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.