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Cell phone cancer scare on Larry King Live

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The Cancer Letter (subscription required) does its usual excellent job in reporting on the latest network TV free-for-all on cell phones and cancer. Excerpts:

“A teaser for the Larry King Live news show July 29 got to the quintessence of the scientific controversy over cell phones:

“A prominent cancer researcher says, ‘Put down that phone right now, if you want to reduce the risk of cancer!’â€?

CNN cell phone.png

The researcher in the spotlight was none other than Ronald Herberman, a respected immunologist and founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

A week earlier, Herberman stunned his colleagues by sending out an e-mail blast to his cancer center’s 3,000 employees, urging them to limit their exposure to cell phones. This exploded into an international story: director of an NCI-designated cancer center sounds alarm over dangerous occupational exposure.

Meanwhile, Herberman’s peers—including current and former directors of comprehensive cancer centers—say privately that they are watching with considerable surprise as the formerly cautious, conservative immunologist is staking his well-deserved, hard-earned prestige on a cause where data have been weak and findings cherry-picked.

“This whole thing makes no sense to me,â€? said one prominent researcher. “What was the urgency?â€? asked another peer. Scientists who know Herberman only by his publications were equally surprised. “I can’t help but wonder just what on earth Dr. Herberman was smoking when he decided to issue this warning,â€? David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, wrote on a quackbusters’ blog called Science-Based Medicine. “Scaring the nation based on ‘early unpublished data’ that can’t be examined by the entire medical and scientific community is generally not a good idea. That’s why I’ve been asking over the last few days: Why on earth did Dr. Herberman do it?â€?

Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, was similarly surprised. “I am afraid that if we pull the fire alarm, scaring people unnecessarily, and actually diverting their attention from things that they should be doing, then when we do pull the fire alarm for a public health emergency, we won’t have the credibility for them to listen to us,â€? Brawley said on the CNN show.”

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Kristine

August 4, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Why wait until people have the cancer before they get warned. This sounds like the “cigarettes don’t cause cancer” cry.