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Mobile phones 'possibly' cause cancer, says World Health Organisation

Scientists at the World Health Organisation claim that mobile phones pose a possible risk of causing cancer -- but only as much as carpentry or chloroform.

Scientists at the World Health Organisation claim mobile phones pose a possible risk of causing cancer. Researchers from the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer sussed out hundreds of scientific studies and articles to conclude that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, as given off by mobile phones, are "possibly carcinogenic to humans".

The IARC panel was made up of 31 scientists from 14 countries. Chairman Dr Jonathan Samet of the University of Southern California said, "The evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification."

The panel suggests keeping a "close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk" and calls for "additional research into the long‐term, heavy use of mobile phones".

Stuff that can and can't cause cancer is classified into four groups, from Group 4 -- no evidence of cancer -- to Group 1 -- which means there is extremely strong evidence that the item, virus or job leads to cancer.

The radio waves from mobile phones fall into Group 2B, which means there is some evidence but it isn't yet convincing. Cancer Research UK describes this group as "a bit of a catch-all category, and includes everything from carpentry to chloroform".

Further research is required to reveal whether mobile phones should be downgraded to the non-carcinogenic Group 3 or upgraded to Group 2A, alongside things that are probably carcinogenic.

A definitive answer is still elusive, as there's actually a relatively low number of studies on the subject, and in fact only one study has monitored a group of healthy people to see if their phone use increases the risk, rather than comparing healthy people with those who already have cancer.

And there's still doubt about what it is about mobile phones that could actually cause cancer, whether external factors -- like phone masts or tree-killing Wi-Fi -- are affecting results, and even how to accurately measure someone's mobile phone use.

Further research includes the MOBI-KIDS study, which will look at phone use in children across 13 countries.

In the meantime, the panel suggest using hands-free kits or texting to moderate your mobile use. You could also keep your calls short -- or get an iPhone, and then you won't be able to make any calls at all.

For a clear-headed and friendly guide to the issue, Cancer Research UK has written a blog post about the WHO report, and the questions surrounding the issue.

Are you worried about using your mobile phone? Will you be breaking out the tin-foil hat? Are you sick of us making jokes about the iPhone? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook wall.