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Cellphone Health Risk Needs More Research
A link between mobile phone usage and cancer can not be dismissed without further research, an official at a World Health Organization (WHO) agency said on Friday.
"More research is needed," Elisabeth Cardis, Chief of Radiation and Cancer at the WHO's International Agency for Research in Cancer, told a conference in Helsinki.
The explosive growth in mobile phone usage, particularly in Europe and the United States, has increased the public debate over possible health risks linked to mobile phones.
While a few studies claim there is a connection, most authoritative studies have not been able to conclude that regular mobile phone usage could damage a person's brain.
"Based on current epidemiological evidence, there is no evidence of a strong association between RF (radio frequency) exposure and cancer," said Cardis, referring to radio waves emitted from devices like mobile phones.
"One can't rule out that there is a risk, but if there is a risk to mobile phone users it would be very small."
Mobile phones are tiny radio stations that send and receive.
Last year, a UK government-sponsored scientific inquiry, chaired by Sir William Steward, concluded that while there was no evidence of danger to health, it would be wise to discourage children from using mobile phones excessively.
It concluded that the radio frequency signals emitted by phones generated heat in the brain, but said it was not clear whether this could have other biological effects, such as triggering cancer.
European and U.S. authorities have now asked mobile phone manufacturers, such as Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson, to label their phones with the level of radiation, or Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), they emit -- the best way of measuring radiation -- partly in response to consumer demands.
The SAR safety limit agreed in Europe is 2.0, while most phones on the market are now showing values between 0.5 and 1.0
There are currently over 800 million mobile phone users worldwide, and about 400 million handsets are expected to be sold this year. By early next year as many as one billion people are expected to own a handset.
FOUR-YEAR STUDY TO GIVE ANSWERS
She said this would be more thorough than previous studies, such as the Cohort study into cellular phone users in the United States, because it would span a period of three years and would go into more detail, such as research into lower frequency electromagnetic fields to and from phones.
Cardis said one reason previous studies, particularly on the link between brain tumors and phones, had proved inconclusive was because brain tumor cases often had not used phones much.
Widespread mobile phone usage is relatively new.
The INTERPHONE study should be ready in 2004.
"At present, possible effects on cancer initiation cannot be studied due to the short follow-up times," concluded a recent Finnish study into phone use and the risk of brain cancer.
Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone maker, addresses the issue of mobile phone safety on its Web site.
"Scientific research conducted all over the world over many years demonstrates that radio signals within established safety levels emitted from mobile telephones and their base stations present no adverse effects to human health," Nokia said.
U.S. neurologist Christopher Newman last year filed a lawsuit against leading U.S. phone companies, including Motorola, saying that the use of his mobile phone had caused a malignant brain tumor.