Top scientist calls for calm ahead of mobile phone cancer report

A report due out overnight may class mobile phones as potentially cancer-causing but the public is being urged to keep calm and carry on. Flickr

One of Australia’s top experts on cancer-causing agents has called for calm ahead of a report due to be released overnight that may help settle debate over whether or not mobile phone use is linked to cancer.

The report, to be issued by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at 2am AEST, will be the most authoritative study ever on the topic and will study all peer-reviewed published scientific literature looking at the carcinogenic hazards associated with exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.

It will include reviews of studies on cancer and radars, microwaves, wi-fi, bluetooth, television and radio signals and mobile phones.

Potential links between mobile phone use and brain cancer have attracted the most attention but a former IARC panel member and the Head of the Cancer Control Program in South East Sydney for NSW Health has urged the public to keep calm and wait for action by official health authorities.

Professor Bernard Stewart, who is also an academic at the University of NSW, said the report will classify the different electromagnetic field-emitting agents into one of five categories:

Group 1 are proven carcinogens, Group 2A are probably carcinogenic, Group 2B are possibly carcinogenic and Group 3 are unable to be ascertained. Group 4 agents are classed as not carcinogenic.

“The sorts of agents that are (already) in Group 1, which are definitively carcinogenic, include, for example, alcoholic beverages. Alcohol beverages have been in class 1 for years but it was literally just a few months ago that the Cancer Council Australia made a position statement in the Medical Journal of Australia about alcoholic beverages causing cancer,” he said.

Rather than panicking about the potential links between mobile phone use and cancer, the public should instead wait for health authorities to process the IARC findings and make recommendations if necessary.

“The public should take an active interest in their surroundings in an informed society but the public should not take on a burden of anxiety here,” he said.

“Compared to the things that are proven to cause cancer – that is, smoking cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, excessive exposure to sunlight, lack of exercise, a high calorie diet and obesity – compared to these established causes of cancer, we are looking at something that, at the very most, may cause cancer.”

“If there is a finding that suggests mobile phones present a hazard at any level, the first people who are going to respond are going to be the manufacturers of mobile phones,” he predicted.

Professor Stewart said it was his personal opinion that electromagnetic fields do not cause human cells to become malignant but acknowledged that many of these devices are still relatively new so the long term effect was unknown.

“But the data we have shows no net increase in brain cancer (since mobile phones became popular),” he said.