World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer Classifies Cell Phone & WiFi Radiation as A Possible Carcinogen

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency (RF) from cell phones and wireless technologies as a Group 2B ‘Possible Human Carcinogen’ in 2011. This was an important step for a highly regarded international scientific body to recognize the potential risks to human health posed by wireless technologies.

Countries around the globe have since begun to take precautionary actions justified by the IARC decision (See International Protective Actions). Five + years later, in 2017, many scientists say the IARC classification is certainly not strong enough and should be upgrade to either “Probably Carcinogen” (2A) or ‘Human Carcinogen’ based the present body of science.

In a letter to the WHO in August 2015, researcher Lennart Hardell, PhD of University Hospital, Department of Oncology, Orebro, Sweden, whose group has done much of the brain tumor research, as well as reviews of the cell phone-brain tumor research, called for an updated review of the science by IARC. Dr. Hardell says, “Since then more studies have been published that strengthen the association between use of wireless phones (mobile and cordless phones) and increased risk for brain tumours.” He concluded, “In summary there is consistent evidence of increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma associated with use of mobile phones and cordless phones. Furthermore, the risk is highest for persons with first use before the age of 20, which is of special concern. Our conclusion is that RF-EMF should be regarded as a human carcinogen. The IARC classification should be updated to at least Group 2A, a probable human carcinogen. Current guidelines for exposure need to be urgently revised.” (

In 2015, 190 scientists from 39 countries who together have published over 2,000 research studies on biological and health effects of electromagnetic fields signed the International Scientist EMF Appeal to the United Nations (see Video of Martin Blank, PhD from Columbia University here: ), asking the UN to address the emerging public health crisis from cell phones, wireless devices, wireless utility meters and wireles infrastruture, such as cell towers and antennas.

The IARC classification restored some integrity to a badly tarnished IARC due to an insider conflict of interest. Just over a week before, a lead expert on the RF decision-making committee, Anders Albom of the Karolinska Institute, was found to have concealed a professional association with a consulting firm advising the telecommunications industry. Dr. Albom, who has long taken the stand that there are no risks from cell phones, was then ousted. (Read story here.)

Simultaneously, scientists from around the world led by the International EMF Alliance ( sent letters protesting the biases and conflicts of interest on the IARC RF decision-making committee, complaining also that no decision should be made final until the remaining 50% of Interphone study data is made public. (Read story here.)

Christopher Wild, Director of IARC, then delivered a call to the remaining IARC decision-makers, 31 scientists from 14 countries, to consider seriously the human health impacts for society of their decision.

The IARC classification of cell phones as a Group 2B ‘possible human carcinogen’ has now traveled throughout the world influencing governments far and wide, and for the 1st time has provided an official scientific basis on which governments, schools and parents could legitimately call for precautionary behavior regarding these radiation-emitting devices. It is important to realize, however, there is no mandatory protection being called for, and though the statement expressed concern about the widespread RF exposure and long-term exposures to young adults and children, there was no specific call for protection of children.

IARC Director Chris Wild said, “Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings 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. “

The landmark IARC decision reconfirms the need for governments to institute biologically based exposure guidelines that take into consideration known biological effects occurring from all kinds of EMFs at non-heating levels of exposure, which industry has long sought to deny, despite decades of evidence.

Here, in a video from 2011, the Karolinska Institute’s Olle Johansson, PhD, on behalf of international scientists, details new exposure guidelines that are necessary to protect the public’s health: “International Scientists Recommend Global Governments Adopt New Exposure Guidelines for Electromagnetic Radiation—Pointing to Biological Hazards and Risks to the Genetic Code from Unchecked Proliferation of Wireless Technologies”.

Of the IARC decision to classify radiofrequency radiation from cell phones and wireless technologies as a Group 2B ‘Possible Carcinogen”, Joel Moskowitz, PhD of University of California, Berkeley, Director, Center for Family and Community Health, School of Public Health says, “The U.S. government now has a scientific basis to issue precautionary health warnings, revise existing cell phone regulations and fund research on radio frequency electromagnetic field radiation.  A $1 per year fee on each cell phone would generate $300 million annually for research and education.” 

Indeed, Berkeley, CA City Council, with the support of Lawrence Lessig from Harvard Law School and Robert Post, Dean of the Yale Law School, passed a “cell phone right to know” ordinance requiring warnings at the point of sale communicating existing safety warnings already found in the cell phone manuals. Countries taking precautionary actions since IARC’s classification of RF in 2011 are summarized in International Protective Actions.

A recent challenge to IARC is now underway by a U.S. Congressman, Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT), with questions to the NIH as to why the U.S. helps to fund IARC if its decisions on risk for carcinogenicity are not consistent with ‘other studies’. Some scientists consider the challenge to IARC an effort to support the commercial interests of Monsanto, as well as the wireless companies. IARC’s Wilde rejects Rep. Chaffetz’s criticisms and says IARC’s classifications are “widely respected for their scientific rigor, standardized and transparent process and…freedom from conflicts of interest”. The spin appearing online supporting the assault against the highly respected IARC, which was founded in 1965, would make an interesting case study in industry-supporting propaganda.

See “Harsh New Critique of WHO’s Silence on Wireless Harm”




The IARC report on carcinogenicity of RF was published in the July issue of The Lancet Oncology.



Lyon, France, May 31, 2011 — The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer1, associated with wireless phone use.


Over the last few years, there has been mounting concern about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices. The number of mobile phone subscriptions is estimated at 5 billion globally.

From May 24–31 2011, a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries has been meeting at IARC in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. These assessments will be published as Volume 102 of the IARC Monographs, which will be the fifth volume in this series to focus on physical agents, after Volume 55 (Solar Radiation), Volume 75 and Volume 78 on ionizing radiation (X-rays, gamma-rays, neutrons, radio-nuclides), and Volume 80 on non-ionizing radiation (extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields).

The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed the possibility that these exposures might induce long-term health effects, in particular an increased risk for cancer. This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children.

The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed and evaluated the available literature on the following exposure categories involving radiofrequency electromagnetic fields:

occupational exposures to radar and to microwaves; environmental exposures associated with transmission of signals for radio, television and wireless telecommunication; and personal exposures associated with the use of wireless telephones.

International experts shared the complex task of tackling the exposure data, the studies of cancer in humans, the studies of cancer in experimental animals, and the mechanistic and other relevant data.

1,237,913 new cases of brain cancers (all types combined) occurred around the world in 2008 (gliomas represent 2/3 of these). Source: Globocan 2008


The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited2 among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate3 to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate. The Working Group did not quantitate the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10-year period).


Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. 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.”

“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. ”

The Working Group considered hundreds of scientific articles; the complete list will be published in the Monograph. It is noteworthy to mention that several recent in-press scientific articles4 resulting from the Interphone study were made available to the working group shortly before it was due to convene, reflecting their acceptance for publication at that time, and were included in the evaluation.

A concise report summarizing the main conclusions of the IARC Working Group and the evaluations of the carcinogenic hazard from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including the use of mobile telephones) will be published in The Lancet Oncology in its July 1 issue, and in a few days online.

2 ‘Limited evidence of carcinogenicity’: A positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.

3 ‘Inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity’: The available studies are of insufficient quality, consistency or statistical power to permit a conclusion regarding the presence or absence of a causal association between exposure and cancer, or no data on cancer in humans are available.

4 a. ‘Acoustic neuroma risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study’ (the Interphone Study Group, in Cancer Epidemiology, in press) b. ‘Estimation of RF energy absorbed in the brain from mobile phones in the Interphone study’ (Cardis et al., Occupational and Environmental Medicine, in press)

c. ‘Risk of brain tumours in relation to estimated RF dose from mobile phones – results from five Interphone countries’ (Cardis et al., Occupational and Environmental Medicine, in press)

IARC, 150 Cours Albert Thomas, 69372 Lyon CEDEX 08, France – Tel: +33 (0)4 72 73 84 85 – Fax: +33 (0)4 72 73 85 75 © IARC 2011 – All Rights Reserved.

d. ‘Location of Gliomas in Relation to Mobile Telephone Use: A Case-Case and Case-Specular Analysis‘ (American Journal of Epidemiology, May 24, 2011. [Epub ahead of print].

For more information, please contact Dr Kurt Straif, IARC Monographs Section, at +33 472 738 511, or [email protected]; Dr Robert Baan, IARC Monographs Section, at +33 472 738 659, or [email protected]; or Nicolas Gaudin, IARC Communications Group, at [email protected] (+33 472 738 478) Link to the audio file posted shortly after the briefing:

About IARC

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization. Its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer control. The Agency is involved in both epidemiological and laboratory research and disseminates scientific information through publications, meetings, courses, and fellowships.

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Nicolas Gaudin, Ph.D. Head, IARC Communications International Agency for Research on Cancer World Health Organization 150, cours Albert-Thomas 69008 Lyon France

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