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Coffee, pickled veggies also 'possibly' cause cancer
June 2nd, 2011
12:37 PM ET

Coffee, pickled veggies also 'possibly' cause cancer

As you continue to weigh the risks and benefits of using your cell phone, in light of the recent World Health Organization announcement that the phones may lead to cancer, consider how scared you are of pickled vegetables, gasoline and magenta dyes.

These are just some of the substances also lumped in the same group of "possible carcinogens," formally known as "group 2B carcinogens" on the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer's list of known, likely and maybe-likely suspects.

In fact, coffee is in the same 2B category as cell phones because of evidence that drinking coffee could be associated with cancer of the large bowel. On the other hand, coffee was also recently linked to a lowered risk of fatal prostate cancer, so go figure.

And pickled vegetables, in case you were wondering, have been thought to increase the risk of gastric cancer, possibly. A meta-analysis of studies on Japanese and Korean populations, in which researchers looked at a bunch of studies that had been done in the past, found this association. Study authors concluded that a high intake of fresh vegetables, not pickled, is important for lowering the chances of getting gastric cancer. But, like studies on cell phones, this is based on observational data - information gathered about people's past behaviors, which were not in a controlled scientific setting.

By comparison, tobacco - both smokeless and smoked, as well as second-hand smoke - is in group 1, which means it's considered cancer-causing without question. This group also includes ultraviolet radiation types A, B, and C, which comes from the sun - the reason you want to wear sunscreen and protective eye-ware when you go outside this summer. The WHO is clearly not as sure about the harmfulness of cell phones as it is for these common carcinogens.

The next group down, classified as 2A, are "probable" carcinogens, which include a variety of activities such as manufacturing art glass and art containers, manufacturing carbon electrodes, and exposure at work from being a hairdresser or barber. It also includes indoor emissions from combustion of wood and other biomass fuel, and shift work that disrupts circadian rhythm.

This is all to say that it would be quite premature to say that cell phones are "the new tobacco," since the evidence for cell phones causing cancer isn't nearly as strong as it is for cigarette smoking leading to the disease. In fact, according to these classifications, we can merely say that the cell phone is perhaps "the new pickled vegetable." Hm, that doesn't sound as foreboding.

Here is the complete list of substances, exposures and activities that the WHO has classified as known, probable and possible carcinogens.

And here are tips for minimizing your radiation exposure from cell phones.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.