International Agency for Research on Cancer

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International Agency for Research on Cancer
International Agency for Research on Cancer
Emblem of the United Nations.svg
International Centre for Research on Cancer (IARC) Headquarters Exterior.jpg
Exterior of the main building of the headquarters for the International Agency of Research on Cancer
Abbreviation IARC, CIRC
Formation 20 May 1965 (1965-05-20)[1]
Type Agency
Legal status Active
Headquarters Lyon, France
Christopher Wild (director)
Parent organization
World Health Organization

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC; French: Centre international de Recherche sur le Cancer, CIRC) is an intergovernmental agency forming part of the World Health Organization of the United Nations.

Its main offices are in Lyon, France. Its role is to conduct and coordinate research into the causes of cancer. It also collects and publishes surveillance data regarding the occurrence of cancer worldwide.[2] It maintains a series of monographs on the carcinogenic risks to humans posed by a variety of agents, mixtures and exposures.[3] Following its inception, IARC received numerous requests for lists of known and suspected human carcinogens. In 1970, the IARC Advisory Committee recommended that expert groups prepare a compendium on carcinogenic chemicals, and it began publishing its monographs series with this aim in mind.[4]

On 26 October 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization reported that consumption of processed meat (such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausages) was a Class 1 carcinogen, and that red meat was a Class 2A carcinogen ("probably carcinogenic to humans").[5][6][7]

IARC categories[edit]

The IARC categorizes agents, mixtures and exposures into five categories. Note that the classification is based only on the strength of evidence for carcinogenicity, not on the relative increase of cancer risk due to exposure, or on the amount of exposure necessary to cause cancer. For example, a substance that only very slightly increases the likelihood of cancer and only after long-term exposure to large doses, but the evidence for that slight increase is strong, would be placed in Group 1 even though it does not pose a significant risk in normal use.[8]

  • Group 1: carcinogenic to humans: There is enough evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans.
  • Group 2A: probably carcinogenic to humans: There is strong evidence that it can cause cancer in humans, but at present it is not conclusive.
  • Group 2B: possibly carcinogenic to humans: There is some evidence that it can cause cancer in humans but at present it is far from conclusive.
  • Group 3: not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans: There is no evidence at present that it causes cancer in humans.
  • Group 4: probably not carcinogenic to humans: There is strong evidence that it does not cause cancer in humans. Only one substance – caprolactam – has been both assessed for carcinogenicity by the IARC and placed in this category.

Industry influence and transparency (1998–2004)[edit]

Critics of the IARC have stated that it has become susceptible to industry influence and suffers from a lack of transparency. Lorenzo Tomatis, its director from 1982 to 1993, was "barred from entering the building" in 2003 after "accusing the IARC of softpedaling the risks of industrial chemicals"[9] in a 2002 article.[10] In 2003 thirty public-health scientists signed a letter targeting conflicts of interest and the lack of transparency.[9] The IARC rejected these criticisms, and there was hope that the controversy would "die down" after Paul Kleihues (Director from 1994) retired in 2004 and Peter Boyle became the new director, followed by Christopher Wild since 2009.[9]

Tomatis focused on the IARC monographs which rate chemical's carcinogenicity, and cited several cases in his 2002 critique. In 1998 a panel voted 17-13 to rate 1,3-butadiene a carcinogen. A second vote which Tomatis called "highly irregular" occurred after "industry observers schmoozed with the panelists and one panelist left the meeting", and a 15-14 vote downgraded the chemical to a "possible carcinogen".[9] Joan Denton, director of California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, made accusations in relation to styrene in 2002,[9] and Michael Jacobsen of the Center for Science in the Public Interest criticized the inclusion of industry observers in a saccharin panel, who were allowed to vote.[9] Tomatis has also highlighted Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate.[11] In defense of the IARC, Kleihues noted that only 17 of 410 of the working-group participants were consultants to industry and these people never served as chairs. He said that "people who receive funds from affected agencies do not vote", and further noted that industry-funded scientists are important because industry often funds studies.[9]

IARC's secrecy led a Lancet Oncology editorial to warn of the agency's eroding reputation. As of 2003 the IARC did not release details of disputed votes, did not release the financial disclosure forms required of panelists, or the names of the panelists until the panel is complete. Individuals being considered for the new director are released only to representatives from the sixteen member countries. Kleihues and other agency officials defend the IARC, with Kleihues noting that procedures and names are listed on the finished monographs, and said names are not released to avoid political pressures. The IARC was considering new transparency disclosures such as a "narrative" explaining disputed votes.[9]


Ed Yong,a British science journalist, has criticized the agency and its "confusing" category system for misleading the public.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Resolution WHA18.44 of the World Health Assembly on 20 May 1965.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Staff (26 October 2015). "World Health Organization - IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat" (PDF). International Agency for Research on Cancer. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Hauser, Christine (26 October 2015). "W.H.O. Report Links Some Cancers With Processed or Red Meat". New York Times. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Staff (26 October 2015). "Processed meats do cause cancer - WHO". BBC News. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  8. ^ "<<Introduction>>". International Programme on Chemical Safety. January 1999. Retrieved 2010-05-16. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Ferber D (July 2003). "Carcinogens. Lashed by critics, WHO's cancer agency begins a new regime". Science. 301 (5629): 36–7. doi:10.1126/science.301.5629.36. PMID 12843372. 
  10. ^ Tomatis L (2002). "The IARC monographs program: changing attitudes towards public health". Int J Occup Environ Health. 8 (2): 144–52. doi:10.1179/107735202800338993. PMID 12019681. 
  11. ^ CBC Markeplace. (2003). Controversy at IARC.
  12. ^ Ed Yong (26 October 2015). "Why is the World Health Organization so bad at communicating cancer risk?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°44′37″N 4°52′34″E / 45.7435°N 4.8761°E / 45.7435; 4.8761