Disconnects in cellphone cancer scare

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2011, 12:00am


Many people have for years worried about mobile phone use and cancer. Now the World Health Organisation has given the worst worriers an 'I told you so' moment.

It has put out a new report linking the electronic devices to cancer.

People in Hong Kong should be especially worried, as the city of 7 million has among the world's highest rates of use.

Official figures show there are more than 13.7 million mobile phone subscribers in Hong Kong, as many people use more than one phone.

It sounds scary. But a more nuanced look into the WHO report shows much less than meets the ear.

The WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed dozens of scientific articles. Some of these studies show a danger, others do not. In fact, one study found a statistical correlation between increased mobile phone use and a reduced chance of developing brain cancer!

But one study, held by WHO supporters to be the smoking gun, shows radio frequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by mobile phones, caused a 40 per cent higher risk of glioma, a type of brain cancer. But that is only for heavy users - people who speak on a mobile phone at least 30 minutes a day every day for at least 10 years.

In most of these studies, the link to cancer ranges from inconclusive to possible. In any case, the three types of tumours cited - cancer of the parotid, a salivary gland near the ear; acoustic neuroma, a tumour on the nerve that connects the ear and brain; and glioma - are rare.

Even if there is a link, and that's a big if, mobile users have little to worry about as long as they're moderate users.