July 23, 2008

from CNNMoney Website



The director of a cancer institute tells faculty and staff to limit cell phone use due to possible cancer risk, although numerous studies have found no link.


PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The head of a prominent cancer research institute issued an unprecedented warning to his faculty and staff Wednesday: Limit cell phone use because of the possible risk of cancer.

The warning from Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, is contrary to numerous studies that don't find a link between cancer and cell phone use, and a public lack of worry by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Herberman is basing his alarm on early unpublished data. He says it takes too long to get answers from science, and he believes people should take action now - especially when it comes to children.

"Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later," Herberman said.

No other major academic cancer research institutions have sounded such an alarm about cell phone use. But Herberman's advice is sure to raise concern among many cell phone users and especially parents.

In the memo he sent to about 3,000 faculty and staff Wednesday, he said children should use cell phones only for emergencies because their brains are still developing.

Adults should keep the phone away from the head and use the speakerphone or a wireless headset, he said. He even warned against using cell phones in public places like a bus, because it exposes others to the phone's electromagnetic fields.

The issue that concerns some scientists - though nowhere near a consensus - is electromagnetic radiation, especially its possible effects on children. It is not a major topic in conferences of brain specialists.


Controversial data

A 2008 University of Utah analysis looked at nine studies - including some Herberman cites - with thousands of brain tumor patients, and concluded,

"we found no overall increased risk of brain tumors among cellular phone users. The potential elevated risk of brain tumors after long-term cellular phone use awaits confirmation by future studies."

Studies last year in France and Norway concluded the same thing.

"If there is a risk from these products - and at this point we do not know that there is - it is probably very small," the Food and Drug Administration says on an agency Web site.


Still, Herberman cites a "growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer."

"Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use," he wrote in his memo.

A driving force behind the memo was Devra Lee Davis, the director of the university's center for environmental oncology.

"The question is, do you want to play Russian roulette with your brain," she said in an interview from her cell phone while using the hands-free speaker phone as recommended. "I don't know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don't know that they are safe."

Of concern are the still-unknown effects of more than a decade of cell phone use, with some studies raising alarms, said Davis, a former health adviser in the Clinton administration.

She said 20 different groups have endorsed the advice the Pittsburgh cancer institute gave.


Authorities in England, France and India also have cautioned children's use of cell phones.


Ongoing research

Herberman and Davis point to a massive ongoing research project known as Interphone, involving scientists in 13 nations, mostly in Europe. Results already published in peer-reviewed journals from this project aren't so alarming, but Herberman is citing work not yet published.

The published research focuses on more than 5,000 cases of brain tumors. The National Research Council in the United States, which isn't participating in the Interphone project, reported in January that the brain tumor research had "selection bias." That means it relied on people with cancer to remember how often they used cell phones. It is not considered the most accurate research approach.

The largest published study, which appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2006, tracked 420,000 Danish cell phone users, including thousands that had used the phones for more than 10 years. It found no increased risk of cancer among those using cell phones.

A French study based on Interphone research and published in 2007 concluded that regular cell phone users had "no significant increased risk" for three major types of nervous system tumors. It did note, however, that there was "the possibility of an increased risk among the heaviest users" for one type of brain tumor, but that needs to be verified in future research.

Earlier research also has found no connection.

Joshua E. Muscat of Penn State University, who has studied cancer and cell phones in other research projects partly funded by the cell phone industry, said there are at least a dozen studies that have found no link between cancer and cell phones.


He said a Swedish study cited by Herberman as support for his warning was biased and flawed.

"We certainly don't know of any mechanism by which radiofrequency exposure would cause a cancerous effect in cells. We just don't know this might possibly occur," Muscat said.

Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a type of radiation that is a form of electromagnetic radiation, according to the National Cancer Institute. Though studies are being done to see if there is a link between it and tumors of the brain and central nervous system, there is no definitive link between the two, the institute says on its Web site.

"If a person feels compelled that they should take precautions in reducing the amount of electromagnetic radio waves through their bodies, by all means they should do so," said Dan Catena, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. "But at the same time, we have to remember there's no conclusive evidence that links cell phones to cancer, whether it's brain tumors or other forms of cancer."

Joe Farren, a spokesman for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for the wireless industry, said the group believes there is a risk of misinforming the public if science isn't used as the ultimate guide on the issue.

"When you look at the overwhelming majority of studies that have been peer reviewed and published in scientific journals around the world, you'll find no relationship between wireless usage and adverse health affects," Farren said.

Mixed reactions

Frank Barnes, who chaired the January report from the National Research Council, said Wednesday that "the jury is out" on how hazardous long-term cell phone use might be.

Speaking from his cell phone, the professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder said he takes no special precautions in his own phone use. And he offered no specific advice to people worried about the matter.

It's up to each individual to decide what, if anything, to do. If people use a cell phone instead of having a landline, "that may very well be reasonable for them," he said.

Susan Juffe, a 58-year-old Pittsburgh special-education teacher, heard about Herberman's cell phone advice on the radio earlier in the day.

"Now, I'm worried. It's scary," she said.

She says she'll think twice about allowing her 10-year-old daughter Jayne to use the cell phone.

"I don't want to get it [brain cancer] and I certainly don't want you to get it," she explained to her daughter.

Sara Loughran, a 24-year-old doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, sat in a bus stop Wednesday chatting on her cell phone with her mother. She also had heard the news earlier in the day, but was not as concerned.

"I think if they gave me specific numbers and specific information, and it was scary enough, I would be concerned," Loughran said, planning to call her mother again in a matter of minutes. "Without specific numbers, it's too vague to get me worked up."







“This Is Your Brain on Cell Phone Radiation”
by John Cox


Another group of "prominent" doctors and public health researchers have issued the latest warning that cell phone use possibly might increase the chances you get brain cancer.

One of them, Dr. Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, went so far as to write a memo to 3,000 faculty and staff encouraging them to use cell phones less, to keep them as far from their head as possible, and only let children use them in emergencies.

Good luck with that.

So. Legislators and what I would guess are called traffic safety advocates are saying cell phones (or at least the deadly hand-held cell phone) lead to traffic accidents; doctors and public health folks are saying they might lead to brain tumors. Kind of a public policy dilemma here: if you allow phones in cars, users end up dead long before debilitating brain cancer can kill them; but if you ban them in cars, users are exposed to radiation longer, and develop brain cancer.

In the face of such danger, perhaps the responsible solution is to BAN CELL PHONES outright. The precedent is already being established with the bans on trans fat in New York City and Boston. Then there's the move to ban second-hand smoke... outdoors, as ABC's 20/20 correspondent John Stossel enumerated in a story on Nanny State intrusions.

That may be the next step: according to one account Dr. Herberman,

"warns against using cell phone in public places, like a bus, because it exposes others to the phone's electromagnetic fields." I can see it now: "A subway user was roughed up, verbally abused and his cell phone ground under foot by angry fellow riders when he refused to stop using his cell phone, despite the city's ban on second-hand radiation. ‘Your brains are already fried, what difference does it make," was his comment, according to several witnesses...."

I read three accounts on the newest radiation warning, one in the Washington Post, which ran the lengthy Associated Press story, one by the Baltimore Sun, and one from eSchool News, which rewrote some wire stores.

As is often the case, reading them side by side just adds to the fear, uncertainty and doubt that is the point of such stories, and often of the people featured in them.


eSchool News captured this perfectly: the new warning,

"has rekindled fears about the possible health risks associated with extensive cell-phone use."

The "rekindled" is a nice touch: those persistent, banked and smoldering embers of fears flaring up... again!

The eSchool story refers to the possible risks due to "extensive...use" yet when it quotes Dr. Herberman, he uses the term "longterm...use." From what I can see, those are two very different things biologically: one implies bathing your brain in electromagnetic radiation by mashing your cell phone to your ear for hours a day; the other giving your brain a few zaps daily or weekly between now and your retirement.

The ad hoc group which issued the new cell phone radiation warning says that,

"the most recent studies...show a possible association between certain benign tumors and some brain cancers on the side [of the head where] the device is used."

That's more than enough for Dr. Herberman.

"Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry," he says.

(This, by the way, is the basic argument made by advocates of sexual abstinence: don't do it, and you can't get sick or pregnant.)

But my favorite quote is from Devra Lee Davis, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Environmental Oncology, and author of "When Smoke Ran Like Water: tales of environmental deception and the battle against pollution." She's described in one story as "a driving force behind Herberman's memo" and in the other as "the key architect of the warning."


We get it: she's a player.

Here it is:

"The question is do you want to play Russian roulette with your brain. I don't know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don't know that they are safe."

So keep your calls short, and keep the phone away from your head. I'm not sure that the people most concerned about cell phone dangers will be reassured by this second bit of advice: keeping the phone in your pocket or purse, with a cable or Bluetooth (CAUTION! More radiation!) headset shifts the organs being irradiated from your head to your Naughty Bits.

What neither Davis nor the reporters address is the nature of safety, which cannot be absolute. Are cars safe? Is coffee safe? Are backyard swing-sets safe? Is wood-grilled beefsteak safe? Greenpeace charged last year that the Apple iPhone, quite apart from the radiation "danger," was environmentally unsafe

People make decisions about safety based on a range of evaluations and values, that is on what is prudent - what is careful, sensible, based on sound judgment. Russian roulette, one could argue, is the opposite of prudent, but there is not the slightest evidence that pressing a cell phone to your head in any way, even metaphorically, is equivalent to pressing a six-shot revolver, loaded with one bullet, to your head and pulling the trigger.

Instead, Davis and Herberman offer as sensible and sane a principle that is clearly the opposite of both: that the absence of absolute proof of safety means that an activity or object must be treated as absolutely unsafe. People who actually live like that are regarded rightly as paranoid delusional.

I need to stop here: I have an incoming call on my cell phone....




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