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No clear evidence mobile phones cause cancer, says Pulitzer-winning doctor

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There is no reason to believe that electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones and mobile phone towers can cause cancer, says Pulitizer Prize-winning author and oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee.  

"If mobile phones were to cause brain cancer, as has been suggested, the incidence of the disease should have gone up several times with increase in their usage over the past two decades. This has not happened," said the New York-based author at a press event at the India International Center in New Delhi, India.

According to the World Health Organization, radiation from mobile phones is a possible cancer risk. Mukherjee, however, said that the "preponderance of evidence suggests there is no link" between cancer and mobile phone radiation.

The electromagnetic field emitted by mobile phones can trigger bodily chemical reactions, but it cannot strip off electrons or damage DNA, according to a New York Times article written by Mukherjee.

He added that cell phone radiation does not have the ability to mutate genes and therefore cannot cause cancer directly. There are two kinds of radiation, ionizing and nonionizing, and cell phones turn out nonionizing radiation. While it can stimulate chemical reactions, it cannot mutate genes directly and initiate cancer.

Still, Mukherjee is not claiming the last word, saying that he is willing to revise his theory if further research proves it incorrect.

"The Interphone trials (that sought to examine the link) have a serious recall bias -- people did not always correctly recall the extent of their cell phone usage," he explained.

"I would ask WHO to downgrade cell phone radiation in the list of carcinogens, which includes coffee," Mukherjee further said.  

Likening the fight against cancer to a crime investigation, Mukherjee said that "there is no single clinching evidence in most such cases."

At a separate lecture also held at the IIC, Mukherjee said that dosage is important in identifying whether a particular substance is carcinogenic. He uses formaldehyde as an example.

According to Mukherjee, while formaldehyde is not dangerous to people with minimal exposure, it is extremely harmful to those who are exposed to high amounts on a daily basis.

"We need to educate people on the appropriate doses of carcinogens to which they can expose themselves to within the safety net," he said.

While mobile phone users are likely to be home free, Mukherjee stressed that tobacco users are at higher risk for cancer.

"Data shows increased use of tobacco -- a scientifically proven carcinogen -- has led to a sharp increase in the incidence of cancers of mouth and lung, among others," he said.

He called for a systemwide strategy to reduce tobacco use, especially in younger people, who are more likely to develop smoking addictions. Mukherjee proposed behavioral interventions, such as awareness programs and tobacco-cessation clinics, to discourage the use of cigarettes.

In 2011, Mukherjee won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for his best-selling book "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer."  He specializes in blood cancer or leukemia.

He is currently in India to receive the Padma Shri award from the Indian government, which recognizes distinguished contribution in areas ranging from the arts and education to science, medicine, sports and public affairs,

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