International Agency for Research on Cancer
Exterior of the main building of the headquarters for the International Agency of Research on Cancer
|Formation||20 May 1965|
|Elisabete Weiderpass (director)|
|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.
On 20 March 2015, IARC announced it evaluated the hazard of the herbicide glyphosate to be "probably carcinogenic to humans". This sparked an ongoing controversies in several countries which subsequently reassessed the risks associated with exposure to the substance through diet. Since the publishing, the agency claimed to have been the target of misinformation practices from the industry and media outlets such as Reuters.
IARC has its own Governing Council, and in 1965 the first members were the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Today, IARC's membership has grown to 25 countries.
The first IARC Director was John Higginson (1966–1981), who was followed by Lorenzo Tomatis (1982–1993), Paul Kleihues (1994–2003), Peter Boyle (2004–2008), Christopher Wild (2009–2018) and Elisabete Weiderpass (2019–present).
In late February 1963, after he spectated his spouse suffering and dying of cancer, journalist and peace activist Yves Poggioli sent a letter to Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vignerie relating his story, and urging support for the creation of an international center to fight against cancer, whose funding where to be directly debited from the national budgets allocated to nuclear weaponry. Touched by the letter, d'Astier assembled a group of French prominent figures, among which Pierre Auger, Francis Perrin, Jean Hyppolite, François Perroux, Pierre Massé, Louis Armand, François Bloch-Lainé, Jean Rostand, François Mauriac, Antoine Lacassagne, Ambroise-Marie Carré and Le Corbusier, to reach for French president Charles de Gaulle in national newspaper Le Monde on the 8 November 1963. de Gaulle answered positively to the call and reached for the World Health Organization director M. G. Candeau on the 11 November. The project rapidly gained momentum, and IARC was created on 20 May 1965, by a resolution of the World Health Assembly, as the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization. The Agency's headquarters building was provided by its host in Lyon, France.
In 1970, after IARC received numerous requests for lists of known and suspected human carcinogens, its Advisory Committee recommended that expert groups prepare a compendium on carcinogenic chemicals, which began publishing monographs series with this aim in mind.
IARC identifies carcinogenic hazard based on qualitative assessment of animal and human evidence. The IARC Working Groups classify agents, mixtures and exposures into one of five categories. The categorization is a matter of scientific judgement that reflects the strength of evidence derived from studies in humans, experimental animals and other relevant data. 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 agent exposure necessary to cause cancer.
- Group 1 : The agent is carcinogenic to humans.
There is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. Exceptionally, an agent (or mixture) may be placed in this category if there is less than sufficient evidence in humans, but sufficient evidence in experimental animals and strong evidence in exposed humans that the agent acts through a relevant mechanism of carcinogenicity.
- Group 2A : The agent is probably carcinogenic to humans.
There is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence in experimental animals. Occasionally, an agent (or mixture) may be classified here when there is inadequate evidence in humans but sufficient evidence in experimental animals and strong evidence that the carcinogenesis is mediated by a mechanism that also operates in humans. Exceptionally, an agent (or mixture) may solely be classified under this category if there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans, but if it clearly belongs to this category based on mechanistic considerations.
- Group 2B: The agent is possibly carcinogenic to humans.
There is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence in experimental animals. It may also be used if there is inadequate evidence in humans but sufficient evidence in experimental animals. Occasionally, an agent (or mixture) may be placed in group 2B if there is inadequate evidence in humans and less than sufficient evidence in experimental animals but there is supporting evidence of carcinogenicity from mechanistic and other relevant data. An agent or a mixture may also be classified in this category solely on the basis of strong evidence of carcinogenicity from mechanistic and other relevant data.
- Group 3 : The agent is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.
The evidence is inadequate in humans and inadequate or limited in experimental animals. Exceptionally, agents (or mixtures) where evidence is inadequate in humans but sufficient in experimental animals may be placed in this category only if there is strong evidence that the mechanism of carcinogenicity in experimental animals does not operate in humans.
Substances that do not fall into any other group are placed in this category. This is not a determination of non-carcinogenicity or overall safety. It means that further research is needed, especially when exposurs are widespread or the cancer data are consistent with differing interpretations.
As of 29 March 2018, 50% of all substances analyzed by IARC fall into this category.
- Group 4 : The agent is probably not carcinogenic to humans.
There is evidence suggesting lack of carcinogenicity in humans and in experimental animals. In some instances, agents or mixtures for which there is inadequate evidence in humans but evidence suggesting lack of carcinogenicity in experimental animals, consistently and strongly supported by a broad range of mechanistic and other relevant data may be classified group 4. Only one substance – caprolactam – falls into this category as of April 2018.
Lorenzo Tomatis, IARC director from 1982 to 1993, was allegedly "barred from entering the building" in 2003 after "accusing the IARC of softpedaling the risks of industrial chemicals" in a 2002 article. In 2003 thirty public-health scientists signed a letter targeting conflicts of interest and the lack of transparency. Tomatis accused the IARC of "highly irregular" voting procedures, alleging industrial interferences, and called for the agency to publish voting procedures and names in details for independent scrutiny.
The IARC rejected these criticisms, highlighting that only 17 of 410 of the working-group participants were consultants to industry and these people never served as chairs, nor were allowed to vote. The reason the details of the voting names were not published was to avoid political pressures on the participating Working Group scientists, and to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
Glyphosate Monograph (2015–2018)
On 20 March 2015, IARC classified glyphosate, the most widely used weed killing substance in the world sold under the brand name of Roundup by Monsanto, as "probably carcinogenic to humans" (Group 2A).
Subsequently, many national regulatory authorities underwent a reevaluation of the risk posed by the exposure to glyphosate. Regulators in Europe (ECHA, EFSA), Canada, Japan and New Zealand reported that the glyphosate was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to humans. California put glyphosate on its list of unsafe chemicals. In September 2016 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew a report that it had initially stamped as "final", a report that had said that glyphosate was not a carcinogen.
Since the publishing, IARC claimed it has suffered unprecedented large-scale attacks on its reputation from the agro-chemical industry.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the trade group for U.S. chemical companies, declared that IARC evaluates how hazardous a substance is based on whether the substance could "cause cancer in humans under any circumstances, including at exposure levels beyond what is typical."
The Royal Society of Chemistry in Britain opposed IARC's "outdated hazard-based assessments" model. The industrial scientists suggested the IARC to update its methodology to the principles and concepts of what they regard as the "existing international consensus-based frameworks" such as the framework used by the World Health Organization International Programme on Chemical Safety.
U.S. Congressional reactions
In early 2016, members of the scientific panel that reviewed glyphosate in 2015 were issued legal requests in the U.S. related to their work. In April 2016, internal IARC officials told its experts to not release documents or comply with the legal requests related to its review of glyphosate.
In the fall of 2016, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a briefing to ask officials from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about NIH's grant funding to the IARC. The NIH grant database showed that it has given the IARC over $1.2 million in 2016. Chaffetz asked the NIH to give his committee details of its standards for awarding grants and vetting grant nominees.
Additionally, Congressman Robert Aderholt (Republican), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, wrote a letter in June 2016 to the head of the NIH questioning the funding of IARC.
Further attacks on Monographs methodology and other findings
Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz argued that the IARC is too prone to conclude that substances are carcinogenic. However, IARC respond that the Working Groups methods are "widely respected for their scientific rigor, standardized and transparent process and for freedom from conflicts of interest." Director of IARC Chris Wild further added that the IARC only chooses substances to evaluate from which there already exists a body of scientific literature that says there is a carcinogenic risk to humans. Wild said that because IARC does not select substances at random, it has a low rate of determining a substance as not being cancer-causing.
On 26 October 2015, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat and classified the consumption of red meat as "probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A)", mainly related to colorectal cancer, and to pancreatic and prostate cancer. It also evaluated processed meat to be "carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)", due to "sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer".
Marcel Kuntz, a French director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, criticized the classification because it didn't assess the risks associated with exposure (probability of getting a cancer from certain exposure). Ed Yong, a British science journalist, criticized the agency and its "confusing" category system for misleading the public. IARC answered in a press release their mission was not to evaluate potency or to assess the risks but only to determine scientifically the strength of carcinogenetic evidence of glyphosate.
Some of the items that the IARC classifies, such as mobile phones (Group 2B) and processed meat (Group 1) have caused controversy.
They were later joined by 21 other members, of which 2 left :
|USSR then Russia||September 1965||GC/1/R2|
|Israël||April 1966||GC/2/R1||October 1971||GC/9/R11|
|Argentina||May 1998||GC/39/R1||May 2001||GC/42/R3|
|Brazil||May 1998||GC/39/R2||May 2001||GC/42/R4|
|South Korea||May 2006||GC/48/R2|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to International Agency for Research on Cancer.|
- Air pollution
- European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC)
- National Cancer Institute (US)
- World Health Organization
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