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Published: Thursday, 7/24/2008

Advisory cites cell-phone health risk

Sara Loughran, a 24-year-old
University of Pittsburgh graduate
student, uses a cell phone on campus. Sara Loughran, a 24-year-old University of Pittsburgh graduate student, uses a cell phone on campus.

PITTSBURGH - The director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cancer Centers has issued an advisory to about 3,000 faculty and staff about the possible health risks associated with cellular-phone use.

"Recently I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell-phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer," Dr. Ronald Herberman said in the memo yesterday.

"Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell-phone use," he wrote in the memo.

The advisory suggests certain measures to limit exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted by the devices, such as shortening the length of conversations or keeping the phones away from the head by text messaging or using headsets or speaker-phone options.

It also recommends that children not use cell phones except in emergencies. Developing organs "are the most likely to be sensitive to possible effects of exposure," the document says.

Dr. Herberman said in an interview he hoped the suggestions would spread to others within the University of Pittsburgh and its medical center, as well as to the general public. He noted other countries have recommended limits on exposure and in Canada, public health officials in Toronto advise young people to limit cell-phone use. There is growing support for limited use, but it is not universal.

There is nothing wrong with taking precautions, but "the bottom line, at this time, is that there is no conclusive evidence tying cell-phone use to brain cancer," said Dan Catena, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Herberman believes he is the first U.S. cancer center director to approve the release of such an advisory.

Some of the concerns about cell-phone use have come from preliminary data from the 13-country study of cell-phone use and tumors known as the Interphone study, said Dr. Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, which tracks research related to cell-phone safety. Release of the overall findings has been delayed for more than two years.

But a group of European countries reports an elevated risk for certain brain tumors among long-term cell-phone users, particularly on the side of the head where the phone was used, he said.

A separate group of Swedish researchers reported similar findings, Dr. Slesin said. It wants makers to provide phones "with the lowest possible risk" and to "encourage consumers to use their devices in a way most compatible with preserving health."

But others question the need for action: "The overwhelming majority of studies published in scientific journals around the globe show wireless phones do not pose a health risk," said CTIA-The Wireless Association, a group representing the industry.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact Joe Fahy at:


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