone users – should there be any? Already before the IARC classification, some countries provided precautionary advice to mobile phone users. This message can be now strengthened. However, it should not be used to scare people. It should not be used as support for any formal ban on mobile phones use by children or youth. What IARC evaluation says is that some research indicates that there might be link between mobile phone radiation and cancer. However, there is a lot of uncertainty because of the uneven quality of research studies and because of the lack of studies in some important areas. 

The second consequence might be the rescuing of the vanishing research support. Of course some may ask, and are asking as I see from e-mails that I receive, do we need more research? 

Research funds were declining in recent years but not because there is no need for information. As determined not only by IARC review but also by many other reviews, we have significant gaps in the knowledge. However, because some organizations have been simultaneously advocating opinion that there is no problem, that the safety standards protect everybody from anything imaginable and that it is unlikely that there will ever be a problem, such attitude caused that funding organizations were unwilling to support research, even if it was scientifically justified.

Following IARC classification, funding organizations should, in my opinion, reconsider their positions and support further research in certain areas – what I called in my earlier blogs as: a need for “targeted research”.

The research areas that need our attention have been identified in IARC review and will be seen in the published monograph 102. Here are a couple of examples from the discussions of sub-group 4 dealing with mechanistic issues in human, animal and in vitro laboratory studies (three other sub-groups dealt with human studies, animal studies and radiation dosimetry), that I present not only because they are closest to my own research interests but because we really need this science. 

One important area is to perform experiments on human volunteers – expose them to mobile phone radiation, at exposure levels permitted by the current safety standards, and examine whether exposure causes any changes in gene and protein expression and activity. We, as mobile phone users, are concerned about the potential impact of radiation on human health but, at the same time, we have only one pilot study that examined impact of exposure on protein expression in living humans (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18267023). I underline it – only one human mechanistic study. Without the information about effects of radiation on human genes and proteins it will be nearly impossible to determine and confirm whether there can be any impact on human health. Such information is essential for proving that effects are real and for explaining the mechanisms behind them.

The other area is in vitro research on the activation of signal transduction pathways in human cells. We have at least three published studies (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12076339; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17456048; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15754340) showing activation of MAPK stress pathways by mobile phone radiation in human cells. As a consequence of such activation of MAPK pathways, expression of genes and proteins is altered in cells. Furthermore, persistent activation of MAPK pathways supports development of cancer. Results of these published MAPK-examining studies are difficult to dismiss because, unlike many others, these studies examined not only effects on a single stress protein but also examined effects on the up-stream and down-stream events in cellular signaling pathways where these stress proteins are located. So, the evidence is pretty relevant and can not be easily dismissed. We need more of such evidence and more detailed examination of these, and other cancer-related, signaling pathways. With the help of such studies we can determine the mechanisms that are behind the biological effects induced by low-level exposures to mobile phone radiation. As a consequence of the discussions, about MAPK pathways, in the IARC meeting, planning for collaborative project that will examine effects of mobile phone radiation on MAPK on signaling pathways has just begun.

More gaps in the knowledge have been identified in IARC evaluation and, hopefully, these gaps will be closed soon by new research.


19 thoughts on “• First comments on the outcome of IARC evaluation of mobile phone radiation carcinogenicity

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  2. The mantra of “more study is needed” is one that was effectively used by the tobacco industry for 40 years after the first studies emerged linking heavy smoking with lung cancer. It’s nothing more than a stalling tactic, especially given the vast amount of research already done on the effects of microwaves on biology since the Cold War era. Already in 1973 the Canadian government in a study entitled ‘Environmental Pollution by Microwave Radiation—A Potential Threat to Human Health’ by Tanner, Bigu del Blanco and Romero-Sierra, warned: “Due to the ever-growing application of microwave devices in industry, research, for military purposes, and domestic appliances… microwave background radiation may increase to a dangerous level in the ear future. This represents a potential threat to human health and measures must be taken to control the proliferation of these devices and their applications.”
    Since then of course our governments have been completely co-opted by corporate influence, with a revolving door between regulatory agencies such as the US FDA and Health Canada, so early warnings like this have been ignored and research funds choked off. And since when do we need 100% scientific certainty to take protective action for public health? And why would we allow our children to take the risk, given that they are far more vulnerable physiologically than adults?

  3. Dear Concerned Parent,
    Since this blog was posted it has come to light that ICNIRP chairman, Paolo Vecchia, did not conceed to being continuously exposed to the ICNIRP limit – even though he stated, twice on same occasion, that ICNIRP limits were valid for 100 years of exposure.
    You can read about this in Prof. Girish Kumar’s report from a conference in India, feb. 2012, where Kumar asked Paolo Vecchia if he himself would like to be exposed to 9.2W/m2 after Vecchia had claimed the long-term safety of that limit. Vecchia was silent and did not conceed.
    See pages 4 & 6 in this report:
    (url shortened and redirects to report on scribd.com)

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  9. This is very important work that really needs to be continued.

    We as consumers need to know one way or the other. Not a guess, not one sided tests or other sided tests, or missing areas of testing. We need the actual results of tests and recommendations based on those tests. Yes, we need more tests and more rounded tests to fill in the gaps in knowledge. There has been so much pressure by the industry that has made it difficult to get unbiased testing done that includes all areas needed.

    I personally have a vested interest in this. My Dad died from a recurring brain tumor on the side of his head near his ear. He had a cellphone, one of the earlier ones for over a year with more radiation than the newer ones. I am not on a witch hunt, but I have grandchildren who will be using cellphones soon, if not already, and grown children who already use them, and I use them. I try to keep the phone from direct contact with my head when possible using a wired headset because of what happened with my Dad. But I don’t know if that is enough, or if I started using it early enough, or what. My feature phone is on the list of higher rated cellphones so I am looking to replace it with a lesser one.

    I just want to know if concerns are warranted. Or if this is all even necessary or just plain silly. I want to know for sure.

    Thanks for allowing folks to talk about this here.

  10. The WHO (http://www.who.int/en/) and IARC (http://www.iarc.fr/) resolution from last week about RF radiation being a “POSSIBLY CARCINOGENIC TO HUMANS” is a “Too little, (almost) too late” conclusion. All the science is available for many years now, and a more drastic conclusion should have been accepted years ago. It seems like the conditions for such a soft decision have lately become right as the science pointing out for risk and harm caused by “low power” RF signals like those that are emitted from cellphones, WIFI routers and other wireless devices and equipment, have piled up and can no longer be rejected or ignored. The WHO and IARC have came under pressure by reality and they could no longer hold their old view that there is no risk in exposure to RF radiation. The WHO and IARC holdup of their old views, until few days ago, allowed the deployment of wireless networks around the world while espousing billions of people to this harming RF radiation. Millions of people have been hurt and millions more will be hurt because of this delay, and on the other hand the delay allowed wireless and Cellphone suppliers, manufactures and distributes to continue, for years, to push back criticism about the safety of their products and services. The soft decision will allow wireless and Cellphone suppliers, manufactures and distributes to continue to do so for several years until the public will push for a striker resolution, lows and regulations.

  11. “should not be used to scare people”

    When will there be a stop to scaremongering about scaremongering? The only people really prone to panic are those heavy invested personally in the lie about utter safety of kill telephony & associated wireless. Put straight talk out there — if largely telecom-dominated mainstream media will play it as such — and let users and the passively exposed public judge for themselves and pressure politicians to correct the travesty. Humans have many ways to communicate.

    “It should not be used as support for any formal ban on mobile phones use by children or youth.”

    Who has a delusion that telecom-addicted governments will act so sensibly? Why is this blogger so insistent in recommending against truer safety? We have to wait for a definitive call when enough bodies pile up for the likes of his discernment?

    “We, as mobile phone users, are concerned about ”

    Exclude me and many others from your ‘we’.

    “only one human mechanistic study”

    As if no other protective public health decision has ever sensibly been made minus adequacy of “mechanism” description.

    “it will be nearly impossible to determine and confirm”

    Within your narrow evidentiary boundaries, that is. People, this is not about narrow professional boundaries, but about public & environmental health judgement, which only in part depends on this blogger’s type of determinations and confirmations.

  12. Dariusz,
    Armed with the 2b classification, what can we do now to influence funding sources to put money toward this research? How does one educate funders? I’m willing to work at it, but I don’t know the protocol. I’m open to any input.

  13. Hi Dariusz,

    With technology moving as fast as it is, there is no unexposed population to perform skin or blood, or buccal smears or body fluids on.

    The electro-sensitives (ES) have it very hard as they are isolated (in many cases) from society, due to their ill health, and lack of understanding by some doctors who cannot grasp the fact that we are electrical beings.

    The occupational exposures for the heavy duty MRI machines, place the operator in a position for future health issues, as many also use cell phones, which contributes to the overall exposure.

    It will be difficult to include ethics when there is one rule of exposure for operators of equipment and another for the general population. In this setting ethics is out the window.

    I read a scientific study about occupational exposure and the need for this to be monitored, but I have no idea how this can be done, and if indeed the operators actually know what their exposure risk is.

  14. Kjell, the reason for “focusing” on 2 W/kg might be simple – there are ca. 5 billons of exposed people. Occupational exposure limit of 10 W/kg concerns much smaller population. But, this is just my own speculation…

  15. Dariusz,
    Why focus on the 2 W/kg for the general public when it is “allowed” with 10 W/kg for the occupational use. I doubt we would be able to pull through an application with the ethics committee saying that we are going to exposed to 10 W/kg for an hour or so.
    The discrepance between general public and the occupational exposure now after the 2B is even more strange.

  16. I wonder why? We are exposing ourselves daily to mobile phone radiation at levels of up to 2SAR and, if trusting ICNIRP, it is perfectly safe. Of course nobody would ask volunteer to sample brain. But skin or blood, or buccal smears or body fluids should be ethically OK…

  17. Hi Dariusz,
    You suggest the exposure of human volunteers to levels at the exposure limit as future research. This suggestion may not be possible for ethical reasons in many countries.

  18. Hi Dariusz, you write:
    “One important area is to perform experiments on human volunteers – expose them to mobile phone radiation, at exposure levels permitted by the current safety standards…”

    Yes, true, but I strongly suggest that the wireless industry should provide the test subjects from their staff – preferably top management. If not, why the confidence?

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