World Health Organization,

radiofrequency radiation and health - a hard nut to crack (Review)

Lennart Hardell Department of Oncology, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Örebro University, SE-701 82 Örebro, Sweden Received April 1, 2017; Accepted June 6, 2017 DOI: 10.3892/ijo.2017.4046


Abstract. In May 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated cancer risks from radiofrequency (RF) radiation. Human epidemiological studies gave
evidence of increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma. RF radiation was classified as Group 2B, a possible human carcinogen.


Further epidemiological, animal and mechanistic studies have strengthened the association. In spite of this, in most countries little or nothing has been done to reduce exposure and educate people on health hazards from RF radiation.


On the contrary ambient levels have increased. In 2014 the WHO launched a draft of a Monograph on RF fields and health for public comments. It turned out that fiveof the six members of the Core Group in charge of the draft are affiliated with International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), an industry loyal NGO, and thus have a serious conflict of interest. Just as by ICNIRP, evaluation of non-thermal biological effects from RF radiation are dismissed as scientific evidence of adverse health effects in the Monograph. This has provoked many comments sent to the WHO.


However, at a meeting on March 3, 2017 at the WHO Geneva office it was stated that the WHO has no intention to change the Core Group.


1. Introduction
2. The WHO fact sheet
3. The WHO EMF project
4. WHO radio frequency fields: Environmental health criteria
5. Human Health Effects of Non-Ionizing Radiation - Informal
meeting at WHO March 3, 2017

6. Exposure to RF radiation within the WHO building in
7. Concluding remarks

1. Introduction
The use of wireless digital technology has grown rapidly during the last couple of decades ( ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2016.pdf).
During use, mobile phones and cordless phones emit radiofrequency (RF) radiation. The brain is the main target organ for RF emissions from the handheld wireless phone (1,2). An evaluation of the scientific evidence on the brain tumour risk was made in May 2011 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at the World Health Organization (WHO). IARC is independently financed and has its own governing and scientific councils, which WHO staff only
attend as observers ( research/iarc/en/).
Epidemiological studies provided supportive evidence of increased risk for head and brain tumours, i.e., acoustic neuroma and glioma. The working group reached the conclusion
that RF radiation from devices that emit non-ionizing RF radiation in the frequency range 30 kHz-300 GHz, is a Group 2B, i.e. a ‘possible’, human carcinogen (3,4). Later
studies have corroborated these findings and have thus strengthened the evidence (5-8).
Several laboratory studies have indicated mechanisms of action for RF radiation carcinogenesis such as on DNA repair, oxidative stress, down regulation of mRNA and DNA damage with single strand breaks (9-13). A report was released from
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in USA on the largest ever animal study on cell phone RF radiation and cancer (14). An increased
incidence of glioma in the brain and malignant schwannoma in the heart was found in rats. Acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma is a similar type of tumour as the one found in
the heart, although benign. Thus, this animal study supported human epidemiological findings on RF radiation and brain tumour risk (8). The IARC cancer classification includes all sources of
RF radiation. The exposure from mobile phone base stations, Wi-Fi access points, smart phones, laptops and tablets can be long-term, sometimes around the clock, both at home and at   school. For children this risk may be accentuated because of a cumulative effect during a long lifetime use (15). Developing and immature cells can also be more sensitive to exposure to
RF radiation (9).

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