Skeptoid PodcastSkeptoid on Facebook   Skeptoid on Twitter   Skeptoid on Stitcher   iTunes   Google Play

Members Portal

Store

 

Get a Free Book

 

SKEPTOID BLOG:

Facebook Has Viral Warning Cell Phones Killing Us Again.

by Stephen Propatier

May 29, 2013

Share Tweet Reddit

Donate Facebook has gone viral again with a scary warning and advice about breast cancer and cell phones. Keep your cell phone out of your shirt pocket/bra it MAY be giving you breast cancer. This is promoted by two physicians in California. Dr. John West M.D. and Dr. Lisa Bailey MD two surgeons.

How plausible is this? Should we all be concerned? Are cell phones safe anywhere on our person?

A very compelling narrative. A young woman struck by breast cancer with a radical mastectomy at very young age. Suffering from a very aggressive type of cancer. She always kept her cellphone in the Bra cup on the affected side. It has been presented as a cautionary warning for both men and women. I have included a link to the news story both in Print and the Facebook link. The viral video is based on a television report.

It is a new spin on a old concern. Two physician were presented as supporting the theory. Even with that endorsement I am skeptical. The science is not settled and the preponderance of current evidence does not support mobile phone RF as a carcinogen. This does not stop the story editors from presenting current scientific consensus as a corporate conspiracy. "The wireless industry denies any problem citing a lack of scientific evidence that cellphones cause breast cancer." Sounds ominous and biased all in the same sentence. Still I will attempt to approach this systematically and scientifically.

First off I would like to make some things clear.
  1. I do not receive any funding from the telecommunications industry in general, or wireless phone companies in particular. None at all.

  2. I don't own any stock in telecommunications companies, other than as parts of mutual funds in which my retirement funds are invested that purchase shares in many, many different companies, some of which may or may not be telecommunications companies.

  3. None of my friends or family work for cell phone companies.

  4. I am horrified as much as anyone when I see my cell phone bill every month.

How plausible is cancer from mobile phones in general? RF signals are non-ionizing radiation and are surrounding us constantly. Despite tons of crap internet phone adhesives sold in the 90's there is no practical way to protect yourself from mobile phone RF signals while carrying one. Inactive phones transmit proportionally less RF signal than active calls. Why would a phone in bra be more problematic than at your ear? Why would breast cancer affect men rather than iliac cancer (since more men wear smartphones on a belt not a shirt pocket.)? Testicular cancer for that matter? If RF signals are cancer inducing why is primary metacarpal bone cancer not ubiquitous. People have them in their hand and active all the time. I am not convinced that the plausibility of cell related breast cancer makes any anatomical or physiologic sense. Still cancer can have a 20 year lag time from exposure. It will be a little longer before widespread use hits the 20 year mark. Undiscovered problems can occur. Still the plausibility is low.

Okay, Plausibility is weak how about the evidence?

In May two years ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a press release (1) in which it classified cell phones as Category 2B, which is "possibly carcinogenic to humans".

IARC maintains a list of 269 substances in the 2B category, most of which are chemical compounds. A number of familiar items are also included in this list: coffee, pickled vegetables, carbon black (carbon paper), gasoline exhaust, talcum powder, and nickel (coins). The IARC provides the following definition of the 2B category:
"This category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals".
The IARC classification has been widely criticized since issuing the classification. The World Health Organization has adopted this position.
"A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use".
Since this controversial IARC classification, subsequent research substantially undermines the weak evidence on which the IARC based its assessment. Granted most of this research has been related to the risk of brain cancer and mobile phones.
The Category 2B "possible carcinogen" classification does not mean that an agent is carcinogenic. The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) which had stated that (3 P 8): "It is concluded from three independent lines of evidence (epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies) that exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans".
This has been generally adopted as the current consensus. This was not produced by the "wireless industry".

Despite popular perception, there is no substantive evidence for mobile phone RF signals causing cancer. Still the IARC position is unlikely to change so mobile phones will have to remain classified as 2B; like coffee, carbon paper and US nickles(coins). So enjoy your large cup of boiled filtered 2B carcinogen and pay for it with your 2B Carcinogen coins(don't put your change in your Bra either).

By definition, non-ionizing radiation (like radio-frequency radiation used by cell phones) is not energetic enough to break chemical bonds. It should not cause DNA mutations, which is believed to be the primary mechanism by which high energy radiation causes mutations that lead to cancer. There is some local tissue warming, for example. The magnitude of this effect is very small, but it is not zero. My opinion, biological effects from cell phone radiation is very unlikely, but it would be premature to declare them impossible. Therefore clinical research into the effects of chronic cell phone use are warranted. Research does not mean phones are dangerous. It is just prudent to check.

What about the video's solution. Lets assume there is a cancer risk. The solution lacks plausibility as well. Moving to your pocketbook would not plausibly provide any protection. You get cell calls in buildings. Putting you mobile phone in 1/8 faux leather bag on hip will provide you with protection? Implausible and psychological relief only.

The story is sad and I don't wish cancer on anyone. That still that does not make her cell phone a plausible or likely cause for her breast cancer.

Overall what we know is that the best evidence does not support cancer from mobile RF signals. It is not plausible that locating the phone to different locations on your person reduces or raises the risk for different types of cancer. The concern is worthy of further study but that is all.

If you think about relative risk to your teen age daughter. The cell phone is probably safer in a brassiere rather than out and texting while driving.

In my opinion driving a car is a risk, eating fugu is a risk, swimming in the ocean is a risk. downhill skiing is a risk. Putting your cell phone in your pocket/bra is a risk but infinitesimal compared to not having a phone for an emergency.

I still wish for the good old pre-cell phone days(but not the beeper era) occasionally. Especially when I am getting phone calls at the dentist or on vacation. Still I find no convincing evidence that the phone is deadly... just annoying.

Further reading:

Open article: IARC Press Release May 31, 2011: http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdfReturn to text

Open Article: IARC Document on Carcinogens: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Preamble/CurrentPreamble.pdfReturn to text

Open document: European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCEHINR): Report Health Effects of Exposure to EMF Jan 2009: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/04_scenihr/docs/scenihr_o_022.pdf Return to text

Open article: NCI Statement: International Agency for Research on Cancer Classification of Cell Phones as "Possible Carcinogen" May 31, 2011: http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/pressreleases/2011/IARCcellphoneMay2011 Return to text

by Stephen Propatier

Share Tweet Reddit

@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit

 

 

 

Donate