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Cell Phone Warning Issued by Cancer Center Head

Jul 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The head of one of the country's top cancer centers has warned his staff that cell phones could be dangerous to their health.  Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Cancer Centers, issued an internal advisory memo to about 3,000 faculty and staff members advising them to take precautions to avoid the possible cancer risks of cell phones.

Scientists and the federal government have been studying the effects of radiation for years and have established guidelines with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to limit the amount of exposure.  Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a type of radiation that is a form of electromagnetic radiation, according to the National Cancer Institute. Though studies are being done to see if there is a link between it and tumors of the brain and central nervous system, and so far, findings have been inconclusive.

Herberman says it takes too long to get answers from science and he believes people should take action now — especially when it comes to children.  His memo cites a "growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer."  

"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," Herberman wrote.

Herberman points to a massive ongoing research project known as Interphone, involving scientists in 13 nations, mostly in Europe. Results already published in peer-reviewed journals from this project aren't so alarming, but Herberman's memo was referring to work not yet published.

Herberman's memo advises that children - whose brains are still developing - only use cell phones in emergencies.  Adults should keep the phone away from the head and use the speakerphone or a wireless headset, he says. He even warns against using cell phones in public places like a bus because it exposes others to the phone's electromagnetic fields.

In an interview with "The Pittsburgh Post Gazette",  Herberman noted that other countries have recommended limits on exposure, and that in Canada, officials in Toronto have advised young people to limit cell phone use. Herberman said he believes he is the first cancer center director to approve the release of such an advisory, and the National Cancer Institute said it knew of no similar advisory issued by a U.S. cancer center director.

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