February 4, 2020 is the World Cancer Day. Hence, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has published the World Cancer Report and the Head of IARC, Dr. Elisabete Weiderpass, presented the Report in a video released on the youtube.

Chapter 2 of the World Cancer Report, entitled ‘Causes of cancer, including hazardous circumstances’, presents radiation involvement in cancer. However, the presentation of radiation effects is ‘weirdly’ split into two separate sub-chapters:

  • 2.4 Sunlight and ultraviolet radiation; Affecting skin cancer incidence in many countries
  • 2.5 Ionizing radiation and radiofrequency electromagnetic fields; Further clarification of particular risks

Why the non-ionizing ultraviolet radiation has own separate sub-chapter whereas ionizing radiation and non-ionizing electromagnetic fields are bundled together in the same sub-chapter? Weird

The sub-chapter 2.5, dealing with ionizing radiation and non-ionizing electromagnetic fields, has been written by:

  • biomathematician Dominique Laurier from the International Commission on Radiological Protection (IRPA),
  • atmospheric physicist and environmental epidemiologist Martin Röösli from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)

As reviewers of the sub-chapter worked:

  • Maria Blettner
  • Ausrele Kesminiene
  • Colin R. Muirhead

‘FunFact’: in 2011 Röösli and Blettner were both members of the IARC Working Group that classified RF radiation as a possible (class 2B) human carcinogen and they voted differently, Röösli for the 2B classification and Blettner against 2B classification.

Reading the part of the sub-chapter dealing with the electromagnetic fields brings to mind opinion of ICNIRP… reviewed and approved by Blettner… Déjà vu…

The authors of this short part of the sub-chapter dealing with electromagnetic fields (just 2 pages of text) seem to be selective in their opinions. In the ‘blue bullets’ opening the sub-chapter they stated:

The latency between exposure to ionizing radiation and occurrence of an excess risk of cancer varies from several years to several decades.”

This statement applies to all cancers caused by radiation, ionizing, ultraviolet and, possibly/probably electromagnetic fields. Assigning the ‘latency‘ comment solely to ionizing radiation is misrepresentation and outright false information.

If they assigned the ‘latency‘ comment to cancer caused possibly/probably by electromagnetic fields then they would have to accept that “excess risk of cancer varies from several years to several decades“, and this would mess-up some of the “logic of the narrative” (sarcasm!) of the later part of the sub-chapter (see below).

Dèjá vu feeling comes when the authors perpetuate the misleading opinions of ICNIRP. It is simply an attempt to whitewash…

  • On mechanisms: solely thermal effects “…Absorption of RF-EMF is known to heat biological tissue, but a minimal temperature increase below the regulatory limits is not expected to increase the risk of cancer [16]. Despite considerable research efforts, no mechanism relevant for carcinogenesis has been consistently identified to date [21]…”
  • Reference #16 is a very old ICNIRP opinion from 1998 (!): International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (1998). Guidelines for limiting exposure to time varying electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields (up to 300 GHz). Health Phys. 74(4):494–522.
  • Reference #21 is a newer review focused not on how RF-EMF causes biological effects but on determining what health effects of RF-EMF exposures could be predicted from the observed molecular changes induced by RF-EMF in expression of genes and proteins: Parham F, Portier CJ, Chang X, Mevissen M (2016). The use of signal-transduction and metabolic pathways to predict human disease targets from electric and magnetic fields using in vitro data in human cell lines. Front Public Health. 4:193.

On epidemiological studies

“…Most new and previous case–control studies do not indicate an association between mobile phone use and risk of glioma, meningioma, acoustic neuroma, pituitary tumours, or salivary gland tumours [22]…”

  • Reference #22 is review article by well known ICNIRP and SCENIHR ‘influencers-deniers‘: Röösli M, Lagorio S, Schoemaker MJ, Schüz J, Feychting M (2019). Brain and salivary gland tumours and mobile phone use: evaluating the evidence from various epidemiological study designs. Annu Rev Public Health. 40:221–38. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040218-044037

“…Sporadic associations observed in a few case–control studies are inconsistent in terms of exposure–response associations…”

  • This is the reference to four case-control studies showing causal link between brain cancer and cell phone exposure (Full Interphone study, Hardell studies, French Cerenat study, Canadian Interphone recalculation study).

“…Thus, there is concern that some studies are affected by recall bias, because cases may overestimate their previous mobile phone use as a potential cause of their disease…”

  • This argumentation does not work well. In Interphone, the highest cumulative exposure was reported as 1640 hours over 10 years (!), what translates to less than 30 minutes of phone use per day, every day over 10 years. In French Cerenat the highest cumulative exposure was self-reported as 339 hours and in Hardell studies it was 123 hours. At the same time increased risk was in Interphone by 40% in Cerenat by 100% and in Hardell by 170%.
  • For unexplained reason, authors omitted the re-calculation of the Canadian Interphone study where risk was estimated to increase by 100%.
  • For another unexplained reason the authors omitted to discuss the Interphone study showing localization of brain cancer in the most radiation-exposed part of the brain (Grell et al. The Intracranial Distribution of Gliomas in Relation to Exposure From Mobile Phones: Analyses From the INTERPHONE Study. Am J Epi. Nov. 2016; DOI: 10.1093/aje/kww082)

The old argument that in Scandinavia the use of mobile phones begun long time ago…

“…Nowadays it is common for a large proportion of the population to have used a mobile phone for a few hundred hours, and simple calculations demonstrate that some of the reported excess risks for brain tumours would have been noticed by now. For instance, the populations of the Nordic countries were among the first to use mobile phones regularly, and in Europe a 50% penetration rate was achieved in 2000…”

  • Authors seem to forget that the use of mobile phones was expensive in pre-2000 era and predominantly business users used them frequently. Most of the users, because of the cost, used them sparingly.
  • Here should be also considered the ‘latency’ of radiation-induced cancer. If the latency, is as stated earlier for ionizing radiation only, is several tens of years then the some 20 years of common use of mobile phones might be still not enough for effects to show up in general statistics. It is at least a possibility that the authors should have discussed.

Trends of brain cancer in population

“…a very comprehensive analysis of global trends of tumours of the brain and central nervous system, which included data from 1993–2007 from 96 registries in 39 countries, did not find a pattern supporting the hypothesis of increasing incidence rates following, with some latency, the time period of mobile phone uptake in different populations [28]. This analysis is in line with the results of several other time trend studies [29], although a few studies [30,31] reported increases in the incidence of specific topographic or morphological subtypes of brain cancer. However, in the same studies, a decrease in the incidence of other subtypes of brain cancer was seen, suggesting that these time trends may be explained by changes in cancer coding practices over time…”

  • The authors wrongly consider as valid only trend studies where all types of brain cancer in all age groups are bundled together and… trend shows nothing.
  • They wrongly disregard as technical glitches trend studies where different brain cancer types show and increase in certain age and gender populations.

The ‘twist‘ comes in the last part of the review: ‘Prevention’

“…The large amount of research on RF-EMF suggests that any potentially undetected risk is expected to be small from an individual perspective…”

  • The authors state, what is exactly in line with my opinions presented in recent tour of New Zealand, that the individual risks might be small (due to individual sensitivity to RF-EMF)… but these small individual risks might cause large burden for the society, what the authors forget to elaborate on.

“…Given the research uncertainties, precautionary measures might be taken. Because mobile phones are the most relevant exposure source and because the strength of RF-EMF decreases rapidly with distance from the source, the simplest and most effective precautionary measure is to hold the mobile phone away from the body during transmission; this will result in a substantial reduction in exposure…”

  • The authors advocate, what I have been advocating for the last 20+ years, precaution.

The ‘twist‘ is not in line with the ICNIRP’s opinions.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Dariusz Leszczynski