Lyon: Can cellphones cause cancer? As the world debates a worrying new report by the World Health Organization, the man whose agency prepared that report speaks to NDTV about whether users need to think twice before using their phones. (Read: Cell phone use may cause cancer, says World Health Organization)
Dr Christopher Wild, Director, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) spoke to NDTV's Noopur Tiwari in France about cellphones being "possibly carcinogenic." He stressed that at least five more years of research need to be devoted to exploring health concerns linked to mobile phones.
NDTV: What about sleeping with phone next to you?
Wild: The distance is important. The strength of the radio frequency electro magnet field associated with the phone diminishes very rapidly as you move the phone away. There's much lower exposure from phone which is at some distance with the individual. The same thing is relevant for base stations associated with several orders of lower exposure because of distance from people.
NDTV: We've heard mobile phone towers emit more radiations in countries like India as compared to Europe?
Wild: I can't say country wise but what I do know is that technology is evolving very quickly. Even in the case of cellphones, the type of energy emitted by cellphones currently is very different than 10-15 years ago. The challenge for us is that technology is changing but the pattern of use is also changing and all these variable factors influence the end result.
NDTV: Would the risk, if any, be higher for children and younger adults?
Wild: We don't have any specific evidence for the moment to say there's a higher risk in children than in adults. There's just an intuitive sense in which in relation to any environmental exposure, chemical or physical agents, children are more vulnerable and that's in the case of cancer because the tissues are still growing.
NDTV: We've used cellphones for 30 years now. Perhaps there's been more widespread use for about 20 years. But how much more time do you need before your research can be more conclusive? Did research start quite late?
Wild: You are right. The use of cellphones started about 20-30 years ago. But if you look at the number of people using them at that stage, there were relatively few and they tended to be older people. Also, the concerns about the technology only arose some years after the start of the use. It's true that first really large studies of cellphone use and cancer were only published in the last few years. However, there are studies that are already ongoing. Results should become available to us in the next five years.
NDTV: Your classification for mobile phone hazards seems to be in a category similar to that of risks involved with coffee and pickled vegetables. Any truth in that?
Wild: One has to be careful in making these comparisons. I've seen a report on pickled vegetables and people have expressed some surprise. And coffee. But when we evaluate, we look very specifically at all the evidence internationally and those exposures were associated with cancers at very specific sites. Coffee with bladder cancer for instance. But we don't make any quantitative evaluations. The report we have published is a qualitative assessment asking is there a risk of cancer 'yes or no?' rather than grade them in terms of strength of risk.
NDTV: How strong is evidence you have right now?
Wild: The key observation is in long-time users of mobile phone use and the evidence there scientifically, we would describe as limited. That means there was an association between duration of use and increased risk.
NDTV: Would there be a possibility of certain body parts being affected more than others?
Wild: Some of the studies were able to look at the part of the brain where the cancer developed. To see whether it was closest to the point of use of the telephone for example on the side of the head where it was used. Or the part of the brain that is closely exposed around the ear area. Again there was a suggestion that there was a higher frequency of development of tumours in areas close to the position of the use of the phone rather than other areas of the brain. But there's no evidence so far of increased risk on other sites. Also we didn't look into any health effects other than cancer.