Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Larry King Live: Do Cell Phones Present a Long-Term Cancer Risk?

Tonight, July 29, Larry King Live aired a controversial program, with several speakers, on whether cell phones present an increased cancer risk, especially for children who start using them early in life.

The springboard for the discussion on the program is a paper released recently by Ronald Herberman, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, “The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones: Advice from University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Based on Advice from International Expert Panel,” PDF link here.

The panel started with Devra Davis, Director of the Center of Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh (professional profile, the same school. Davis is the author of several books, the latest being “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” (Basic Books) for which Powell’s Books offers in its “Review a Day” link a stinging criticism from Ezekiel J. Emmanuel from The New Republic, March 27, 2008, link here. Also appearing were Keith Black, from oncology at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Paul Song (LA), Ted Schwartz (who appears in am AOL video here: , and CNN’s own medical consultant Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon from Atlanta.

There is considerable concern that sufficient studies to not exist for a prospective risk that would take several decades to express. There is speculative concern that if children start using cell phones and use them lifelong, the risk would show up in their 50s and 60s as increased cancers, in the brain. However, a comment was made that the two areas of the body most sensitive to long term microwave exposure are the eye and the testes, because these tissues cannot cool. There was some advice to use an earpiece, use speaker phones, and not wear the cell phone. It wasn’t clear if it is harmful when it is on but not buzzing. There was some debate on whether cordless phones are less "risky" and whether older studies based on analog cell phones (which came into use largely in the early 90s) should apply to smaller, newer digital phones. There was minor debate as to whether there could be increased risk in living near a cell phone tower.

One underlying issue is a comparison of this situation to that of other past hazards like cigarette smoking, where it took decades to prove that it is harmful statistically. Cigarette smoking became less socially acceptable as adults started living longer and as society became more “me” conscious.

We've come a long way since the days of party lines.

Update: Aug 4, 2008

The July/Aug 2008 issue of Mother Jones has an article by Kiera Butler, "This Is Your Brain on Cell Phones: Is it just the crazies who think cell phone radiation causes cancer?," here. The article mentions an alarming study from Sweden.

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