The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), under the World Health Organization (WHO), announced on May 2011 that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (CEM-RF) emitted by mobile phones, they would be included in group 2B as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” But it has been almost 10 years of this, how do you think the situation is?
Carcinogens classified in groups
The IARC classifies carcinogens into four groups, depending on the degree of evidence available.
Thus, Group 1 includes agents for which “there is sufficient evidence” of carcinogenicity in humans. In total, 120 agents, among which alcohol, tobacco, air pollution, or solar radiation are worth highlighting.
In Group 2A, 82 agents are included, such as the consumption of red meat or extremely hot drinks (more than 65ºC). Those who are “probably carcinogenic” because either there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans, sufficient evidence in experimental animals or strong evidence that they exhibit key carcinogenic characteristics.
The Group 2B includes those agents that are “possibly carcinogenic” because there is limited evidence in humans, sufficient in animals or strong evidence that exhibit key features of carcinogens. This is the group in which mobile radiation has been included with other 310 agents, such as Aloe Vera leaf extract (yes, really), gasoline, melanin, talcum powder or naphthalene.
In Group 3, those agents which are not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans are included. Agents that do not belong to any other group are generally placed in this category. For example, those agents for which there is solid evidence that the mechanism of carcinogenicity in experimental animals does not work in humans. It includes 500 agents, such as coffee, static electric and magnetic fields or polyethylene.
The terms in italics determine the level of the existing tests: limited, sufficient, or solid, and that is what will allow the classification of an agent in one group or another.
The mobiles in group 2B
In view of the definition of IARC groups, in particular, that of group 2B, affirm that “WHO has classified mobile radiation as carcinogenic” is absolutely false. And the IARC announcement itself indicated that the evidence was limited for users of wireless phones with glioma (a type of brain cancer) or acoustic neuroma (of the auditory nerve) and inadequate in environmental exposures or in workers (radiation from the antennas)
The results of a study in 2011, which found an increased risk of glioma in mobile users who reported the use of more than 30 minutes a day in the previous 10 years, justified their inclusion in that group.
This decision was highly criticized in the field of Bio electromagnetism since none of the criteria necessary to make this decision was met. Even the authors of the study said in the conclusions: “The uncertainties surrounding these results require that they are replicated before they can be considered real and a causal interpretation can be made.”
And since then, what has happened?
Last June, I attended the BIOEM2019 congress in Montpellier (France). It is the most important international congress on Bio electromagnetism organized by the two most important scientific societies worldwide, BEMS and EBEA.
One of the plenary sessions was entitled, “Have the carcinogenicity tests of CEM-RF changed since the IARC evaluation?” And was taught by Maria Feychting, researcher, professor, and director of the Epidemiology unit of the Karolinska Institute and that I broadcast almost live on Twitter:
Cancer and Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields? This plenary begins to review the available evidence and if the 2011 IARC announcement must be modified … pic.twitter.com/UuaYNUoNW7
– Alberto Nájera
The main evidence of the possible relationship between cancer and mobiles come from the researcher Lennart Hardell, acclaimed among the anti-antenna movements, but who is known in the field of Bio electromagnetism for his position and highly questioned publications. We all know his presence in trials providing studies that supposedly support his thesis or others that have been criticized by the scientific community for containing numerous design and analysis defects.
Feychting’s review in his talk showed that only Hardell obtains positive relationships but that, in addition, these are weak, and that all subsequent studies, conducted by different teams in different parts of the world, do not corroborate this relationship.
Neither the Danish cohort study that included more than 350,000 people in 2011 in the long term nor that of the million women in the United Kingdom in 2013 under the Cancer Research UK and the National Health Service (NHS) show greater risks of cancer from mobile phone use. The letter concludes: “There were no major risks of tumors of the central nervous system, which provides little evidence of a causal association.”
Fleychting drew attention to another study by Hardell (2013) in which he evaluated gliomas from 2007 to 2009 with patients with exposure to EMF-RF for “more than 25 years.” The curious thing is that, at the time of the study and in the range of years analyzed, mobile telephony had a maximum of 23 years in Sweden and not in the majority. How was that possible?
Two other works of 2012 (Deltour and Little) compared the increases in incidence predicted years ago by Hardell with the real observations, verifying that the announced increase has not occurred and that, on the contrary, this follows a trend similar to the one before the appearance of mobile phones or even the striking case of the United States, where it has dropped. Only a higher incidence has been observed in adults over 75 years old and not in young people who would be the ones who would use mobile phones the most, which is attributed to an improvement in diagnosis and greater longevity. All these data contradict what Hardell concluded and predicted, who recommends avoiding the use of mobile phones in children under 20 years.
Therefore, we could say that Epidemiology still does not endorse the findings that led IARC to make that decision. In addition, the most recent evidence contradicts the findings of Hardell and his collaborators, whose studies we must question.
And the recent study of mice?
Fleychting focused on epidemiological studies and, after it, the scientist Florence Poulletier De Gannes intervened with a presentation aimed at updating data in animals and in laboratory conditions.
In 2018, two very powerful studies were published in rats that associated exposure to EMF-RF with a type of heart cancer (extremely rare in humans), but only in male rats. One of the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) and another of the Ramazzini Institute in Italy.
Both studies have inconsistencies and limitations that affect the usefulness and applicability of their results to establish patterns or limits of exposure and, above all, to their possible extrapolation to humans.
Therefore, we remain without robust evidence to support this possible relationship between cancer and the use of mobile phones. Epidemiology does not support this hypothesis, and the results in animals remain weak and questionable.