Can Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

2015 — Dateline, New York City. Michael Bloomberg, who after purchasing his fourth term as Mayor of Gotham, today signed into law a ban on cellphones in public. This follows similar bans on trans fats, smoking on beaches, and salt. “Everybody has a right to use cellphones,” said Mr Bloomberg, “Just not in public, where the damaging effects of radiation cause not only harm to the user but to those around him.” Not wanting to seem less progressive, other cities, and several small countries, follow New York and institute their own bans.

The mayor will have based his decision on a study release by the World Health Organization. WHO? I’ll tell you who: a group of perpetually confused doctors and bureaucrats who assume that because something might cause you harm you should not be allowed access to that thing. Yesterday, for example, WHO celebrated its self-created “World No Tobacco Day.”

You will not be surprised to learn that WHO is an arm of the United Nations—which has more arms than the Goddess Kali. This particular arm has been following a Joe Weider-like regime of exercise and, consequently, looks (as somebody once said of Arnie) like a bag full of walnuts. Money—some of it yours—flows into WHO faster than into Chicago’s Democrat machine. cell phones and cancer

And now we hear that WHO says—Who says? – Naturally – That’s what I’m asking!—that cellphones might, just might, possibly, perhaps, maybe, it is logically possible that they cause cancer.

WHO knows what you’re thinking. “Cellphones cause cancer! Golly!” So WHO was quick to add that they had no evidence that cellphones cause cancer, they had no “direct correlation” between phones and cancers. They merely stress that phones might be a carcinogen.

Which is a true statement. Your jeans might cause cancer, and so might newsprint, pine cones, fish scales, lipstick, perfume, DVD wrappers, even water. Anything might cause cancer. The only question is: does it? So far, the answer is: WHO doesn’t know.

Your reporter, well known to be diligent and unsparing in his efforts to uncover the truth, went to the WHO web site and typed in “cell phones” into its search box. The first link to arise was this:

Cell phones help save the lives of mothers, infants and children

8-10 NOVEMBER 2010 | WASHINGTON DC – Simple mobile technology, like basic cell phones, can be used to save the lives of mothers in childbirth, and improve the care of newborns and children, reaching underserved [sic] populations in remote areas…

What about, I wondered, blacks and gays? Perhaps they were covered in the second link, which was “The impact of cell phones on public health surveillance.” The “impact” is, the researchers tell us, a good one: people can be called anywhere and asked how they fare—WHO knew? WHO knows!

The third link expands on the second, the fourth (and sixth) summarizes Bill Gates’s feelings on cellphones (positive). Number five! Which led with the “Key Fact” (dated May 2010):

To date, no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use

[R]esearch does not suggest any consistent evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to radiofrequency [sic] fields at levels below those that cause tissue heating. Further, research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity.”

It went on like that, insisting no links could be established between cellphone use and illness. It even said that there was no known physical or biological explanation of how phones could cause cancer.

Since the WHO website was of no use, your reporter had to go to the press, repository of all that is true.

What WHO did, according to various news reports, was to gather all previous studies that sought cellphone-cancer links. No evidence could be established looking at the studies individually, but grouped together and input into a statistical model the conclusion was that there might be a problem.

But they had to look through a lot of different diseases before they hit upon just one, something called a glioma, which are rarer than Republicans on the Upper West Side. Massaged through enough statistical models, the researchers said that maybe—and therefore maybe not—“high end” cellphone users have higher glioma incidence rates. The glioma were still exceedingly rare in any case.

Only WHO knows why they added cellphones to their ever-expanding list of “possible” carcinogens. Perhaps its lawyers discovered how much telecommunications companies take in every year. Be nice to have a piece of that—through “donations”, of course—to “study” the problem.

Or was it simply that all bureaucracies are like malignant tumors: unless they are surgically excised, they continue to grow until they kill the host?

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Thanks to Ari, Al, and Jade, who urged I cover this story.

20 Comments

  1. I wanted to learn about glioma, so I googled it. The first site to appear was a news article: “Cell phones may cause glioma”. DOH!

  2. Regardless of their delta to cancer incidence rates, they certainly increase the number of fatalities on the roadways. This reminds me of the old saw, “which is safer, flying in a plane or riding on a donkey?”

    I’ve gotta ask, is self-flagellating ‘science’ the new pink?

  3. From the press release,

    The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer1, associated with wireless phone use.

    Group 2B includes titanium dioxide …

    TiO2 is also an effective opacifier in powder form, where it is employed as a pigment to provide whiteness and opacity to products such as paints, coatings, plastics, papers, inks, foods, medicines (i.e. pills and tablets) as well as most toothpastes.

    In cosmetic and skin care products, titanium dioxide is used as a pigment, sunscreen and a thickener. It is also used as a tattoo pigment and in styptic pencils … Titanium dioxide is found in almost every sunscreen with a physical blocker because of its high refractive index, its strong UV light absorbing capabilities and its resistance to discolouration under ultraviolet light.

    Wikipedia list of Group 2B carcinogens.

  4. First they came for my lightbulbs, and I didn’t speak out because I was worried about global warming.
    Then they came for McDonalds, and I didn’t speak out because I was worried about childhood obesity.
    Then they came for my rabbit supplier, and I didn’t speak out because… why did I have a rabbit supplier again?
    But then they came for my Blackberry. GET THE F AWAY FROM MY BLACKBERRY.

  5. I can’t help but think that the overall political agenda is to have us recede into living in caves, without the benefits of modern living.

  6. The story in our local paper quotes the head of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre here in Calgary as follows:

    “We’re seeing, or starting to see, really young people in their 20s who shouldn’t be getting GBM. The median age is 50 or 60.” Interesting.

    Here is the link to the 2009 Swedish paper which says in its abstract,

    “In summary our review yielded a consistent pattern of an increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma after >10 year mobile phone use. We conclude that current standard for exposure to microwaves during mobile phone use is not safe for long-term exposure and needs to be revised.”

    My first reaction to this stuff is the same hrrumph as yours, Matt. My second is that the fact I would find it surprising doesn’t make it impossible, and I don’t begrudge agencies such as WHO providing a heads up like this. Will I stop using my cell phone? No, not yet. Will I bring this info to the attention of my 17-year old son who has his cell phone glued to his head? Yes.

  7. Of course, if your head was absorbing more than an insignificant fraction of the transmit power it would cut off the phone signal from the cell tower. You would have to constantly prevent letting the head come between the phone and the tower. I’ve never noticed having to do this myself.

    The comparison with a kitchen microwave is interesting. Don’t these people realize a microwave cooks from the outside in by heating water? I would think a burning sensation in the scalp would be a clue as the skin would absorb most of the radiation. Not to mention that it wouldn’t make much sense to select a cell phone frequency that just happens to be a resonant frequency for water. Anybody know the resonant frequencies of human DNA?

    Why don’t cell phones cause more skin cancer as opposed to a rare brain cancer? The skin is subjected to much higher power given power is inversely proportional to R^2.

    Whatever happened to common sense? Oh, I forgot, that doesn’t exist in epidemiology and medical research.

  8. Katie,

    It doesn’t have to be politically motivated. I think it’s economics. As fields such as epidemiology find causes and cures/preventions are found, those in the epidemiology field must resort to finding successively lesser evils to uncover or risk going out of business. They suffer from the law of diminishing returns. For the last 40 years or more, they have been reduced to uncovering risks in the less than 1:10^6 range. Each one is trumpeted as major otherwise people might catch on and declare their jobs no longer necessary. Of course, each warning is doctored to be a scary as possible. Their work is never done.

    Ever notice that the “leading killer” is constantly changing? Same thing. There will always be a “leading killer”. As number one is put to rest, number two moves into its place, und so weiter.

  9. There is a strong correlation between cancer and exhaling small amounts of carbon dioxide over time. The longer t the higher incidence of cancer. In almost every case.
    .

  10. Cell phones are in the same WHO catagory as coffee. Like certain banks that are too big to fail, these items are ‘too big to recall’ (Notwithstanding the desires of certain whackos a la Bloomberg).

  11. TMI,

    Really? I would have attributed it to drinking milk at young age. Those who drank milk as a child fall into two categories: dead and will be dead.Why else the movement to 2% milk? How long before 1% is on the horizon?

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  13. Briggs,

    I suggest you create a new Category for filing blog posts: “Politicians are Idiots” (redundant, I know, but sometimes redundancy can be suitable for adding necessary emphasis).

    This sort of thing, creating safety laws to safeguard us from nonexistant threats, is nothing new.

    Recall a few years ago how California deemed beach SAND a carcinogen?:

    The Wall St. Journal (WSJ) article is entitled, “How Sand on a Beach Came to be Defined as a Human Carcinogen.” Here’s a link to a copy:

    http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/smc52c00/pdf;jsessionid=2AD8E76EDDEB1297E07AD7F95399F437.tobacco03

    OTHER: Somewhere “out there” there’s a really good article summarizing a lot of statistical data about mandatory motorcycle helmet use and how the decline in severe head injuries was offset by an increase in neck (“whiplash”) injuries — all of which suggested that the trade-off between fewer head injuries/deaths versus more neck injuries was more than offset (a net-sum-loss). I can’t recall the journal/magazine this was published in (around 1999-ish) but it was a very good case study analysis. Just the sort of thoughtful analysis we can expect our politicians, our hired help, to not make on our behalf.

  14. I want to know the impact of my cell phone on my sperm count. The thing spends much more time in my pocket irradiating my junk than it sits against my ear.

    I think I can write this up and get a grants from WHO, the NIH, the CDC!

    DAV, 2% is already a villian. Non-fat only for kids this day.

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