Pulitzer winner clears air on cell phone radiation, cancer

Dispelling myths that mobile phones’ radiation causes cancer, Pulitzer award winner and global authority on cancer Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee said here on Monday that there was no direct evidence to suggest any link between the two.

The India-born American physician, who received the Padma Shri award from President Pranab Mukherjee earlier in the day, said at a talk that since the preponderance of evidence suggested that there was no link between cell phone radiation and cancer, these gadgets may be downgraded in the WHO list of ‘potential carcinogens’.

“I would have suggested to WHO to downgrade cell phones in the list of carcinogens but there is a process to that,” Mukherjee said.

He cautioned against the tendency to club everything – from coffee to pickles and cell phones – as potential carcinogens.

Crying wolf

The effect would be like crying ‘wolf’ about cancer. The public would progressively numb itself to real environmental toxins and become disinterested in finding bona fide carcinogens, he stressed at the talk on ‘Emerging Carcinogens in an Emerging World’ organised by the Cellular Operators Association of India.

“If you look at the rates of rise of a brain cancer, they have remained static over the last 20 years,” he said, pointing to the fact that this had happened despite cellphone usage growing manifold over the decades.

Clearing doubts that mobile phones and towers’ radiation causes cancer, Mukherjee said, in truth, many substances of modern life do not — cannot — cause cancer.

“Some do, and it’s absolutely critical to identify and reduce exposure to them. Others don’t, and it’s absolutely worthwhile identifying these, so that we can focus on the real carcinogens around us,” he said.

“The final, definitive trials on phone radiation may settle this issue — but, as of now, the evidence remains far from convincing,” he said.

“As far as unfounded myths about electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation causing human health  hazard is concerned, I would only say that we believe in scientific language, not in human language,” he said.

“India’s landscape of carcinogens is vast and changing, including tobacco, alcohol and viruses such as human papilloma virus. Addressing these major culprits is likely to be vastly more productive than addressing minor culprits,” said Mukherjee.

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