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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cancer and mobile phones

The recent announcement about cancer and mobile phones came from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an organization headquartered in France that studies cancer for the World Health Organization of the United Nations. IARC is well-respected, although it takes criticism about the transparency of its decisions.

That said, the IARC put mobile phones in its category 2B -- "possibly carcinogenic" -- with respect to one type of cancer, namely glioma which affects the brain. No other form of cancer was implicated. IARC has a long list of substances in its category 1 ("carcinogenic", e.g. cigarettes) and category 2A ("probably carcinogenic", e.g. ultraviolet radiation).

Coffee, by the way, is in category 2B with respect to bladder cancer. I don't know of anyone who quit drinking coffee because of the IARC's analysis.

Everyone with a degree in electrical engineering has spent at least one academic year studying Maxwell's equations and electromagnetic fields. I have thought about the impact of electromagnetic radiation on my body for a long time. I wouldn't live underneath a 500 kilovolt AC power line, nor would I want to spend much time near a high-powered microwave transmitter. On the other hand, I don't worry cordless phones in the house or wireless headset systems. I'm on the fence about electric blankets. 

What about mobile phones? I believe it's prudent to minimize the amount of time when a mobile phone is held against my skull, although sometimes it's unavoidable. Speakerphone operation is preferable. Another good alternative is a Bluetooth headset. Our new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid combines both technologies. And, of course, don't forget the inexpensive wired earpiece that each supplier packages with the phone -- even if it looks geeky.