By Mike Mulvihill
Mobile apps are all the rage, and why not. Five billion mobile users worldwide (nearly 75 percent of the world population). It is a massive market with lots of research that predicts how everything we do online and electronically will eventually become the bastion of the cell phone.
That is unless cell phones are slowly killing us. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization announced this morning that it has now categorized cell phone radiation as a “carcinogenic hazard.” The same label WHO has attached to DDT, lead, engine exhaust and chloroform. In a press release, the WHO said the new warning is “based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.” The announcement came after a weeklong meeting of experts. They reviewed possible links between cancer and the type of electromagnetic radiation found in cellphones, microwaves and radar.
Ah, how we love to jump on the “bad for you” band wagon. But let’s look at little further. So before you Google “brain tumor self-examination,” there are a few things to consider:
- Even if there is a link, you can minimize exposure using hands free devices – or just text, FB or Tweet instead.
- Last year, results of a large study found no clear link between cellphones and cancer. But some advocacy groups raised serious concerns over “a hint of a possible connection” between very heavy phone use and glioma, a rare but often deadly form of brain tumor. However, the population in that subgroup wasn’t sufficient to make a statistically solid conclusion. (And research loves to show that if you give someone way too much of anything often enough, it will usually have a negative health consequence.)
- The study methodology was controversial because it began with people who already had cancer and asked them to recall how often they used their cellphones more than a decade ago.
- In about 30 other studies done in Europe, New Zealand and the U.S., patients with brain tumors have not reported using their cellphones more often than unaffected people.
- It is difficult to prove a negative. Since many cancerous tumors can take decades to develop, cell phone studies conducted so far haven’t tracked people for longer than about a decade. Therefore, it is impossible to conclude cellphones have no long-term health risks. But we do know the radiation produced by cellphones does not directly damage DNA and is different from stronger types of radiation, like X-rays or ultraviolet light. At very high levels, radio frequency waves from cellphones can heat up body tissue, but that is not believed to damage human cells.
As PR people, we can make a business out of ballyhooing research to make a point. While this research will get plenty of press, it doesn’t prove a causal link. There’s just not enough data to make that conclusion. But the lack of proof that there is no negative impact becomes the story. Sensationalism rings awfully familiar here. Regardless, I think we’re going to have a tough time getting everyone to put down their cell phones. That includes me, so feel free to call.