Scientists and public health officials assess risks to human health based on the entire body of evidence, rather than individual scientific studies. The evidence is considered by panels of experts in this field. We look to such expert reviews for advice on mobile devices, masts and health. We only consider the opinion of panels commissioned by recognised national or international health agencies, for example, the World Health Organization (WHO), The Health Council of the Netherlands (HCN), The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) (formerly the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority - SSI) and The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Since 2001, there have been a significant number of expert reviews of scientific research studies into mobiles, masts and health published by expert panels around the world. This page contains a summary of reviews published from 2006 to date. See the table of expert reviews [links to http://www.vodafone.com/content/index/about/sustainability/mpmh/scientific_research/expert_reviews/table_of_expert_reviews.html] for a complete list of reviews meeting our standards of scientific rigour.
In May 2011, an expert group from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency within the World Health Organization (WHO), announced its cancer hazard assessment for radiofrequency signals (RF), including those from broadcast, mobile communications, microwaves and radar.
IARC has classified RF as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.” The full findings will be published in 2012. The WHO will produce an RF health risk assessment based on a review of the scientific evidence for all potential health effects of exposure to RF fields. The IARC classification will inform this.
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), a non-governmental organisation formally recognised by the World Health Organization, provides guidance on limiting human exposure to RF fields. See their 1998 guidelines [links to http://www.icnirp.de/documents/emfgdl.pdf] which, in August 2009, the ICNIRP confirmed were still valid. [links to http://www.icnirp.org/documents/StatementEMF.pdf]
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
An expert group from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency within the World Health Organization (WHO), has announced its cancer hazard assessment for radiofrequency signals (RF), [links to http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf ] including those from broadcast, mobile communications, microwaves and radar.
IARC has classified RF as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use”. The full findings will be published in 2012.
In an article published in The Lancet Oncology [links to http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045%2811%2970147-4/fulltext ] Volume 12, Issue 7, the IARC Working Group stated that:
“The Working Group concluded that there is “limited evidence in humans” for the carcinogenicity of RF-EMF, based on positive associations between glioma and acoustic neuroma and exposure to RF-EMF from wireless phones. A few members of the Working Group considered the current evidence in humans “inadequate”. In their opinion there was inconsistency between the two case-control studies and a lack of an exposure-response relationship in the INTERPHONE study results; no increase in rates of glioma or acoustic neuroma was seen in the Danish cohort study, and up to now, reported time trends in incidence rates of glioma have not shown a parallel to temporal trends in mobile phone use.
“In view of the limited evidence in humans and in experimental animals, the Working Group classified RF-EMF as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B)”.
The IARC classification only considers whether there is a possible link between long-term heavy mobile device use and cancer, it does not assess the likelihood of this link arising. To understand the likelihood and therefore the potential risk posed, the WHO will carry out a wider health risk assessment, expected in 2012. This assessment will take into account all the available science relating to RF and health, including the IARC classification and work done by ICNIRP. Based on this assessment the WHO, governments and public health authorities will decide what further advice, if any, is needed.
The latest WHO fact sheet [links to http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/index.html ] published in June 2011, concluded that to date, no adverse health effects had been established as being caused by mobile phone use.
For further information on IARC classification please visit:
• IARC Explained: http://www.emfexplained.info/?ID=25717
• IARC monographs: http://monographs.iarc.fr/
 Schüz J, Jacobsen R, Olsen JH, Boice JD Jr, McLaughlin JK, Johansen C. Cellular telephone use and cancer risk: update of a nationwide Danish cohort. J Natl Cancer Inst 2006; 98: 1707–13.
International response to IARC classification
Health authorities around the world have responded to the IARC classification. Here is a summary of some of their comments.
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)
"The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) notes the publication of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification of radiofrequency fields (RF) as Group 2B on the IARC scale of carcinogenic risk to humans. ICNIRP awaits with interest the full Monograph that explains the justification and arguments put forward by IARC in arriving at this conclusion. ICNIRP has been conducting a review of the potential health effects of RF including carcinogenicity as well as other aspects. The Commission will be publishing a revision of the ICNIRP guidelines on limiting RF exposure for the general public and occupational groups. It will take into account all aspects of the literature including the material put forward in the IARC Monograph."
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)
“…ARPANSA welcomes the report and considers that the classification by IARC corresponds to the current ARPANSA advice, including its advice on practical ways in which people can reduce their exposure to the electromagnetic fields produced by wireless telephones. These include: limiting call time, preferring use of land-line phones, using hands-free or speaker options and texting instead of making voice calls. Use of the phone in good signal areas will also usually let the phone communicate with lower power levels and further reduce exposures. ARPANSA has also recommended parents encourage their children to use these methods of reducing exposure. ARPANSA does not consider that the new classification should give rise to any alarm.”
Irish Department of Health and Children
“In the light of these findings, the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health and Children strongly advises that children and young people who do use mobile phones, should be encouraged to use mobile phones for “essential purposes only”. All calls should be kept short as talking for long periods prolongs exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. All mobile phone users can reduce their exposure to radiofrequency energy by making fewer calls, reducing the length of calls, sending text messages instead of calling, using cell phones only when landline phones are unavailable, using a wired “hands free” device so that the phone need not be held against the head and refraining from keeping an active phone clipped to the belt or in the pocket. Given the scientific uncertainty regarding mobile phone related cancer risks, many countries including Germany, France, Austria, United Kingdom and Russia have taken a precautionary stance regarding cell phone use, particularly by children.”
UK Health Protection Agency (HPA)
“The HPA notes the conclusion that there could be some risk and that a close watch should be kept for a link between mobile phones and cancer risk. HPA supports the call for additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. The HPA carries out research and continually reviews research on the health effects of radio waves. The IARC classification is consistent with previous reviews of the science and advice from HPA regarding the use of mobile phones. HPA advice is that there is no clear scientific evidence of a cancer risk from exposure to radiofrequencies at levels below international guidelines but the possibility remains. The HPA has always advocated some precaution in the use of mobile phones in case there are long term effects which are presently unknown. Given the possibility of long term cancer effects, excessive use of mobile phones by children should be discouraged. HPA advice on the use of wireless networks in schools and elsewhere is also consistent with this classification. Exposures from Wi-Fi equipment are much less than from mobile phones, and are well within international guidelines, so there is no reason why schools and others should not continue to use the technology.”