back to article Cancer doctor cites 'early' data on cell phone danger

The head of a leading US cancer research institute has sent out a warning to his staff to limit their cell phone use because of a risk of developing brain cancer. In a memo sent by University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute director Dr. Ronald Herbman yesterday, he cautions mobile phone users should not to let a lack of …


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  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Solid data comes in homeopathic doses, I see...

    ...and with the same regularity as recurring and so far utterly futile attempts at proving that the "memory of the waters" is real.

    Well, maybe this time.

    On another note, where are these foetuses that must be prevented from chatting on the wireless blower? People sure are developing quickly these days.

  2. Carlo Graziani


    Here's a quote from Wired's story:


    A driving force behind the memo was Devra Lee Davis, the director of the university's center for environmental oncology.

    "The question is do you want to play Russian roulette with your brain," she said in an interview from her cell phone while using the hands-free speaker phone as recommended. "I don't know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don't know that they are safe."


    In summary, tons of money spent on multiple, large, double-blind studies have shown no effect whatsoever. But to these people, the lack of evidence, or even of a plausible physical mechanism, is irrelevant, because none of it proves the cancer link is impossible.

    These people aren't scientists. They are alarmist blowhards with access to well-developed press-release tools. It's a pity that this is all it takes to be taken seriously by the media.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    on the other hand

    if i already have brain cancer wont the radiation be a cheaper form of chemo?

    (i am by no means a doctor)

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, OK

    Dreams MAY come true, but before they do, look at this:

  5. Anonymous Coward

    The absence of evidence... not evidence of absence.

    Billions of religious people all over the world can't be wrong.

    Oh, and just because we haven't yet found the WMDs doesn't mean they don't exist.

    Same goes for the tooth fairy.

    Or, anything you make up, really.

  6. Richard Scratcher

    [C]onceal [Y]our [B]rain from [E]lectromagnetic [R]adiation

    A simple and cheap precaution against the dangers of electromagnetic fields is to construct a balaclava from tin foil. This can be worn when using a mobile phone and will act as a Faraday Shield. The balaclava is best earthed by running a wire from its base, down the wearer's back and stapled to the sole of a shoe. A 4 megohm resistor should be used to protect the wearer from accidental contact with live voltages.

    A needle can be used to make tiny holes in the balaclava so that sound can get to the wearer's ears. Caution: remove the balaclava before making these holes. Once constructed, earthed and worn correctly, this cheap and shiny balaclava will also serve to protect the wearer from alien mind control.

  7. Charles

    What about cordless phones?

    If cell phones are such a big issue, why hasn't an issue been raised with cordless phones, which are increasingly common as well?

    Mine's the aluminized mylar one...with hood.

  8. Sceptical Bastard

    Hasn't harmed me

    I've been a heavy user of my mobile phone for years and it hasn't affected...

    What was I saying? Ah yes, mobile phones cannot possibly be responsible...

    I've lost my thread. Ah, got it! Whenever I am reading El Reg I hear this strange buzzing...


    I've been a heavy user of my mobile phone for years ...

  9. Adam Foxton

    @Yeah, OK AC

    Impressive. Most impressive.

    However, it takes little energy to actually pop a popcorn kernel and vast amounts more per unit volume / per unit mass to heat up a human. You're talking a max of 2W for a GSM mobile phone, which isn't that much energy- 2 joules per second. You'll probably get more than that by turning your heating up by a couple of degrees. And that's IR wavelength EM radiation too, so it's pretty similar. In fact you'll probably absorb more than that standing next to a decent sized speaker in a nightclub.

    Whatever the results it doesn't bother me- I mainly use my phone for internetz and texting.

    I can't wait for the day when Cosmo advocates getting rid of them because "cellphones put out 0.48Calories per second STRAIGHT INTO YOUR BODY. Using a cellphone for a fortnight is clearly therefore the same as eating a Mars Bar!

    It's the one with "Cellphones make you fat" on the back...

  10. Craig
    Thumb Up

    Free cell phone radiation shielding device?

    There's a site that's offering a free cell phone radiation shielding device. The site explains further evidence linking cellular phone use to cancer and brain damage as well as explaining how the shielding technology works and how to validate the technology with your own double-blind study.

  11. heystoopid
    Paris Hilton

    An easy check

    An easy check , just check the complete public health data files of all Finnish residents of Helsinki as it is one of the most connected mobile city in Europe where even seven and eight year old children have their own mobile phones dated up to and after the first year of the release of the very first Motorola Brick and run the usual statistical funny numbers game to refine the clusters !

    However , the effects of EMR of various wavebands from long to microwave and radiation power has been well documented ranging from above standard cluster for early users of police microwave speed check units to a definitive study of what happened to a number of persons with cell tower transmitter set on the roof directly above them to another set of workers just one floor down !

    Strangely the top floor of this particular building now appears to remain vacant and has become a sort of junk storage area as no one in the know wants to occupy the empty office space and those that wanted too initially are told what happen to the batch of last occupants seem to develop instant cold feet for some strange mysterious reason !

    But like everything else in this world of ours , it is all about numbers !

  12. Bruce Sinton
    Paris Hilton

    You are all very cynical

    But then so am I. Years ago the World Health Organisation stated that the millions of dollars spent on trying to show that cell phones cause cancer , would be better spent on something useful.

    They are dangerous though , minds turned off from paying attention to traffic while driving.

    Paris cos she is turned off even when not driving.

  13. Geoff Mackenzie

    You don't *know* it's safe!

    Why not err on the side of caution? Avoid Dihydrogen Monoxide.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: An easy check

    I agree that this would be a better starting point. However it's Montenegro and Luxembourg that have the highest phone ownership penetration rates. These two countries are too small to be representative. Next on the list is Italy which has a sufficiently large sample and to be rather un-PC, stereotypically they like talking, so the more important usage rates should be high as well.

    Oh and to all the detractors, remember smoking clears your lungs and makes you attractive.

  15. Kanhef

    re: Yeah, OK

    The popcorn/cellphone video is fake – pure marketing. See here:

  16. Joseph Eoff

    @AC (Popcorn video)

    Bunch of !@$%$2 crap.

    Look here:

  17. Lee T.

    "don't use in public"

    evidently this doctor is not a scientist, doesn't understand inverse square even remotely.

  18. Chris G

    Worry? Who me?

    Whatever the proof or lack of thereof for cellphone induced brain cancer the fact is we are surrounded by much more radiation to worry about than that emitted by your phone.There are cell towers on every tall building and hill, other forms of microwave comms everywhere else. There are Gatsos firing radar at you everywhere you drive and aircraft overhead emitting radio comms and radar. Every electric motor that is operating is producing EM as is nearly everything else electrical including the monitor you are sitting in front of whether it is an old CRT or an LCD.

    So, we are all passive radiation receivers whether we like it or not. If radio frequency EM is likely to cause brain damage brain damage brain dama...... sorry if it is going to cause brain damage we have a lot more to worry about than just our mobile phones. I read somewhere once, if I can remember it correctly with my EM sodden brain that enough radio radiation falls on each square yard of New York each year to raise a Cadillac 5ft off the ground,but so far I haven't noticed anything in the papers about levitating limo's. For those who are concerned you may want to consider tin foil underpants as well as a balaclava as microwave radiation is known to cause sterility in men exposed to enough of it.

  19. Pierre

    Yeah. Right.

    I am a doctor. I'll send a memo advising against the use of the itarwubs because it might cause cancer (hey, everyone I know who got a cancer has been exposed to the intarwub tubes in a way or another. Surely it's a "preliminary" proof!)

    PS I am REALLY a doctor. No kiddin'

  20. Claus P. Nielsen
    Thumb Down

    @Yeah, OK AC

    Read the text below the videos and search for the word "hoax". That should clarify things a little.

    The entire idea is ludicrous if you consider the maximum amount of power transmitted by each cell phone.

    Lets do the math:

    Maximum power in GSM is quoted at 2W. The average corn weighs 0.3g.

    Assuming that 4 * 2W = 8W is transmitted continously into a single corn, that would raise the temperature of each corn by ~6.3 degrees celcius per second. That would bring the corn from 22 degrees celcius ambient to boiling point of 100 degrees celcius in ~12 seconds.

    In the first video, the time from the first phone starts ringing to the first corn pop is 6 seconds.

    This calculation doesn't even consider the extra heat needed to actually turn the water into steam.

    By the way:

    The maximum power transmitted is less than 2W since good antennas for mobile phones are lucky to have en efficiency of 50%, so the maximum transmitted power is then down to 1W or less.

    Then there is the time division stuff, which means that the antenna is not transmitting 7/8 of the time (so it turns on for 0.6ms and is then turned off for the next 4ms).

    Even with perfect focussing antenna in all 4 phones, you would have to reduce the actual power transmitted to 0.5W.

    Then comes the spreading of all that power in all directions as opposed to focussing it at a point ~5cm above the top of the phone as the video would lead us to believe.

  21. Ascylto

    Danger! Danger!

    It has been CONCLUSIVELY proved that high speed contact with large, red, double-decked buses is extremely dangerous, possibly fatal.

    This is RELIABLE research.

    Mines the one with the round badge with a number on it. Ding-ding!

  22. Martin G. Helmer

    The absence of evidence

    Just for the record;

    Back in the old days (the 1990's), there was "no conclusive evidence that smoking causes lung cancer".

    There is today.

    So, humble it down, please guys :)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Risk assessment

    Even if there's a miniscule increased risk factor of cancer from mobile phone use, we do a hundred things every day that pose a greater health risk, from eating burnt toast to driving a car, to walking to the shops on a sunny day without a hat to never walking anywhere...

    If microwave radiation was a health hazzard, there would surely have been some industrial injury over the years: my father relates tales of his National Service in the Far East with people running circles round the high-power microwave horn inspection walkway singing the yingtong song for a bet. That was high enough power to noticeably warm a person.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Radiation Hazard = Financial Hazard


    (once bushy is gone maybe the researchers will get a backbone and start releasing the real results of all those tests and the scientific analsys of cancer clusters), in the meantime we get the slow leak of (The TRUTH) about what is really going on....

    this weeks recomendation, aviod Shares in Mobile Phone Companies...

    just in case the stock market gets more jittery about profits warnings of major players. (as they really don't want to be the ones holding stocks in another (asbestos/thamydalyd) insurance nightmare again.)

    i'd also recommend avioding any company that fits tracking devices to thier vehicle fleets.

    Q:> if the local bus companies and the Post Office cause interference to my stereo system in my flat(even whilst it is switched off), Does that mean Ofcom can go round and rip off all those annoying little antenna's from those offending vehicles and beat the operators into submission with them???

    (maybe a new job for max mosley after he gets the boot from F1, the departing boss of vodafone could join him. well... they are into giving and recieving a good wipping)

    mines the one with 'I TOLD U SO' stuck on the back of the tin foil suit...


  25. Adam Foxton

    @Geoff MacKenzie, others

    DiHydrogen Monoxide is _known_ to be dangerous. It'll kill in amounts as small as a thimbleful. It's found in all cancerous cells. All murderers have it in their bodies at the time of the attack- as do all rapists.

    People who've got any of it in their system have a 100% chance of dying from the withdrawl symptoms.

    DHMO will also attack ferrous compounds and cause them to break down- in some cases even creating Iron(III)Oxide, a component in thermite- which Terrorists could use to burn through tank armour.

    DHMO is a very, very dangerous chemical.

    A similar chemical, Dihydrogen Dioxide, is even capable of sinking nuclear submarines in tiny quantities. DHMO can do this,

    Mobile phones really are a tiny problem compared to the imminent and lethal threats posed to us, our children and our national security by Dihydrogen Monoxide. Our government should ensure that all members of parliament are free of this terrible chemical- and if not it should be forcibly removed from them.

  26. Mr B

    Cell phones are perfectly safe.

    The amount of money invested in mobile technologies is a blinding clue.

    So many $bn, so many Telcos can't be wrong.

    As long as the financial benefits outweigh the health potential problems, there are no problems.

    OK there is one tiny problem if you've got in your blood stream some un-popped corn particles.

  27. peter

    And in other news.....

    "scientists in Denmark tracked over 420,000 cell phone users over the course of 21 years in an attempt to determine if the urban legend that cell phone use causes cancer is true. Their results: the RF energy produced by the phones did not correlate to an increased incidence of the disease"

    "We shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out.." Dr. Ronald Herbman

    I wonder if he can tell us what figure constitutes a a definitive study? A million? 10 million? (Dollars - not people obviously).

    I may not be a 'scientist' but if a study nearly 1/2 million users was not able to find a correlation, the actual risk is so miniscule that it is just not worth worrying about.

    Ignore the Doomsayers. Nothing to see here. Moving my attention swiftly onto somethig way more productive than this non-story. Paris latest fashion statement. That sort of thing.

  28. JP Sistenich
    Thumb Up

    What about hand-cancer?

    When most people are using their mobiles, they're HOLDING the phone. In fact, whether they're texting, calling or surfing, they have to HOLD their phones.

    Where are the studies that over-usage of mobiles causes cancer in the hands?


    Thumbs Up, because it's useful for texting.

  29. peter

    @ Martin G. Helmer

    "Back in the old days (the 1990's), there was "no conclusive evidence that smoking causes lung cancer"."

    The 1990s are the old days? Just how old are you? Obviously not old enough to remember the universal recognition then by all health professionals that smoking killed and the thousands of studies dating back to the 1950s that showed that there was a direct measurable link to cancer (and other illnesses).

    The only thing which is 'new' is the recognition of how much risk there was by passive smoking. (It was recognised even back in the 50s that there was a risk, but only recently has it been able to be quantified).

    So smoking was a real risk to health, multiple studies proved it and the risk was measurable. The only people denying it was the cigarette manufacturers looking at $Billions in losses if they admitted it.

    Somewhat different to the 'death rays from mobiles' stores we are subjected to then and well worth putting in proportion.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mobile phones are extremely bad for my health...

    ...due to the rise in heartrate and blood pressure when i'm trying to watch a film in the cinema whilst attempting to ignore the annoying flashes of brightly backlit screens in the corner of my eye from people with text messages SO IMPORTANT they can't wait until the end of the film.

    Less frequently, but still an annoyingly common occurance, is the full on voice conbversation, in the middle of a film, which I have paid good money to see.

    A friend of mine made the mistake of doing this whilst seeing a film with me, and suffice to say his insurance company had to fork out for a new iPhone.

    Ban the cretinous devices.

  31. Anthony Mark

    @ Adam Foxton

    There's also evidence that DHMO aids in the spread of many infectious diseases, and can also provide a medium for harmful bacterial growth.

  32. John

    Re: An easy check, By Chris W

    Does Luxembourg now have so many mobile phones? When I worked there, ten years ago, no-one used mobiles. There's no need for them. The country is so small that when you want to talk to someone, you just open a window and shout.

  33. Geoff Gale

    Just An Observation

    Between this controversy, the man-made climate change kerfuffle, the creation/evolution dustup, Apple v Windows v Linux, Islam v Christianity v Judaism v Buddhism v atheism, conservative v liberal, communist v capitalist, anarchist v everyone and so many other tempests in their respective teapots, one thing is very clear - humans are never as dangerous as when they're armed with 'the facts'. The sooner we all recognise that we're akin to the blind men and the elephant, each limited to and by our own perceptions/beliefs, the sooner we can learn to stop acting like a troop of bonobos shrieking loudly at one another whilst arguing over a banana.

    May God protect us all from the scientist, politician, preacher, salesman or soccer mommy who's got a deathgrip on 'the facts' and is going to talk about them until the rest of us accept them, move away or perish from ennui.

  34. pctechxp

    Health effect of mobiles

    RSI, if you text too much.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Well ...

    Humans have been bathed in high-power radio-frequency for well over a century now and yet the life expectancy of people now is waaaayyyy in advance of that a century ago.

    True, if I were to blitz you with a megawatt of 3cm microwaves, its almost certain that if you woke up the next day you almost certainly would go on to develop cataracts and/or probably a nice little brain tumour some years down the line.

    But mobiles emit a fraction a a watt at full power for only a very short time.

    Research into the detrimental effects of RF in the sub-meter wavelengths has been going on since the 1930's and its all published and out there.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Well ...

    Humans have been bathed in high-power radio-frequency for well over a century now and yet the life expectancy of people now is waaaayyyy in advance of that a century ago.

    True, if I were to blitz you with a megawatt of 3cm microwaves, its almost certain that if you woke up the next day you almost certainly would go on to develop cataracts and/or probably a nice little brain tumour some years down the line.

    But mobiles emit a fraction of a watt at full power for only a very short time.

    Research into the detrimental effects of RF in the sub-meter wavelengths has been going on since the 1930's and its all published and out there.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Is this guy for real?????.....

    .....when he says that phones are frying your brain, but you should "periodically switch the phone to the opposite ear"??


    Is this to produce an even tan across both hemispheres?

    Does the phone's (paltry amount of) radiation cause a build-up of earwax and make it difficult to hear the person on the other end?

    or is this just another load of scaremongering from someone trying to justify their bloated research budgets

    Mines the shiny one with the BacoFoil logo.......

  38. Anonymous Coward

    Outlaw cell phones!

    I can just see the scene: Police saying to the terrorist "put down the cell phone and step back with your hands up"!

  39. Stewart Rice

    Radiation scaremongering...

    RE: Outlaw cell phones

    This is actually quite likely, although more because a cheap mobile can be used to create a remote detonator, rather than causing mass cancer (mass hyseria maybe, but not mass cancer)

    @Greg Fleming

    Hear hear... If mobile phones truely caused cancer, then why hasn't anyone sued Rupert Murdoch for giving them cancer from the Sky satelite signal? Or the BBC for transmitting from Crystal Palace (1MW per channel for BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, and C4 20kW per multiplex for all 6 digital multiplexes - each carrying 6-8 channels)

  40. Frederick Karno

    Just for a moment......

    Lets just for one moment imagine if this were to be true.......

    Do you think a campaign like that mounted against smokers would happen ???? whether they are causing cancer or not we had better get used to living with it because they are here to stay.

    Far too much money is generated for health reasons to stop this for many years......

    mines the one with the lead lined cod piece

  41. Bob. Hitchen

    EM is dangerous

    All forms of EM can be dangerous it depends on the power and frequency. Anybody in any doubt only needs to look up X-rays. Whether mobile radiation is in this category is an outstanding question. It wouldn't be in the interests of big business or governments to publicise such data. Cancers can take decades to develop so better be safe than sorry.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    This doctor thinks phones are a problem?

    He should visit my GP's surgery.

    The automatic lobby door opener microwave system is detectable aproximately 4 times as far away as an oncoming (IE, driving straight towards the emitter) GATSO! And THAT'S approaching it from the side...

    As a motion detector it would probably be a damn good way of keeping a pizza warm!

    Personally I try and avoid that location if at all possible, to the extent of annoying the receptionist by using the 'staff only' entrance which is in a side street.

    I did mention that the emissions seemed a tad high and they might consider getting the thing looked at - to be met with comments about the legality of radar detectors...

  43. pctechxp

    @Bob. Hitchen

    X-rays are ionising radiation, RF is non-ionizing

    and : AC Friday 25th July 2008 09:32 GMT

    Your name wouldn't be Alisdair Philips would it?

    Don't want to try to sell us some of the super expesnive tin foil or anti-radar paint?

    The thing that annoys me about both sides of ths particular issue is that while there is a vast industry worth billions that may fall if this were proved true, there are also experts such as the guy I mentioned about above hawking overpriced crap or their 'expertise' for a good wedge of cash so in the same way their particular industry is dependent on this fact being true so who would take them seriously?

    I personally dont belive that mobiles are dangerous.

    But has anyone tested the safety of the infrared remote?

  44. Anonymous Coward


    Do the guys who circulate these warning ever think about the megawatts of electromagnetic energy the sun is pouring down on your head all the time?

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