In May 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organisation, announced in a press release (1) that it had classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B); this was later published as an IARC Monograph in 2013 (2). The IARC Working Group of 31 scientists reviewed the scientific literature and concluded that there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, but inadequate evidence to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. IARC concluded that a close watch should be kept for a link between mobile phones and cancer risk, and that it is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones.
This year (2014) a commentary on Mobile Phones and Cancer was published, providing viewpoints from members of the IARC Working Group on ‘Next Steps After the 2011 IARC Review’ (3). Authors reiterated the inconclusive nature of previous studies and reviewed four cohort studies that were published after the IARC meeting in 2011. The authors concluded that ‘these newer results do not remove the uncertainty inherent in the “possibly carcinogenic”(2B) IARC classification’, and with the forever growing exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, the authors ‘made the call for more research’, recognising prospective cohort studies, like that of COSMOS, as essential for a valid assessment of exposure.
In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a new research agenda for radiofrequency (RF) fields (4). This agenda sets out the priorities for health effects research relating to RF exposures, which include the use of mobile phones. In terms of epidemiological research, the WHO agenda identifies the COSMOS study as one of the most important studies currently ongoing in this field, and the study continues to be classified as high priority in order to evaluate potential long-term risks of mobile phone use.
A major report on mobile phones and health was published by the UK Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones in 2000, known as the ‘Stewart report’ (5). This report was updated by a further review of mobile phones and health undertaken by the Advisory Group on Non-Ionizing Radiation (AGNIR) (6) and published by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) in 2005. In 2007, the independent Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme (MTHR), which was established in 2001 following the ‘Stewart Report’, published a report (7) describing research undertaken as part of its programme. None of the research supported by the MTHR programme and published so far demonstrates that biological or adverse health effects are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones.
In 2009, reports reviewing mobile phones and health research were published by both The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), an independent international scientific organisation formally recognised by the World Health Organization, and The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), which was established in 2004 by the European Commission. In relation the mobile phones and tumour risk, the report by ICNIRP (8) concluded that studies published to date do not demonstrate an increased risk within approximately ten years of use for any tumor of the brain or any other head tumor. However, the Commission notes that whilst the available data do not suggest a causal association between mobile phone use and fast-growing tumors (such as malignant glioma), the observation period for slow-growing tumors (such as meningioma and acoustic neuroma) has been too short for the absence of associations reported so far to be considered conclusive. The report by SCENHIR (9) concluded "that exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans. However, as the widespread duration of exposure of humans to RF fields from mobile phones is shorter than the induction time of some cancers, further studies are required to identify whether considerably longer-term (well beyond ten years) human exposure to such phones might pose some cancer risk."
You can also learn more about mobile phones, mobile phone base stations, and health protection policy in the UK from the following websites: