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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soundoff (168 Responses)
  1. james mcmahon

    Everything causes cancer of course, its about probability of damaging a cell and still having it capable of reproducing itself and not functioning as per normal. So, the more you have of anything raises the probability of getting cancer from it, the ratio of what is needed to achieve this accidental misconnect is staggering and ridiculous in most cases. Which leads me to be NOT concerned about it or else I would have to fear everything, which is in itself absolutely ridiculous, consuming and distracting.

    June 3, 2011 at 08:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wzrd1

      People have been drinking coffee for over 1000 years. People have been eating pickles for at least 100000 years.
      It's a shame that humanity became extinct from its food and drink. That species showed a bit of promise.

      June 3, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse |
  2. John B

    Now is the time to PANIC!

    ...can't sleep, radio waves will kill me...

    June 3, 2011 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. james mcmahon

    Yes, we are too busy defending ourselves from cancer to do anything else. Everyone needs to take prozac, but that will eventually give you cancer too. Maybe I should up the dosage.

    June 3, 2011 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Odalice Feliz

    Coffee can be good for something but harm something else.

    June 3, 2011 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dr. Paul G. Pagnini

    When talking about such a serious issue as whether or not cell phone use may possibly cause brain tumors it is imperative that we stick to the facts and do not overstate them. The IARC panel has not yet published its rationale for its recent decision. The publication is scheduled for July 1, 2011 in Lancet. We do know that they reviewed the literature to date, including 4 studies that have not yet been published, but have been accepted for publication in peer reviewed journals. The highly mentioned 40% increased “risk” of developing a glioma in heavy, long term users, comes from the controversial Interphone study published a year ago. The authors of this study conceded that statistical Biases and errors limit the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn from these analyses and prevent a causal interpretation. In fact it was the publication of this study one year ago that prompted both the WHO and the FDA to declare that there was no definitive link to the use of cell phones and the development of brain tumors. Why this weak data is now the cornerstone of the recent WHO announcement is unclear. What is known is that at least four of the authors of this 10-year, 25 million Euro, controversial trial, were also members of this WHO panel. You do the math.

    June 3, 2011 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Countryboy

    http://WWW.CDBABY.COM/ALL/NUMONE buy now! No justice its just us!

    June 4, 2011 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Kinopop

    What a pathetic response by CNN, it is seriously childish.
    Please people, use your OWN common sense and reasoning. Find out WHY
    these items are said to cause cancer, when they were put in the WHO's carcinogen
    list, and the general context.
    Your answers are there, and it really doesn't take a Chemistry degree to see the
    truth behind the swirling hearsay.

    June 5, 2011 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rebecca

    I think you read the part wrong about coffee possibly causing large bowel cancer. It said urinary and bladder were the risks, and that coffee had an INVERSE relationship with bowel cancer, meaning it possibly prevents it.

    June 24, 2011 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DaveNYUSA

      Rebecca: Do you have more than one size bowel?

      June 28, 2011 at 01:23 | Report abuse |
  9. Floyd

    I'd guess the dyed cookies on the coffee saucer shown above have way more likelihood of causing cancer than coffee.

    June 25, 2011 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. telson

    Cancer is one of the most typical diseases in the Western countries. Its seriousness is seen in many countries where as many as every third person dies of it, and it is the second most common cause of death immediately after the cardiovascular diseases. Especially cancer of the lungs has become very common, and for example in the United States, it takes more victims than any other type of cancer.

    More info;


    June 28, 2011 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. DaveNYUSA

    Is there anything that DOESN'T "possibly" cause cancer? If you shove enough of CNN's crap down a mouse's throat, that will probably cause a tumor, as well as anything else.

    June 28, 2011 at 01:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 1, 2011 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Buj

    Some people in the scientific community think there was enough evidence for radio frequency electromagnetic radiation to be classified as a known carcinogen decades ago. e.g. http://hdl.handle.net/10182/3952

    March 7, 2012 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
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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.