Consumer groups call for decision on cancer risk of mobile phones to be delayed

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 27 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3360
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

A meeting on 24-31 May to assess the carcinogenicity of mobile phones and wireless technologies has gone ahead despite calls from a group of organisations to postpone it until full results of a major study are published.

The meeting, organised by International Agency for Research in Cancer which is part of the World Health Organization, aims to evaluate the available evidence to develop a monograph on the issue, as part of the agency’s core mission to prevent cancer. It is likely to classify the carcinogenicity to humans of mobile phones and wireless devices.

However, the group calling for the meeting to be delayed, led by the International Electromagnetic Fields Alliance, believes this cannot happen until full results of the Interphone Study have been published.

The Interphone Study is an international set of case control studies in 13 countries looking at four types of tumours in tissues that most absorb radiofrequency energy emitted by mobile phones: tumours of the brain (glioma and meningioma), of the acoustic nerve (schwannoma), and of the parotid gland.

To date, only the pooled data for glioma and meningioma across the 13 participating countries have been published, says the group in a letter to Christopher Wild, director of the agency, calling for him to postpone the meeting.

“The 13 country pooled data on the risk of acoustic neuroma, risk of parotid gland tumours and the risk of tumours within the volume of the brain where cell phone microwave radiation is absorbed have yet to be published,” it says.

“It seems inappropriate and unprofessional to hold the meeting and make important judgments before the necessary research data have been made available.”

The group’s letter also expresses concern that observers from organisations representing the mobile phone industry are allowed to attend and speak at the meeting. It asks the agency to make attendees’ conflict of interest statements public.

“These organisations have been major funders of cellphone studies and to pretend this will not have undo [sic] influence upon scientists who are dependent on grants is an exercise in denial. Indeed, their very presence places a chilling effect on grant dependent researchers,” the letter says.

Opening the meeting, Dr Wild said that members of the working group had been chosen on the basis of their expertise, with the aim of achieving a “balance of views.”

In addition, all attendees had declared nothing on their declaration of interests that had led Dr Wild to reconsider their participation. “Failure to disclose relevant information will serve the interests of no-one,” he warned.

He told the meeting, “Our responsibility as scientists is to the ordinary users of this technology, characterised recently by a young person who simply asked me ‘Is it safe to use my mobile phone?’”

Among the manuscripts to be considered “are a number of recent ones from the IARC [International Agency for Research in Cancer] led Interphone study,” he said.

Alasdair Philips, an engineering consultant and director of Powerwatch UK, an independent organisation working in the electromagnetic field and microwave radiation health debate, and a member of the group sending the letter, said these are as yet unpublished papers on brain regionality of tumours and acoustic neuroma.

He added,“Dr Wild has not responded to the many complaints received from global scientists demanding greater disclosure, accountability, and transparency on this important matter. Without these essential ingredients, science loses all integrity.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3360


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