Monday, November 4, 2019

International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO) Position on Radiofrequency Radiation

In May, 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, classified radio frequency radiation (RFR) as "possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use." "The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk."

A working group of 31 scientists from 14 nations made this determination after reviewing hundreds of studies that examined the potential carcinogenic hazard of long-term exposure to RFR. They examined exposure data, studies of cancer in humans, studies of cancer in experimental animals, and mechanistic and other relevant data. 

" 'Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings,' said IARC Director Christopher Wild, 'it is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting.' "

IARC (2011). "IARC classifies radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans." Press Release No. 208. IARC, WHO.

IARC (2013e). Non-ionizing radiation, Part 2: Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum. 102:1–460. Available from: PMID:24772662

For a summary of this 2013 monograph see:


In March, 2019, the Advisory Group for the IARC recommended that the IARC review the research on RFR to determine if it is a carcinogenic hazard (i.e. Group 2A or Group 1). The advisory group recommended that this review be conducted within the next five years and called it a "high priority."

Following are excerpts from the IARC report:

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Report of the Advisory Group to Recommend Priorities for the IARC Monographs during 2020–2024. IARC, World Health Organization, 2019.

Report of the Advisory Group to Recommend Priorities for the IARC Monographs during 2020–2024

Introduction (pp. 1-2)

"An IARC Advisory Group to Recommend Priorities for the IARC Monographs during 2020–2024 met in Lyon, France, on 25–27 March 2019. IARC periodically convenes such Advisory Groups to ensure that the Monographs evaluations reflect the current state of scientific evidence relevant to carcinogenicity.

Before the meeting, IARC solicited nominations of agents via the website of the IARC Monographs programme and the IARC RSS news feed, and through direct contact with the IARC Governing Council and members of the IARC Scientific Council, WHO headquarters and regional offices, and previous participants in the Monographs programme. Nominations were also developed by IARC personnel, including the recommended priorities remaining from a similar Advisory Group meeting convened in 2014 (Straif et al., 2014), and the priorities nominated by the Advisory Group.

The list of Advisory Group members and all other meeting participants is provided in Annex 1 (see ) ...."

"Priority was assigned on the basis of (i) evidence of human exposure and (ii) the extent of the available evidence for evaluating carcinogenicity (i.e. the availability of relevant evidence on cancer in humans, cancer in experimental animals, and mechanisms of carcinogenesis to support a new or updated evaluation according to the Preamble to the IARC Monographs). Any of the three evidence streams could alone support prioritization of agents with no previous evaluation. For previously evaluated agents, the Advisory Group considered the basis of the previous classification as well as the potential impact of the newly available evidence during integration across streams (see Table 4 in the Preamble to the IARC Monographs). Agents without evidence of human exposure or evidence for evaluating carcinogenicity were not recommended for further consideration."


"Non-ionizing radiation (radiofrequency) and extremely low-frequency magnetic fields (pp. 148-149)

Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) were evaluated by the IARC Monographs as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) (IARC, 2013e), on the basis of limited evidence of an increased risk of glioma. Extremely low-frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MF) were evaluated as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) (IARC, 2002), on the basis of limited evidence of an increased risk of childhood leukaemia.

Exposure Data

Human exposures to RF-EMF can occur from use of personal devices (e.g. cell phones, cordless phones, and Bluetooth) and from environmental sources such as cell phone base stations, broadcast antennas, and medical applications. More than 5 billion people now have access to cell phone devices, and the technology is constantly evolving. Use has also expanded rapidly in low- and middle-income countries, where more than 75% of adults now report owning a cell phone; in high-income countries, the proportion is 96% (Pew Research Center, 2018).

Cancer in Humans

Since the previous IARC Monographs evaluation, several new epidemiological studies have been published on the association between RF-EMF and cancer, although the evidence remains mixed. In the Million Women Study cohort, there was no evidence of increased risk of glioma or meningioma, even among long-term users. There was an increased risk of acoustic neuromas with long-term use and a significant dose–response relationship (Benson et al., 2013). Updated follow-up in the Danish nationwide subscribers study did not find increased risks of glioma, meningioma, or vestibular schwannoma, even among those with subscriptions of 10 years or longer (Frei et al., 2011; Schüz et al., 2011). New reports from case–control studies that assessed long-term use also found mixed results; for example, increased risks of glioma and acoustic neuroma were reported by Hardell & Carlberg (2015) and Hardell et al. (2013), but no evidence of increased risks for these tumours were reported by Yoon et al. (2015) and Pettersson et al. (2014). Röösli et al. (2019) recently reviewed these new data. Several large-scale studies are still in progress and should report results within the next few years. Mobi-Kids is a multicentre case–control study of brain tumours in those aged 10–24 years. Cohort Study of Mobile Phone Use and Health (COSMOS) is a new European cohort of adult cell phone users. There will also be updated results from the Million Women Study.

Cancer in Experimental Animals

New data in experimental animals for exposure to RF-EMF have been published since the previous IARC Monographs evaluation. The large study by the United States National Toxicology Program found an increased risk of malignant schwannomas of the heart in male rats with high exposure to radiofrequency radiation at frequencies used by cell phones, as well as possible increased risks of certain types of tumours in the brain and adrenal glands, but no increased risks in mice or female rats (NTP, 2018a, b). Another study in experimental animals also found an increase in schwannomas of the heart in highly exposed male rats and a possible increase in gliomas in female rats (Falcioni et al., 2018).

 Mechanistic Evidence

The previous IARC evaluation concluded that there was weak evidence that radiofrequency radiation was genotoxic but that there was no evidence for mutagenicity (IARC, 2013e). Although there have been many new publications from a wide variety of experiments, uncertainty remains about the mechanisms, and there are few systematic reviews of the new data (Kocaman et al., 2018).

Although a future evaluation could be broadened to consider exposure to all non-ionizing radiation (including ELF-MF), ELF-MF were evaluated by IARC as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), and the Advisory Group did not recommend an update, because of a lack of new informative epidemiological findings, no toxicological evidence, and little supporting mechanistic evidence.


The following key references were also identified: Coureau et al. (2014); Carlberg & Hardell (2015); Pedersen et al. (2017).

Recommendation for non-ionizing radiation (radiofrequency): High priority (and ready for evaluation within 5 years)

Recommendation for extremely low-frequency magnetic fields: No evaluation "

References cited in this section of the report:

Benson VS, Pirie K, Schüz J, Reeves GK, Beral V, Green J; Million Women Study Collaborators (2013). Mobile phone use and risk of brain neoplasms and other cancers: prospective study. Int J Epidemiol. 42(3):792–802. PMID:23657200

Carlberg M, Hardell L (2015). Pooled analysis of Swedish case-control studies during 1997-2003 and 2007-2009 on meningioma risk associated with the use of mobile and cordless phones. Oncol Rep. 33(6):3093–8. PMID:25963528

Coureau G, Bouvier G, Lebailly P, Fabbro-Peray P, Gruber A, Leffondre K, et al. (2014). Mobile phone use and brain tumours in the CERENAT case-control study. Occup Environ Med. 71(7):514–22. PMID:24816517

Falcioni L, Bua L, Tibaldi E, Lauriola M, De Angelis L, Gnudi F, et al. (2018). Report of final results regarding brain and heart tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats exposed from prenatal life until natural death to mobile phone radiofrequency field representative of a 1.8 GHz GSM base station environmental

Frei P, Poulsen AH, Johansen C, Olsen JH, Steding-JessenM, Schüz J (2011). Use of mobile phones and risk of brain tumours: update of Danish cohort study. BMJ. 343:d6387. PMID:22016439

Hardell L, Carlberg M (2015). Mobile phone and cordless phone use and the risk for glioma - analysis of pooled case-control studies in Sweden, 1997-2003 and 2007-2009. Pathophysiology. 22(1):1–13. PMID:25466607

IARC (2013e). Non-ionizing radiation, Part 2: Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum. 102:1–460. Available from: PMID:24772662

Kocaman A, Altun G, Kaplan AA, Deniz ÖG, Yurt KK, Kaplan S (2018). Genotoxic and carcinogenic effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields. Environ Res. 163:71–9. PMID:29427953

NTP (2018a). Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies in B6C3F1/N mice exposed to whole-body radio frequency radiation at a frequency (1900 MHz) and modulations (GSM and CDMA) used by cell phones. Natl Toxicol Program Tech Rep Ser. 596. Research Triangle Park (NC), USA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. Available from:

NTP (2018b). Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies in Hsd:Sprague Dawley SD rats exposed to whole-body radiofrequency radiation at a frequency (900MHz) and modulations (GSM and CDMA) used by cellphones. Natl Toxicol Program Tech Rep Ser. 595. Research Triangle Park (NC), USA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. Available from:

Pedersen C, Poulsen AH, Rod NH, Frei P, Hansen J, Grell K, et al. (2017). Occupational exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and risk for central nervous system disease: an update of a Danish cohort study among utility workers. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 90(7):619–28. PMID:28429106

Pettersson D, Mathiesen T, Prochazka M, Bergenheim T, Florentzson R, Harder H, et al. (2014). Long-term mobile phone use and acoustic neuroma risk. Epidemiology. 25(2):233–41. PMID:24434752

Pew Research Center (2018). Social media use continues to rise in developing countries, but plateaus across developed ones. Available from:

Schüz J, Steding-JessenM, Hansen S, Stangerup SE, Cayé-Thomasen P, Poulsen AH, et al. (2011). Long-term mobile phone use and the risk of vestibular schwannoma: a Danish nationwide cohort study. Am J Epidemiol. 174(4):416–22. PMID:21712479

Straif K, Loomis D, Guyton K, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, et al. (2014). Future priorities for the IARC Monographs. Lancet Oncol. 15(7):683–4.

Yoon S, Choi J-W, Lee E, An H, Choi HD, KimN (2015). Mobile phone use and risk of glioma: a case-control study in Korea for 2002-2007. Environ Health Toxicol. 30:e2015015. PMID:26726040