A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

IARC Urged To Revisit RF Risk

Animal Studies Prompt Calls To Upgrade Classification to “Probably Carcinogenic” or Higher

April 22, 2019
Last updated 
April 24, 2019

An advisory committee has recommended that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reassess the cancer risks associated with RF radiation. This should be a “high priority,” according to the panel’s report, which was issued last week.

The group, with 29 members from 18 countries, suggests that the new evaluation take place between 2022 and 2024.

In May 2011, an IARC expert committee classified RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen [Group 2B]. Since then, the evidence has grown stronger. After the NTP and Ramazzini animal studies both showed higher rates of cancer among rats exposed to cell phone radiation, a number of observers argued that IARC should upgrade RF to a “probable” cancer agent [Group 2A] or simply “carcinogenic to humans” [Group 1]. (More on the IARC classifications here.)

Following the release of the Ramazzini Institute results last year, Fiorella Belpoggi, the principal investigator, called on IARC to take another look (see our story). Belpoggi is the director of the Institute’s Research Center in Bologna, Italy and was a member of the IARC priorities panel. She would not comment on their deliberations because, she said, IARC required participants to sign a confidentiality agreement. The panel met during the last week of March in Lyon, IARC’s hometown.

Paul Demers, another member of the panel, said that he was “happy with the decision.” Demers, the director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre in Toronto, noted that he is not sure what a new working group would decide but that there have been more studies since the last RF Monograph and the “animal studies cerainly deserve evaluation.”

“It is very good news,” Tony Miller, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto, wrote in an e-mail. He cited the substantial human epidemiology and animal evidence of carcinogenicity that has accrued since the 2011 evaluation. “If a working group were to conclude that RF is a Group 1 human carcinogen, as many of us now believe,” he said, “it would be impossible for governments and public health authorities to ignore.”

Neither Kurt Straif, the head of IARC’s Monographs section, nor Joachim Schüz, the head of its environment and radiation section, responded to a query on the likelihood that the agency would follow through and convene a new RF assessment committee. Schüz has made no secret of his skepticism of an association between RF and cancer.

Despite the confidentiality of the priority panel’s deliberations, one insider revealed that, during the extensive discussion of the RF nomination at the meeting, some argued against it. This might explain why, while RF was given a high priority, it was assigned to the second half of IARC’s five-year planning window (2020-2024).

Details, including the full membership of the priorities panel, are posted on the Lancet Oncology Web site (free access).

April 24, 2019
Correction:
Kurt Straif has retired. Kathryn Guyton is the acting head of the IARC Monograph Group, which is part of the Evidence Synthesis and Classification Section.