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Mobile phones - should they be ringing bells?

Friday 3 June, 2011 by Bek

Red.  Hot. Ear. Buzzing. Prickly. Side. Of. Face. 

Have I irradiated my ear? Or worse - lightly fried my brain like a scallop in butter sauce?

Last week the World Health Organisation/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced after a week-long meeting of 31 scientists from 14 countries it had classified mobile phones as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans'.

My immediate thoughts on hearing the news on early morning TV: Red. Hot. Ear.

Then my mobile started to ring. I stared at it on the bench like a hand grenade reclining in the fruit bowl. Hesitantly I answered it on speaker phone. It was a journalist. "I want to get a comment on this mobile phone cancer story this morning, can you help me?" My god, why are you calling me on my phone?  You could be giving me cancer right now! I want to say but I restrain myself and then the obvious irony also occurs to the journalist: "Oh sorry for calling you... on your mobile."

Considering how embedded mobile phones are in our lives these days, it's no surprise that this announcement is big news, but what does it really mean? ‘Possibly' is an answer to questions like: Will you be home on time for dinner? Are you going to watch Masterchef  tonight? Trivial, non-life threatening type questions. Not ‘is this going to kill me?' kind of questions. So where does ‘possibly' sit on the cancer risk spectrum?

Firstly, we can all relax a bit and stop imagining a tumour growing in-between our red, hot ears as the link between mobile phone use and cancer has not been ‘proven' as such. Mobile phones have been classified as Group 2B carcinogen - this category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and therefore "are possibly" cancer-causing. They have been placed in this category based on an increased risk of glioma, a relatively rare malignant type of brain tumour.

To put this classification into perspective, you should know that coffee is also in category 2B

To put the classification into even greater perspective, it's worth noting there are two categories above 2B -Groups 1 and 2A - on the carcinogen scale that are more dangerous to your health.

Group 2A which is defined as ‘probably carcinogenic' comprises lead compounds and anabolic steroids as well as a long list of chemical compounds - you can find the complete list here.

Group 1 is the most serious group; these items have been proven to be carcinogenic. In Group 1 we have items such as asbestos, alcohol, tobacco and solariums. Now, before you go burying your mobile under the hydrangeas, these are the bad boys you really need to be paying attention to.

What does this announcement mean for you (and me)?

Chair of Cancer Council Australia's Occupation and Environmental Cancer Committee, Terry Slevin, said while IARC's classification was possible rather than proven risk, it would be prudent for mobile phone users, particularly heavy users, to take measures to minimise any potential risk.

"There are practical measures people can take such as using hands free devices and more texting as an option to voice calls," he said. "We would also urge greater caution for children using mobile phones as their brain tissue is still developing.

"However, these findings need to be put in context. While we need to continue researching the possible link between mobile phones and cancer, it is important to remind people there are many more established cancer risk factors that are part of our  every day. Strong action on clear cancer risks like tobacco, alcohol, excessive UV exposure and obesity remain a priority."

Will this new classification make you change the way you use your mobile phone?


I will most certainly limit mu use of mobile phones and will not let my children use one.

From: Jennifer, 15/04/2013

I will most certainly limit mu use of mobile phones and will not let my children use one.

From: Jennifer, 15/04/2013

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