More WHO information on cellphones and cancer
May 31, 2011 11:05 AM   Subscribe

In a shift from its earlier position, the World Health Organization has stated that cellphones "possibly carcinogenic." Full report (PDF).
posted by 4ster (118 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Surprise!
posted by kinnakeet at 11:09 AM on May 31, 2011






What if we hardly ever use them to make phone calls?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:11 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I always KNEW the Daily Mail was right.

And wrong. And right, and wrong, and right...
posted by zamboni at 11:12 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Possibly. Well.

Is it just me, or does it seem like a tremendous failure of science that we haven't really got a clear answer on this yet, after decades of wondering?
posted by koeselitz at 11:12 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pretty soon so many things will be suspected of causing cancer that it will be impossible to suss out what we really need to watch out for.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:14 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cigarettes: At Least You Know For Sure
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:15 AM on May 31, 2011 [57 favorites]


I keep my phone in a condom. It might not provide the best experience but at least I'm safe.
posted by perhapses at 11:17 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


does it seem like a tremendous failure of science

No, because tumors take decades to show up, and cell phones are still new, it might take decades more to learn the results of the experiment. Similar to the above-ground atomic bomb experiments in the 50s and 60s to see how radiation would impact general population cancer rates.
posted by stbalbach at 11:18 AM on May 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


koeselitz,
No, it's not a failure of "science" so much as a failure of mass media and marketing influence. Businesses have entrenched interests in continuing to sell things (i.e. cell phones and cell phone plans). Thus, whenever a study says "X is bad for you, stop using it", the business interest that has a financial stake will shill out an alternative "study" that shows the opposite. And around and around it will go, until the only way to be sure for everyone to become a trained scientist with access to the means to perform the tests and studies independantly and find out for sure what the actual truth of the matter is.

It's the failure of "received knowledge" versus knowledge gained through direct learning. Or something. Also, I have marketing, so, I'm biased like you wouldn't believe.
posted by daq at 11:20 AM on May 31, 2011


I keep my cell phone in a safe with inch-thick lead walls. In addition to keeping me safe from cancer, this has the added bonus effect of making me unreachable by cell phone.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:21 AM on May 31, 2011 [30 favorites]


This falls under my personal administration's 'you get your cancer' programme. For example, you smoke your cigarette, you get your cancer; you drive your car, you get your cancer; you breathe some air; you get your cancer. It's just another line.

I seem to remember that, by Canadian actuarial tables, it is expected that better than half the population will have/had some cancerous form by 2030. Hurrah.

Blasé or Berserk, up to you.
posted by LD Feral at 11:23 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Holding portable electronic device against your skull for hours a day potentially causes cancer! Film at eleven!

The surprising thing would be if anyone was surprised if heavy cell phone use at least modestly increased your risk of developing some forms of cancer. Seriously, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
posted by Justinian at 11:26 AM on May 31, 2011


I don't know if they cause cancer, but they are a cancer.
posted by CarlRossi at 11:27 AM on May 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


Why do I get the feeling the report was funded by Microsoft?
posted by mazola at 11:27 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


It really isn't fair to say that the science on this issue is unclear. The science is abundantly clear. In three simple points:

1) There is absolutely no physically conceivable mechanism through which cell-phone radiation could cause cancer. The energy of the photons is far too small to break chemical bonds, thus any physical effects of the radiation are due to local heating of tissue and cannot be any more dangerous that anything else that heats your tissue, like the sun or a light bulb.

2) All large epidemiological studies have shown no link between cellphones and cancer. This has been known since at least 2001, when the first major study was conducted in Denmark..

3) Anytime you look for a link between A and B, you will always have some studies that will find a correlation. As far as I can tell from the press release above, the only evidence they present that suggests there "might" be a risk is one study showing a 40% increase in gliomas. Using the data from Wikipedia, as gliomas are found in 0.003% of the population (in the US), this would mean that massive cellphone use would result in a glioma rate of 0.0046%. This would still put the amount of people who are diagnosed with this disease in a given year well below the number of people who die in car accidents in any given 3-month period.

As noted many times by many people, the biggest risk by far from cellphones is increased traffic accidents. Cellphones are bad, people who talk loud are rude, telecoms are evil, but beyond all that, there really isn't a lot of reason to worry here.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 11:30 AM on May 31, 2011 [90 favorites]


Thus, whenever a study says "X is bad for you, stop using it", the business interest that has a financial stake will shill out an alternative "study" that shows the opposite.

If you have evidence that the studies showing a link between cancer and cell phones are legitimate but the studies which do not find such a link are phony corporate science, I would like to see it.
posted by IjonTichy at 11:31 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Apparently this could this be solved by bluetooth headsets and the like? It seems unfair that the douchebags are the ones that aren't getting brain cancer.
posted by naju at 11:33 AM on May 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


And you all laughed at my EM-resistant tinfoil helmet! You laughed!
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:35 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not to mention, "cell phones" aren't exactly a constant thing. Different frequencies of broadcast, different usage patterns, some with the Borg earpiece and some without ... A very definitive study on this might be somewhat difficult to engineer. More than one mechanism would have to be examined. For all we know, the compounds with which cell phones are typically made are carcinogenic and it has nothing to do with radiation. (Just as a wild thing to rule out)

In one of my old dermatology textbooks they have a photo of a tumor on the abdomen, in the muscle. It's quite common in a place where the local custom is to place a heated stone on one's belly to keep warm. And that's just heat, you have conduction and infrared radiation to examine as mechanisms. Every time someone says, "Well, cell phones are non-ionizing radiation," I remember that photo. The tumor goes right around where the stone is kept. Striking.
posted by adipocere at 11:36 AM on May 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


Even if we did cure cancer, a ton of folks would be more afraid of the vaccination than the cancer.

Before people died of environmentally induced cancer, they died of something else. Nobody gets out alive.
posted by mattbucher at 11:37 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


But bluetooth causes blue teeth!
posted by benzenedream at 11:37 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Other substances that the group has categorized as “possibly carcinogenic” include talcum body powder, which has been possibly linked with ovarian cancer, and low-frequency magnetic fields, which have been possibly linked to childhood leukemia.

Talcum powder. Cellphones are in the same risk category as talcum powder.

I'm not terribly worried.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:37 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Doctor Jackson to the white courtesy phone... Paging Doctor Joe Jackson to the white courtesy phone...
posted by Sys Rq at 11:37 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Relevant quotes:
"The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. [...] Limited evidence of carcinogenicity': A positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence."
It will be interesting to see the basis on which they decided that causal interpretation is credible in this case. For now, I'm not changing my habits - but being online for the better part of the day I'm not much of a cellphone user.
posted by hat_eater at 11:39 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


But they didn't control for people who just walk around talking to the air.
Or people who walk around with their elbows bent and their hand by their head.
Maybe those are what causes cancer, not cellphones.
More research needed.

Oh, wait:

> evidence showing ... phony corporate science, I would like to see it.

Plenty; here: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=research+funding+source+result
posted by hank at 11:39 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


IjonTichy,
I wasn't stating that cell phones cause cancer, I was commenting on the confusion that most people feel about these kinds of news articles saying "OMG, the CANCER is caused by X". It is the confusion that I tried to explain and _why_ people keep seeing conflicting reports.
posted by daq at 11:39 AM on May 31, 2011


How is RF radiation causing cancer? I mean, really, how in the mechanistic radiated particle/photon-hits-particle sense is RF causing cancer? I was always shown that RF/magnetic fields/magic 8 balls causing cancer was a fantasy. Something, something Jablonsky diagram, something, something.

Much, much more likely: The lifestyles of and the environments of people with cellphones is promoting cancer through several hundred different mechanisms.

I seem to recall that the 'proof' this time was increased brain function in the experimental group versus the control. Unfortunately, the control group was given a cell phone that was turned off and the experimental group given a muted cell phone that was calling someone. Perhaps, maybe, just possibly, knowing that you had the 'live' phone was causing some anxiety when you knew what the test was for?

In the words of Cave Johnson,"I'm serious, visualizing the scenario while under stress actually triggers the reaction."
posted by Slackermagee at 11:40 AM on May 31, 2011


Before people died of environmentally induced cancer, they died of something else. Nobody gets out alive.

I simply can't imagine someone who isn't a defense attorney for a huge corporation saying this with a straight face.
posted by hermitosis at 11:40 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I simply can't imagine someone who isn't a defense attorney for a huge corporation saying this with a straight face.

Well, let me rephrase it for you: I'm not worried.
posted by mattbucher at 11:42 AM on May 31, 2011


How is RF radiation causing cancer? I mean, really, how in the mechanistic radiated particle/photon-hits-particle sense is RF causing cancer? I was always shown that RF/magnetic fields/magic 8 balls causing cancer was a fantasy. Something, something Jablonsky diagram, something, something.

See: High voltage wires, kids playing under them.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:43 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently this could this be solved by bluetooth headsets and the like? It seems unfair that the douchebags are the ones that aren't getting brain cancer.

The output wattage from a headset is somewhat lower than a cell phone. That said the fact is that if there exists a mechanism by which radio waves cause cancer, then a head set doesn't do any good.

Point is - if it's a radio transmitter near your head that causes your brain cancer, then keeping all radio transmitters away from your head would be required to obviate that risk.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:43 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


> talc
If you're not in the subgroup at risk, you're right not to worry. Just don't inhale.
posted by hank at 11:44 AM on May 31, 2011


This puts mobile phones in the same class of possible carcinogen as coffee and pickled vegetables. I wish more of the reporting would mention that.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:45 AM on May 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think people talking loudly on cell phones in public is a form of cancer in our society...

But I'm sure that's not what this study was examining.
posted by hippybear at 11:45 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


See: High voltage wires, kids playing under them.

That was bunk, too.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:45 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I live in Berkeley and have an iPhone with AT&T, so using the phone for voice calls is rarely attempted and any connection is incredibly brief.
posted by tula at 11:47 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


koeselitz: "Is it just me, or does it seem like a tremendous failure of science that we haven't really got a clear answer on this yet, after decades of wondering?"

Not only does the disease of interest take a long time to show up, it's also murderously difficult to tease out whether or not these gliomas were related to cell phone exposure. Let's look at the abstracts from two of the epi studies that the WHO report cites. (NB: I'm only looking at the abstracts here and haven't had the chance to review the papers in their entirety).
  • We conducted a population-based case–control study to investigate the relationship between mobile phone use and risk of glioma among 1,522 glioma patients and 3,301 controls.[...]For more than 10 years of mobile phone use reported on the side of the head where the tumor was located, an increased OR of borderline statistical significance (OR = 1.39, 95% CI 1.01, 1.92, p trend 0.04) was found, whereas similar use on the opposite side of the head resulted in an OR of 0.98 (95% CI 0.71, 1.37).
  • In this population-based case-control study carried out in three regions of Germany, all incident cases of glioma and meningioma among patients aged 30–69 years were ascertained during 2000–2003. In total, 366 glioma cases, 381 meningioma cases, and 1,494 controls were interviewed.[...] Overall use of a cellular phone was not associated with brain tumor risk; the respective odds ratios were 0.98 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.74, 1.29) for glioma and 0.84 (95% CI: 0.62, 1.13) for meningioma. Among persons who had used cellular phones for 10 or more years, increased risk was found for glioma (odds ratio = 2.20, 95% CI: 0.94, 5.11) but not for meningioma (odds ratio = 1.09, 95% CI: 0.35, 3.37). No excess of temporal glioma (p = 0.41) or meningioma (p = 0.43) was observed in cellular phone users as compared with nonusers.
  • So let's say you're a science journalist at a podunk news outlet like the WHO's PR department. You're going to look at the first study, see the 1.39 OR, and report that heavy cell phone users are 40% more likely to develop gliomas. BUT HOLD UP THERE, SPARKY McPULITZER. Look at that wide-ass confidence interval (CI)! That CI there really means that the boffins out there in Denmark can only be 95% certain that the the whole population of heavy cell phone users is somewhere between 1% and 92% more likely than the rest of the world to develop these gliomas. Even then, there's a 5% chance that the numbers could be some crazy fluke, a statistical eddy in a large river of stochasticity.

    Same goes for the second study, but even moreso. Their only meaningful contribution to science was to point out that they're 95% certain heavy cell phone use is somewhere between 6% protective and 511% harmful regarding gliomas.

    What it all comes down to right now is effect size and sample size. Even with the first study on over 4,000 people, it's tough to tease out a definite odds ratio. At some point downthread a better statistician than I am will calculate how many people you'd need to enroll in a study to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there's a link between heavy exposure and glioma, but it's above my paygrade and beyond my time allotment at the moment. Suffice it to say that I'm not 100% convinced yet. Hell, I'm not even 95% convinced yet, and I consider myself to be a major apologist for the public health establishment.
    posted by The White Hat at 11:49 AM on May 31, 2011 [37 favorites]


    I text a lot - are my fingers going to fall off?
    posted by marienbad at 11:50 AM on May 31, 2011


    I hear that cellphones give you Morgellon's.
    posted by Afroblanco at 11:52 AM on May 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


    BUT HOLD UP THERE, SPARKY McPULITZER.

    I'm favoriting The White Hat's comment above simply because of this phrase.
    posted by 40 Watt at 11:52 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


    How strong is "possibly carcinogenic"?
    A rating of “possibly carcinogenic” is the IARC’s third-highest rating, falling below “carcinogenic” and “probably carcinogenic.”
    This reminds me of a jewelry salesman pushing diamonds over sapphires, noting that sapphires aren't the hardest gems, so a sapphire could be damaged in real-world situations. What's harder than sapphires? Diamonds.

    In other words, language means nothing without context. And it's nice that the article tacked on this last paragraph:
    The experts added that it remains far from clear how cellphones could cause brain cancer, given that the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the devices is far too weak to have a biological effect.
    So cellphones could possibly be carcinogenic, even though they're too weak to have a biological effect.
    posted by filthy light thief at 11:53 AM on May 31, 2011


    In one of my old dermatology textbooks they have a photo of a tumor on the abdomen, in the muscle. It's quite common in a place where the local custom is to place a heated stone on one's belly to keep warm. And that's just heat, you have conduction and infrared radiation to examine as mechanisms. Every time someone says, "Well, cell phones are non-ionizing radiation," I remember that photo. The tumor goes right around where the stone is kept. Striking.

    Wait, what? No... unless the local rocks have a high concentrations of uranium.
    posted by ennui.bz at 11:54 AM on May 31, 2011


    I don't think this can be said often enough in this thread: Its not just that we have never observed RF radiation causing cancer, its that the math doesn't permit RF radiation to interact with particles in your body in such a way as to lead to any sort of cancer.

    Its the environment these people live in, full of plastics and synthetic organic chemicals and weird metallo-organic chemicals.
    posted by Slackermagee at 11:55 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


    I hear that cellphones give you Morgellon's.

    No, you have it backwards. Cellphone technology was given to the government by the Morgellons. The government thought it was safe but the Morgellons feed on the energy, and that's why they are breeding so fast in our skin.
    posted by ennui.bz at 11:58 AM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


    Or rather, that we have never observed RF radiation alone causing cancer. We haven't seen anyone publish a paper on cells in a non-treated, non-leaching glass dish going crazy when compared to control cells in a similarly non-treated, non-leaching glass dish.
    posted by Slackermagee at 12:00 PM on May 31, 2011


    I saw an utterly fact free scare peice on cellphones on CNN last night - it appears to be the new anti-vax.

    "NOBODY HAS PROOVED THEM SAFE!"
    posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on May 31, 2011


    IjonTichy,
    I wasn't stating that cell phones cause cancer, I was commenting on the confusion that most people feel about these kinds of news articles saying "OMG, the CANCER is caused by X".


    Fair enough! Sorry for misinterpreting your comment.
    posted by IjonTichy at 12:03 PM on May 31, 2011


    So cellphones could possibly be carcinogenic, even though they're too weak to have a biological effect.

    The radiation is too weak, but that says nothing of materials or anything. Maybe a lot of phones are made of, say, shitty zinc with a lot of cadmium still in it.
    posted by Sys Rq at 12:04 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    I suspect the cancer if it occurs at all is caused by the sheer banality of cell phone conversations causing people's brains to want to kill themselves. We've got star trek communicators and we are so bloody boring.
    posted by srboisvert at 12:05 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


    Nobody has proved that garbage "science" and media scare peices don't give you cancer, I'm just saying.
    posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


    The radiation is too weak, but that says nothing of materials or anything. Maybe a lot of phones are made of, say, shitty zinc with a lot of cadmium still in it.

    Does cadmium increase your cancer risk through skin, though? Because I don't see many people eating their cell phones.
    posted by ymgve at 12:08 PM on May 31, 2011


    The radiation is too weak, but that says nothing of materials or anything. Maybe a lot of phones are made of, say, shitty zinc with a lot of cadmium still in it.

    I don't think the issue is the weakness or strength of the radiation emitted from your cellphone: it's the wavelength. It's too long to interact (and thus damage) genetic material. A stronger transmitter would cook you like an egg, but it wouldn't give you cancer.
    posted by ennui.bz at 12:10 PM on May 31, 2011


    This just in: being alive is possibly carcinogenic.
    posted by me3dia at 12:15 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Well ...
    In an occupational mortality analysis of 486,000 adult male death records filed in Washington State in the years 1950-1982, leukemia and the non-Hodgkin's lymphomas show increased proportionate mortality ratios (PMRs) in workers employed in occupations with intuitive exposures to electromagnetic fields. Nine occupations of 219 were considered to have electric or magnetic field exposures. These were: electrical and electronic technicians, radio and telegraph operators, radio and television repairmen, telephone and power linemen, power station operators, welders, aluminum reduction workers, motion picture projectionists and electricians. There were 12,714 total deaths in these occupations. Eight of the nine occupations had PMR increases for leukemia [International Classification of Diseases (ICD), seventh revision 204] and seven of the nine occupations had PMR increases for the other lymphoma category (7th ICD 200.2, 202). The highest PMRs were seen for acute leukemia: (67 deaths observed, 41 deaths expected; PMR 162), and in the other lymphomas (51 deaths observed, 31 deaths expected; PMR 164). No increase in mortality was seen for Hodgkin's disease or multiple myeloma. These findings offer some support for the hypothesis that electric and magnetic fields may be carcinogenic.
    See also, leukemia and ham radio operators. You know, ham radio ... much longer wavelength than cell phones. And yet ...
    posted by adipocere at 12:17 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    This is rather naked pandering for a PR boost and more money.

    It's possible, yes. What we need is more research, yes. In fact, they say that:

    The experts stressed, however, that the evidence of a link remains far from clear and much more research is needed to further explore the possible risk.

    Even the good guys, like the World Health Organization, like to see fat wallets and their name in the newspapers.
    posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:18 PM on May 31, 2011


    A stronger transmitter would cook you like an egg, but it wouldn't give you cancer.
    Do we know that being cooked like an egg isn't carcinogenic?
    posted by juv3nal at 12:22 PM on May 31, 2011


    If cell phones caused cancer realtors would be dropping like the proverbial flies. I have never seen one that didn't practically need their cell phone surgically removed.


    That having been said, I don't ever want a Bluetooth. My boss-the one with the glioblastoma-used one constantly. But she was/is a diet Coke fanatic as well (as am I ) so, who knows?
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:24 PM on May 31, 2011


    Is it just me, or does it seem like a tremendous failure of science that we haven't really got a clear answer on this yet, after decades of wondering?
    posted by koeselitz at 7:12 PM on May 31


    It kinda does. All I know is the inverse square law, and that I'm not comfortable about jamming a microwave source that close to my brain. The fact that I hate cellphones anyway helps.
    posted by Decani at 12:27 PM on May 31, 2011


    The probability of me getting in a wreck with someone who is on the phone or texting is much higher than me getting cancer from a cellphone.
    In an occupational mortality analysis of 486,000 adult male death records filed in Washington State in the years 1950-1982, leukemia and the non-Hodgkin's lymphomas show increased proportionate mortality ratios (PMRs) in workers employed in occupations with intuitive exposures to electromagnetic fields. Nine occupations of 219 were considered to have electric or magnetic field exposures.
    And in 1950-1982 a lot of the electric and electronic occupations had increased exposure to
    PCBs and asbestos insulators. Just as current research on cellphones and cancer, it will not be easy to isolate the cellphone from the other variables at play.
    posted by birdherder at 12:27 PM on May 31, 2011


    *dons tinfoil hat; continues using cell phone*
    posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:29 PM on May 31, 2011


    I predict that the danger of getting cancer from a cell phone increase eases if you smoke them.
    posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:30 PM on May 31, 2011


    I hate iPad autocorrect.
    posted by ten pounds of inedita at 12:30 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Autocorrect gives you camera.
    posted by Artw at 12:31 PM on May 31, 2011 [18 favorites]


    If cell phones caused cancer realtors would be dropping like the proverbial flies.

    I dunno... I see an awful lot of out-of-business realtors these days....
    posted by hippybear at 12:33 PM on May 31, 2011


    SPARKY McPULITZER: great sockpuppet username, or GREATEST sockpuppet username?
    posted by epersonae at 12:38 PM on May 31, 2011


    Use a vaporizer man.
    posted by nutate at 12:38 PM on May 31, 2011


    You know, it's worth considering that cell phones probably save a significant number of lives as well, by providing better access to emergency services. So even if they do cause cancer, they could easily save more people than they kill.
    posted by Mitrovarr at 12:46 PM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


    As far as I can tell from the press release above, the only evidence they present that suggests there "might" be a risk is one study showing a 40% increase in gliomas. Using the data from Wikipedia, as gliomas are found in 0.003% of the population (in the US), this would mean that massive cellphone use would result in a glioma rate of 0.0046%. This would still put the amount of people who are diagnosed with this disease in a given year well below the number of people who die in car accidents in any given 3-month period.

    That's not exactly comforting! A quarter of the number of people who die in car accidents (over 40,000 a year in the US) is still a large number of people.
    posted by John Cohen at 12:56 PM on May 31, 2011


    "I don't ever want a Bluetooth. My boss-the one with the glioblastoma-used one constantly. But she was/is a diet Coke fanatic as well (as am I ) so, who knows?"

    I don't even know how to parse this level of dumb. Please help me out here.

    You are completely making up two connections to things causing cancer. Like 100% making them up without even any lunatic fringe backup. But then you are going to completely avoid one of them while embracing the other?

    This is crazy. By definition. Like in the dictionary.

    I feel like emailing this comment to the WHO in hopes they will understand the counterproductive nature of their report. This is the audience for their report - Crazy people. Not people with critical thinking skills who can evaluate evidence and then use that to make informed decisions.
    posted by y6y6y6 at 12:58 PM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


    This just in: being alive is possibly carcinogenic.

    Happy lolling and all but at the same time that's pretty much the attitude that the corporate entities responsible for shoddy nuclear plants, PCBs and other chemical dumps, trans fats, cigarettes and pesticides hope that you have.
    posted by aught at 1:05 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


    To add to the list of common things misunderstood by humans:

    1. Risk
    2. Statistical methods
    3. The Inverse Square Law
    4. The motives of news outlets
    5. The motives of World Health Organizations

    Instead we will have signs demanding NO CELL PHONE USE IN THE CAR WASH IT MAY EXPLODE and WIFI NOT ALLOWED WHILE CHILDREN ARE PRESENT
    posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:34 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


    But what if you wear a tin foil hat while making a call?
    posted by stormpooper at 1:34 PM on May 31, 2011


    Mitrovarr: "You know, it's worth considering that cell phones probably save a significant number of lives as well,"

    The lives saved from masked psychopaths alone would outweigh those lost to brain frying.
    posted by brundlefly at 1:35 PM on May 31, 2011


    The lives saved from masked psychopaths alone would outweigh those lost to brain frying.

    Fool. Everyone knows that masked psychopath attacks always occur in null-coverage spots or after you've dropped your cell phone out the car window.
    posted by Justinian at 1:52 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Also you kind of wonder if the WHO members want to avoid being the next scientists tried for manslaughter.
    posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:52 PM on May 31, 2011


    Autocorrect gives you camera penis.
    posted by invitapriore at 1:53 PM on May 31, 2011


    I heard that if you use a cellphone while sitting down during a long commute, not only will you totally get teh canserz, but you'll also be more likely to get teh divorcez! (The latter is courtesy of Slate, btw.)

    Honest to god, critical thinking has gone the way of the dodo.
    posted by gsh at 1:56 PM on May 31, 2011


    Honest to god, critical thinking has gone the way of the dodo.

    Fortunately, spastic thinking may yet correct itself aaaand the population problems of tomorrow (but also today)!
    posted by Slackermagee at 2:09 PM on May 31, 2011


    >> "I don't ever want a Bluetooth. My boss-the one with the glioblastoma-used one
    >> constantly. But she was/is a diet Coke fanatic as well (as am I ) so, who knows?"
    >
    > You are completely making up two connections to things causing cancer. Like 100%
    > making them up without even any lunatic fringe backup.

    Um, didn't the WHO just provide a connection between cell phones and cancer? I mean, isn't that what the fpp is about? And here's webMD helpfully providing a connection between diet sodas and cancer. You'll need to rephrase your rant so as to exclude these.
    posted by jfuller at 2:09 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    My boss-the one with the glioblastoma-used one constantly. But she was/is a diet Coke fanatic as well (as am I ) so, who knows?"

    And here's webMD helpfully providing a connection between diet sodas and cancer.

    ...pancreatic cancer. Glioblastomas are brain tumors.
    posted by IjonTichy at 2:25 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    It seems unfair that the douchebags are the ones that aren't getting brain cancer.

    No worries there.

    You know how the first Batman movie had the Joker combining different products to cause horrible forms of death?

    Let's just say that through a lot of hard work on my part, a daily combination of spray on tans, bluetooth headsets, and Axe body spray will cause really unpleasant things to happen to the user.

    Some people are born to make the world a better place. I'm not that guy, so all I can do is make it worse in really disturbing and funny ways.
    posted by quin at 2:36 PM on May 31, 2011


    There's an Achewood thead that deals with how to combat this.
    posted by thatelsagirl at 2:43 PM on May 31, 2011


    Um, didn't the WHO just provide a connection between cell phones and cancer? I mean, isn't that what the fpp is about?

    No, they did not.
    posted by Artw at 2:51 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    In an occupational mortality analysis of 486,000 adult male death records filed in Washington State in the years 1950-1982, leukemia and the non-Hodgkin's lymphomas show increased proportionate mortality ratios (PMRs) in workers employed in occupations with intuitive exposures to electromagnetic fields.

    Here's an example of what real epidemiologists say about PMRs.
    posted by Mental Wimp at 3:18 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


    Kevin Nealon said it best in a 1993 SNL Weekend Update segment: "A recent study indicates that cellular phone users may be more likely tpointo develop brain tumors. The problem has gotten very little public attention, however, since most people don't care if people who use cellular phones die."
    posted by Creosote at 3:31 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


    s/tpointo/to/
    posted by Creosote at 3:32 PM on May 31, 2011


    "didn't the WHO just provide a connection between cell phones and cancer? I mean, isn't that what the fpp is about? And here's webMD helpfully providing a connection between diet sodas and cancer.

    See? This is the problem. People just making things up.

    1) Bluetooth is not a cellphone. At all.
    2) The study you linked was about soda with sugar, and says the sugar is the problem.

    So you didn't read either article, or you didn't recognize the core points being made in either of them.

    See WHO? See where these fear inviting reports based on theoretical edge cases goes?
    posted by y6y6y6 at 3:35 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Maybe I misspoke. My boss had that stupid borg thingamabob in her ear that she used as a cellphone, which as far as I know is bluetooth. Am I wrong?

    And I am not crazy. Unless being addicted to diet Coke is crazy. Which it may well be, but it's tasty tasty crazy.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:43 PM on May 31, 2011


    The surprising thing would be if anyone was surprised if heavy cell phone use at least modestly increased your risk of developing some forms of cancer.

    Really? Anyone I know who's even casually postulated that cell-phone radiation might be dangerous is usually mocked heartily, which I both understand and do not Here's a thread from April.

    re: It's hard to talk about the dangers of cell-phone radiation without sounding like a conspiracy theorist.

    Suffice it to say that I'm not 100% convinced yet.

    Ditto.

    Just to be clear, conventional wisdom says that radiation from laptops and cell phones cannot be dangerous to humans.

    So why does my wife's macbook hurt my nuts when I put it anywhere near my lap? (I've done a blindfolded test many times with zero fail.) Or is it a painful sort of radiation that does not cause cancer?
    posted by mrgrimm at 3:45 PM on May 31, 2011


    That might be good old thermal radiation. Testicles have good reason to be very temperature sensitive...
    posted by Zalzidrax at 4:33 PM on May 31, 2011


    "In 2004 an enormous British study was launched to confirm these ominous early reports [of cellphone related gliomas]. The study, reported in 2006, appeared initially to confirm an increased risk of right-sided brain cancers in men and women who held their phone on their right ear. But when researches evaluated the data meticulously, a puzzling pattern emerged: right-sided cell phone use reduced the risk of left-sided brain cancer.

    The simplest logical explanation for this phenomenon was "recall bias": patients diagnosed with tumors unconsciously exaggerated the use of cell phones on the same side of their head, and selectively forgot the use on the other side. When the authors corrected for this bias, there was no detectable association between gliomas and cell phone use overall."

    ~Siddartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

    Basically, it's incredibly easy to fan anxiety over cancer, but methodological rigor is all-important. We're studying a perceived confluence of the common phenomenon of cellphone usage and the incredibly rare disease of brain cancer. Mukherjee goes on to note that typically a new generation of cell phones are introduced by the time a study is published, thereby making any results questionable.
    posted by WhitenoisE at 4:56 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


    > No, they did not.
    > posted by Artw at 5:51 PM on May 31 [+] [!]

    Artw, they provided a tenuous link. A tenuous link is a link.


    For links between diet soda and cancer, here are a few more:

    Center for Science in the Public Interest (normally a metafilter favorite):
    FDA Should Reconsider Aspartame Cancer Risk, Say Experts

    Environmental Health Perspectives (nih.gov):
    Life-Span Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning during Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats

    Consumerist:
    New Cancer Worries For Diet Soda Drinkers

    Recall that the standard I have to beat is "Like 100% making them up without even any lunatic fringe backup." I have beaten that (brutally, with a 2x4), showing at least lunatic-fringe support. More, if you think NIH and CSPI rank higher than lunatic-fringe.


    I really don't much care about microscopic cancer risks. I do care about close reading. Art, you should work at parsing more strictly, you'll be correct more often. Y6, you have your head up your ass and should apologize to St. Alia.
    posted by jfuller at 5:57 PM on May 31, 2011


    And I am not crazy. Unless being addicted to diet Coke is crazy. Which it may well be, but it's tasty tasty crazy.

    Diet Coke is NOT tasty. QED!
    posted by Sys Rq at 6:04 PM on May 31, 2011


    News flash: NRA claims that firearms are "possibly deadly".
    posted by hal_c_on at 6:51 PM on May 31, 2011


    Metafilter: a painful sort of radiation that does not cause cancer
    posted by dephlogisticated at 6:54 PM on May 31, 2011


    I'm drinking a diet Coke right now. And I LIKE it.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:56 PM on May 31, 2011


    1) Bluetooth is not a cellphone. At all.

    In terms of emitted radiation, it's actually pretty similar— repeated low-power bursts of 2.4GHz radiation. Yes, cell phones typically operate nearer 1-2 GHz, but if there's some mysterious mechanism of damage, it may not care about that difference. (Also similar: microwave ovens, wifi, baby monitors.)

    Is it just me, or does it seem like a tremendous failure of science that we haven't really got a clear answer on this yet

    Science has been giving a pretty clear answer for some time now. Science says that cell phones probably don't cause cancer, and that if they do, the effect is extremely weak.

    There is absolutely no physically conceivable mechanism through which cell-phone radiation could cause cancer. The energy of the photons is far too small to break chemical bonds, thus any physical effects of the radiation are due to local heating of tissue

    People occasionally posit non-thermal non-ionizing mechanisms (eg; not applicable to cell phones, though); and some experiments may show an effect (eg, eg; note both of these showed no long-term effect).

    The above mechanisms are pretty speculative, but saying "there is absolutely no physically conceivable mechanism" is untrue.
    posted by hattifattener at 7:23 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


    Drinking sugar sweetened soda is associated with a nearly doubled risk of pancreatic cancer. It is more likely to cause pancreatic cancer than smoking. Pancreatic cancer is rare but it is twice as common as brain cancer.
    posted by WhitenoisE at 8:04 PM on May 31, 2011


    You know, people keep saying how rare brain cancer is. In the last several years I know of three people personally who have had glioblastoma, two of which have passed away-one of those being my husband's stepdad. Not even counting Edward Kennedy in that pile.

    I know that anecdota does not equal data, but it doesn't feel rare to me right now.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:17 PM on May 31, 2011


    Tomorrow would be a really great time to invest in Apple, HTC, Motorola, etc...
    posted by fungible at 8:22 PM on May 31, 2011


    The above mechanisms are pretty speculative, but saying "there is absolutely no physically conceivable mechanism" is untrue.
    Thanks hattifettener, I was just going to pop in and say this. I certainly don't see any evidence that there's a link to cancer, but the oft-repeated argument:
    1. Cell phone radiation is non-ionizing therefore doesn't damage DNA
    2. Cancer results from DNA damage
    3. Therefore cell phone radiation doesn't cause damage
    is at best fallacious, at worst ignorant and deceptive. Mutations happen all the time, either from cosmic rays or mundane spontaneous deamination, and human cells have a host of pathways in place to correct damage and to prevent cells with damaged DNA from dividing. These pathways rely on transient non-covalent bonds, and could potentially be disrupted by non-ionizing radiation. Also, heating causes proteins to denature, and there are a whole host of pathways and protein chaperones for dealing with the protein damage that results from overheating, as denatured bits of protein could easily wreak havoc in a cell. Inducing DNA damage is not the only way to cause cancer, preventing regular DNA repair can be just as effective, and it disheartens me to see such simplistic and wrong arguments spouted so confidently.

    Cellular biology is not a simple closed electrical circuit; designed for simple analysis by well-understood formulas. There's a long history of entirely novel unknown mechanisms being discovered in biology; making reductive arguments based on extremely limited knowledge is bound to cause failure.

    The strongest argument against cell-phone carcinogenicity is the epidemiological evidence, and really it's the final word. If there's no evidence for it, and evidence that any effect is so small as to be undetectable, then there's no need to go further. Saying "I can't imagine how" is just as unscientific as when creationists use it as an argument.
    posted by Llama-Lime at 8:44 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]



    News flash: NRA claims that firearms are "possibly deadly".


    You seem to be suggesting that the connection between cellphones and cancer is as obvious as that between shooting injuries and death. I'm not sure that you understand the topic very well.

    You know, people keep saying how rare brain cancer is...but it doesn't feel rare to me right now

    I don't understand what you mean. Brain cancer is rare compared to cancer incidence in general. The word rare doesn't mean anything out of context.
    posted by WhitenoisE at 8:46 PM on May 31, 2011


    Er, point three should be "Therefore cell phone radiation doesn't cause cancer."
    posted by Llama-Lime at 8:46 PM on May 31, 2011


    Brain cancer is rare compared to cancer incidence in general.

    Well, considering that in the same time period I knew of one case of lung cancer, two of breast cancer, a couple of skin cancers, and two cases of uterine cancer, I still have to say it's the most common type of all in my sample group (which is people I know.)
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:50 PM on May 31, 2011


    St. Alia of the Bunnies: "Well, considering that in the same time period I knew of one case of lung cancer, two of breast cancer, a couple of skin cancers, and two cases of uterine cancer, I still have to say it's the most common type of all in my sample group (which is people I know.)"

    This is really at the heart of the issue, and I don't like how folks above have brushed it off. I know what it's like to have friends and loved ones taken out by some "rare" condition. It feels terrible enough to have to deal with the stresses of tending to the sick; it's even worse when it seems like nobody cares about finding a cure or a cause for the disease. So I feel for you, St. Alia.

    But this is at the heart of the issue because it's in these moments when the disease looms so ominously over us that we lose our objectivity and our ability to think rationally about risk. It's not our fault-- we're naturally bad at risk perception and the amygdala tends to throw it off kilter when we get sad or afraid.

    I wish there were a better way to communicate risk. Like some index of risk behaviors that could tell you all the equivalents of a given risky activity and then put it in context by giving a few examples of risks exponentially smaller and exponentially larger. Maybe even scale it so that it's Risk * DALYs/QALYs associated with the outcome.

    So, for instance (making this all up):

    Talking on your cell phone 5 minutes a day for 10 years produces 5 Risk-QALYs, which is the same as Riding your bike without a helmet for fifteen minutes, which is about a tenth as risky as never getting a mammogram, but is ten times riskier than standing outside for five minutes.
    posted by The White Hat at 9:21 PM on May 31, 2011


    Well, I still talk on my cell phone and drink diet Coke, and I don't really feel like oooh, I'm gonna get teh cancer....but still, it just seems like every time I turn around somebody has a brain tumor. And I don't remember it being that way even ten years ago.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:27 PM on May 31, 2011


    Well, I still talk on my cell phone and drink diet Coke, and I don't really feel like oooh, I'm gonna get teh cancer....but still, it just seems like every time I turn around somebody has a brain tumor. And I don't remember it being that way even ten years ago.

    And I have never known anyone who has or has had brain cancer. But that doesn't mean that brain cancer has been erradicated.
    posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:13 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Artw, they provided a tenuous link. A tenuous link is a link.

    No, they did not. They did no original work whatsoever, They looked at some existing ones, cherrypicked the most sensationalistic results and issued a press release. No actual science was involved.
    posted by Artw at 10:30 PM on May 31, 2011



    Well, I still talk on my cell phone and drink diet Coke, and I don't really feel like oooh, I'm gonna get teh cancer....but still, it just seems like every time I turn around somebody has a brain tumor. And I don't remember it being that way even ten years ago.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:27 PM on May 31


    St. Alia, you sound exactly like every person who asks me if cell phones cause cancer. It makes me both mad and sad that people who seem to be intelligent can let their "guts" and "intuition" do the thinking for them in an area that can really only be illuminated by scientific inquiry. How many brain tumors do you not remember from before ten years ago? Perhaps after you heard of the first one, you started keeping track of them and thinking after each one "This is [x number] more brain tumors than I can remember from before I started counting them." You're not actually comparing two sets of numbers, you're just adding to one set and counting it as "mounting evidence". When I try to people as best I can that current studies cannot make any correlative link between cell phone use and an increase in cancer (to a high degree of probability) they come back at me with anecdotal "evidence" about their cousin or boss who used a cell phone and got cancer. Then they say "What about the radiation?" as if their cell phone were equivalent to a tiny Chernobyl in their pocket and not putting out electromagnetic radiation like every other electronic device they use.

    Why are these people (white yuppies in my experience)(and St. Alia) not worried about all the other kinds of radiation that they're bathed in every day? I spend way more time with my laptop on my lap than I do with a cell phone next to my head. I'm sure they take transcontinental flights several times a month. That's a huge dose of cosmic rays for them (and Reed, Johnny, Sue and Ben). For that matter, why would the cell phone only cause brain cancer? It spends way more time in my pocket, on and transmitting data, than anywhere else. Shouldn't we be seeing a concurrent rise in pelvic cancers? Also, why would you get brain cancer first and not bone, skin or muscle cancer? Doesn't the radiation (or heat, or whatever) have to travel through all those tissues before it hits your brain tissue? Is brain tissue more sensitive to whatever (still unknown or impossible) mechanism that would cause cancers?

    Most importantly, what is causing all these cognitive disconnects in people? If anything, I think cell phone use increases a specific type of brain damage that makes you think that using cell phones causes cancer.

    (The best is when someone leaves my store having bought a "cancer-free" wired headset and lights up a cigarette. Christ, what an asshole.)
    posted by runcibleshaw at 11:00 PM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


    Good summary here: Cancer Research UK Science Blog - World Health Organisation verdict on mobile phones and cancer

    They did no original work whatsoever, They looked at some existing ones, cherrypicked the most sensationalistic results and issued a press release.

    Actually that's a little harsh, since it implies that cellphones are some special case when acvtually they classify a lot of things, and most of the inflation of the claims here comes after the fact from various media sources, so it's hardly fair for me to be pissy with the IARC about that. But the studies supporting it remain weak as gnats piss, and the Group 2B category remains vague enought to be basically a catch all for anything and seems pretty much tailor made to allow the Mail to make bullshit claims.
    posted by Artw at 11:09 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Well, all I know is I am 52 years old, and I never heard of anyone I know having one of these bad boys period till my last decade. Of course that could be a statistical anomaly, but it's still a bit eerie to me.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:05 AM on June 1, 2011


    From the FPP link:

    “Possibly carcinogenic” is the WHO’s third-highest rating, falling below “carcinogenic” and “probably carcinogenic” but above “not classifiable” and “probably not carcinogenic.”

    Context missing from the FPP link, supplied by Cancer Research UK in Artw's link.

    Group 3 means that something is “not classifiable as to its carcinogencity to humans”. This means that the evidence is “inadequate in humans or “inadequate or limited” in animals. Usually, there just haven’t been enough studies to say either way.

    Group 4 means something probably doesn’t cause cancer in humans. So far, there is only one chemical – caprolactam – in this group.


    So, in other words, of all the possible cancer risks that have been subject to serious study, nothing other than caprolactam has ever been classified as lower risk than radiation from mobile phones. I don't think it's time to panic just yet.
    posted by Jakey at 5:25 AM on June 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


    Reading the scary news reports, then reading the actual WHO criteria for how a particular process ends up in the "possibly carcinogenic" group only serves to remind me of the science news cycle.
    posted by dirigibleman at 9:22 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


    So, in other words, of all the possible cancer risks that have been subject to serious study, nothing other than caprolactam has ever been classified as lower risk than radiation from mobile phones. I don't think it's time to panic just yet.

    Would have favorited this more if I could.
    posted by Mental Wimp at 9:32 AM on June 1, 2011


    "1) There is absolutely no physically conceivable mechanism through which cell-phone radiation could cause cancer. The energy of the photons is far too small to break chemical bonds, thus any physical effects of the radiation are due to local heating of tissue and cannot be any more dangerous that anything else that heats your tissue, like the sun or a light bulb."

    I agree with your general point, but this isn't correct. There is significant if conflicting evidence that Terahertz radiation damages DNA, even though it is non-ionizing:

    Alexandrov and co have created a model to investigate how THz fields interact with double-stranded DNA and what they've found is remarkable. They say that although the forces generated are tiny, resonant effects allow THz waves to unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. That's a jaw dropping conclusion.

    Saying there is no conceivable mechanism for something is not much of an argument, as long as the effect is observed. Of course, in this case the effect isn't observed, so it doesn't matter too much.
    posted by Marlinspike at 4:27 PM on June 3, 2011


    So why does my wife's macbook hurt my nuts when I put it anywhere near my lap?

    You know what? I think I figured this one out (thanks for nothing, metafilter). It's because I have an 18" titanium rod in my pelvis. I forgot about that.
    posted by mrgrimm at 8:27 AM on June 6, 2011


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