Doctor Who Released Cancer Advisory Plans Large Cell Phone Study

Dr. Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Cancer Centers, very recently made headlines by issuing a staff advisory on the potential <"">cancer risks of cell phone use.  Now Herberman is looking to create a research project focusing on long-term cell phone users.  Last week’s announcement represented the first time a U.S. cancer center director issued an advisory to staff and faculty on the potential health risks of cell phone use.

Herberman said he is talking with others, including a researcher at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Dr. Devra Davis, director of the Pitt cancer institute’s Center for Environmental Oncology.  “We don’t want to frighten people.  We want them to take precautions,” Davis announced on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”  Herberman is hoping to secure phone records from cell phone companies or customers so that the research can better identify long-term users who might be at increased risk for health problems, such as brain tumors.   Herberman pointed out other studies’ research tends to rely on user recollections.  Herberman plans to seek funding from organizations such as the National Cancer Institute, once a proposal is developed.

“Recently I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer,” Herberman wrote in the memo. “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.”  The memo provided suggestions to limit exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell phones, such as shortening the length of conversations and distancing cell phones from one’s head by text messaging or using headsets or speakerphones; he recommended children not use cell phones except in emergencies.

Herberman acknowledged some colleagues questioned the scientific basis for linking cell phone use with cancer risk and some leading groups also remain unconvinced.  For instance, the American Cancer Society says there is no firm evidence linking cell phone use to brain cancer.  But, Herberman said studies brought to his attention as well as precautions issues on cell phone use by other countries and Toronto public health officials, prompted his actions.  With Davis, Herberman drafted the advisory that was then released to about 3,000 personnel at the institute and the cancer centers.  The two revised and issued portions of a document, endorsed by them and other members of an international expert panel, which urged precautions.

Herberman said he had no financial incentive and objected to suggestions in some of the news coverage, particularly a widely circulated Associated Press story, that he based his concerns on unpublished data.  “My own take on all the available reports is that they suggest a problem to be concerned about,” he said. Simple precautions, he added, would be “prudent to adopt in order to reduce potential risk.”

Dr. Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, which tracks research related to cell phone safety, said Herberman’s advisory was important because study information is often slow in coming and the issue is further complicated because cell phone technology continues to evolve.

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