A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

IARC Publishes Rationale for RF as
Possible Human Carcinogen

Two-Year Gestation

April 19, 2013

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has released its detailed evaluation of the cancer risks associated with RF radiation, which serves as the rationale for designating RF as a possible human carcinogen.

The IARC monograph comes close to two years after an invited panel of experts from 14 countries reached this conclusion following an eight-day meeting at IARC headquarters in Lyon, France (see our report).

An electronic copy of the 430-page document is available at no cost from IARC. A paper copy will be available soon.

The basis for IARC designation of RF as a Class 2B carcinogen is summed up in one sentence: "Positive associations have been observed between exposure to radiofrequency radiation from wireless phones and glioma and acoustic neuroma" (p.421). Those associations with brain tumors and tumors of the acoustic nerve were observed by the Interphone study group and Lennart Hardell's team in Sweden.

The panel's decision was close to unanimous. One strong dissent came from Peter Inskip of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, who walked out of the IARC meeting before the final vote. One or two others, including Maria Blettner of the University of Mainz in Germany, were reported to have also disagreed with the majority opinion. There was talk that the dissenters would file a minority opinion, but no signed statement appears in the IARC monograph. Instead, their view is included in the final paragraph of the report: The available evidence does not support a "conclusion about a causal association" due to "inconsistencies" between the Interphone and Hardell studies and the lack of an exposure-response relationship.

The dissenters also point to a lack of association in a large Danish study —though this effort has been widely criticized (see our take). Finally, the dissenters argue that, "up to now, reported time trends in incidence rates of glioma have not shown a trend parallel to time trends in mobile-phone use." That last argument was punctured in November when the Danish Cancer Society reported a spike in aggressive brain tumors over the last ten years. At the time, an insider called the increase a "frightening development," though no link to cell phones was made.

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