The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), raised more than a few eyebrows this week when the group announced that it has now classified radiofrequency magnetic fields, like those emitted by wireless devices including mobile phones, as “possibly carcinogenic” to humans.To come to the new classification, a group of 31 scientists from 14 countries met in Lyon, France from May 24 through the 31st to look into the matter. The group reviewed hundreds of studies on the subject including exposure data and studies of cancers in humans and animals to reach their conclusion. Based on their findings, the IARC found limited evidence that users of wireless phones had an increased risk of developing glioma and acoustic neuroma. Glioma is a rarely curable form of cancer commonly found in the brain while acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor with symptoms including hearing loss and deafness.AdChoices广告The IARC stopped short of quantifying the increased risk, but did cite a study of past cell phone use in their press release which found that heavy users, those who used their cell phone 30-minutes per day over 10-years, were at a 40% increased risk for gliomas. The new 2B classification given by the organization doesn’t mean that there is a definitive risk. In fact, the specific language used is that there “could” be a risk which justifies a need to keep a close eye on the link between cell phone use and cancer.While more long-term mobile phone use studies are necessary, wireless users are nevertheless encouraged to minimize their exposure through the use of hands-free solutions and texting when possible. The cautious tone being taking by the IARC is possibly due to the wide spread use of mobile phones. The group estimates that there are currently 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide.Read more at the IARC (PDF)Brian’s OpinionIn reality this finding by the IARC doesn’t tell us anything new. It simply shows once again that after hundreds of studies a definitive link between mobile phone use and cancer is still allusive. Part of the difficulty in proving such a link is that long-term studies may require decades of use. By the time the study has completed, wireless technology may have changed many times which could end up only resulting in a firm link being proving between cancer and long-term exposure to an old wireless technology.IARC’s pragmatic approach, which includes recommendations to minimize exposure, may seem overly cautious, but what is driving those recommendations is the fact that an estimated 5 billion people use wireless phones. With those kind of numbers, even a small risk could result in millions of users developing cancer due to heavy use. When put in those terms, there is little harm in bringing some attention to the possible risk and suggesting ways to minimize exposure through hands-free solutions and texting.Let’s be clear, though. We know nothing more today about a possible link between cancer and mobile phone use than we did last week. The only thing that has changed is the IARC’s belief that more information is needed and that steps can be taken now to minimize exposure in case a risk is ever determined.