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Cell Phone Cancer Fears Resurface

Here we go again: Cell phones may (or may not) be linked to cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the Geneva-based World Health Organization, Tuesday [PDF] classified cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic.” The decision came after a working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries reviewed a raft of previous studies on the subject. That doesn’t mean your cell phone will give you cancer, but it puts them in the same “possibly carcinogenic” WHO category as lead, gas exhaust fumes and pesticide DDT. As consumer products go, it could keep better company.

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The cell phone industry is aware of these optics. The CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry lobby group, poured cold water on the classification. It says the WHO’s cancer agency has previously given the same score to pickled vegetables and coffee, which puts the scary headlines in perspective. “This IARC classification does not mean cell phones cause cancer,” the wireless association said in a statement. “Under IARC rules, limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though even though bias and other data flaws may be the basis for the results.”

It has a point. The studies on cell phone usage have found little to agree on. The Food and Drug Administration itself has cited the lack of scientific evidence linking cell phones with health problems. A 13-country study, which appeared last year in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found no proven link between increased cell phone use and the most common kind of brain tumors. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February suggested that regular cell phone use increased brain activity and added, “This finding is of unknown clinical significance.”

So why the lack of agreement among scientists? The National Cancer Institute says many studies rely on written questionnaires and people’s hazy memories of the amount of time they spend on their phone; plus, cell phones have been popular since the mid-1990s and tumors can take decades to develop if exposed to a carcinogen. The nation’s 285 million cell phone users will likely have to wait for something more conclusive. In the meantime, we might try not sleeping in the same room as our beloved phones and returning to old-fashioned alarm clocks.

Will you think twice about your cell phone use?

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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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