The following post by Geoffrey Kabat, author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology discusses the recent World Health Organization’s report on cellphone use and its possible link to cancer. Kabat questions some of the conclusions made in the report and the problem of labeling something a “possible carcinogen.”
Thirty years ago, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health published a study in a prestigious medical journal purporting to show that drinking coffee increased a person’s risk of pancreatic cancer. When asked how his results had influenced his own habits, he responded that he had stopped drinking coffee. The following day a professor of biostatistics set up a Mr. Coffee in the departmental offices, indicating what he thought of his colleague’s study.
I mention this because last week a committee of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, announced that it would classify cellphone use as a “possible carcinogen,” putting it in a category with 240 other exposures, including coffee and the pesticide DDT. Despite decades of research, neither of these exposures has turned out to be a carcinogen in humans.
Although the report from the committee has not yet been published, we know that the WHO based its conclusion largely on the 13-country Interphone study, which provoked a large degree of confusion when published a year ago.
Read the rest of the op-ed on The Daily.