ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
NPR's Richard Harris joins us now to talk about this development. Hi, Richard.
RICHARD HARRIS: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: And first of all, what does it mean when the World Health Organization says that something possibly causes cancer?
HARRIS: So those that fall into the possible category, which we're talking about here, have raised suspicions either in animal studies or in population studies. That would include, of course, many chemicals but also things like pickled vegetables, coffee, doing work as a carpenter. And now, the electromagnetic fields from cell phones.
SIEGEL: We'll skip carpentry and coffee. What's the evidence that the cell phone use might cause cancer?
HARRIS: Now, this is not definitive, but Dr. Jonathan Samet from the University of Southern California, who chaired the panel, said in a statement that, quote, there could be some risk and therefore, we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.
SIEGEL: So if there is actually a link, how in theory might cell phones cause cancer, if they do?
HARRIS: And unfortunately, animal studies on this don't really help clarify the picture.
SIEGEL: So it's a pretty confused picture. I mean, how would scientists go about sorting this out?
HARRIS: The WHO finding also could encourage more animal studies and also, they're hoping, more careful cancer monitoring. For example, the WHO points out that there are no studies in children as yet.
SIEGEL: Well, since the WHO has said that it is possible that there might be some link between cell phone use and cancer, what - do they recommend that people do anything, or is this not even worth basing a recommendation on?
HARRIS: The other thing is that if there is a risk, I think it's fair to say it would be quite small because by now there's something like five billion people around the world who use cell phones...
SIEGEL: Use cell phones, yes.
HARRIS: However, I should say that it is clear that cell phones are a true public health in one sense, and that is the government says that more than 5,000 people are killed every year by distracted drivers in the U.S. alone. And, of course, cell phone use is one of the most common distractions.
SIEGEL: So our many listeners who are driving home right now might take that information onboard once again. Thank you, Richard.
HARRIS: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: NPR's Richard Harris, talking with us about the World Health Organization's finding that cell phones could possibly cause cancer.
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