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Do Cellphones Cause Cancer? It's Possible, WHO Says

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LYON, France) -- Cellphones possibly cause cancer, a panel of experts from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer reported Tuesday.

The panel's decision, which is based on a review of published studies on the topic, lands cellphones on a list of possible carcinogens that includes the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust. But it has surprised experts outside the panel, who say the data on cellphone use and brain cancer is still inconclusive.

"In general, rating agencies such as this tend to be conservative by nature. They have to be," said Dr. Henry Friedman, deputy director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "The reality is that all of the epidemiological studies that have been done to date have basically been negative."

An estimated 5 billion cellphone users represent nearly three-quarters of the world's population.

The cellphone-cancer conundrum has been a hot topic since shoe-sized phones hit the scene in the late 1970s. Roughly 30 studies have failed to link the devices to cancer. But a large study last year showed a slight, statistically insignificant increase in risk in a rare form of brain cancer called glioma among cellphone users. Another study out of the National Institutes of Health Research linked cellphone use to increased brain activity.

Working as a hairdresser is considered riskier than using a cellphone, according to the IARC's classification system, achieving "probable carcinogen" status. Other possible carcinogens include working as a dry cleaner or a firefighter.

Nevertheless, some experts think the evidence, inconclusive as it is, warrants caution. ABC News reached out to 76 physicians, 55 of whom said they will continue to hold their cellphones up to their ear, but 21 said they will use hands-free devices to minimize their risk.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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