International Agency for Research on Cancer

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International Agency for Research on Cancer
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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
AbbreviationIARC, CIRC
Formation20 May 1965;53 years ago (1965-05-20) [1]
Legal statusActive
Headquarters Lyon, France
Elisabete Weiderpass (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 role is to conduct and coordinate research into the causes of cancer. [2] It also collects and publishes surveillance data regarding the occurrence of cancer worldwide. [3]

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

World Health Organization Specialised agency of the United Nations

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established on 7 April 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO is a member of the United Nations Development Group. Its predecessor, the Health Organisation, was an agency of the League of Nations.

United Nations Intergovernmental organization

The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization that was tasked to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international co-operation and be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. The headquarters of the UN is in Manhattan, New York City, and is subject to extraterritoriality. Further main offices are situated in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development and upholding international law. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. In 24 October 1945, at the end of World War II, the organization was established with the aim of preventing future wars. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193. The UN is the successor of the ineffective League of Nations.


Its Monographs Programme identifies carcinogenic hazards and evaluates environmental causes of cancer in humans. [4] [5]

A monograph is a specialist work of writing on a single subject or an aspect of a subject, often by a single author, and usually on a scholarly subject.

A hazard is an agent which has the potential to cause harm to a vulnerable target. The terms "hazard" and "risk" are often used interchangeably. However, in terms of risk assessment, they are two very distinct terms. A hazard is any agent that can cause harm or damage to humans, property, or the environment. Risk is defined as the probability that exposure to a hazard will lead to a negative consequence, or more simply, a hazard poses no risk if there is no exposure to that hazard.

A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that promotes carcinogenesis, the formation of cancer. This may be due to the ability to damage the genome or to the disruption of cellular metabolic processes. Several radioactive substances are considered carcinogens, but their carcinogenic activity is attributed to the radiation, for example gamma rays and alpha particles, which they emit. Common examples of non-radioactive carcinogens are inhaled asbestos, certain dioxins, and tobacco smoke. Although the public generally associates carcinogenicity with synthetic chemicals, it is equally likely to arise in both natural and synthetic substances. Carcinogens are not necessarily immediately toxic; thus, their effect can be insidious.

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. [2] Today, IARC's membership has grown to 25 countries.


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  [ fr ], Jean Rostand, François Mauriac, Antoine Lacassagne  [ fr ], Ambroise-Marie Carré and Le Corbusier, to reach for French president Charles de Gaulle [6] 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. [2] The Agency's headquarters building was provided by its host in Lyon, France. [7]

Mouvement de la Paix organization

The Mouvement de la Paix is an organisation which promotes a culture of peace initiated by the United Nations. The movement was created in the aftermath of the Second World War by the large resistance movements, particularly those associated with communists, Christians and free-thinkers, and was linked directly to the Mouvement mondial des partisans de la paix whose aim was to struggle for peace.

Emmanuel dAstier de La Vigerie French journalist, politician and member of the French Resistance

Emmanuel d'Astier de La Vigerie was a French journalist, politician and member of the French Resistance.

Pierre Victor Auger French physicist

Pierre Victor Auger was a French physicist, born in Paris. He worked in the fields of atomic physics, nuclear physics, and cosmic ray physics. He is famous for being one of the discoverers of the Auger effect, named after him.

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).

Lorenzo Tomatis Italian oncologist

Lorenzo (Renzo) Tomatis was an Italian physician and experimental oncologist. He is best remembered as the Director from 1982 until 1993 of the prestigious International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon - (IARC), which evaluates and provides guidelines on the effects of chemical or physical carcinogens. During his tenure at IARC, Tomatis led the effort to create the IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risk to Humans, a critical tool for the primary prevention of cancer, and IARC's most famous product.

Peter Boyle (epidemiologist) British epidemiologist

Peter Boyle, FRSE FFPH FRCPS(Glas) FRCP(Edin) FMedSci, is a British epidemiologist. He has done research on globalisation of cancer, where he has shown the dramatic increase of cancer in low- and medium income countries.


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. [8] [9]

IARC identifies carcinogenic hazard based on qualitative assessment of animal and human evidence. [10] 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. [11] 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. [12]

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. [11]

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 andstrong 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. [11]

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 issupporting 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. [11]

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 exposures are widespread or the cancer data are consistent with differing interpretations. [11]

As of 29 March 2018, 50% of all substances analyzed by IARC fall into this category. [13]

There is evidence suggestinglack 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. [11] Only one substance – caprolactam – falls into this category as of April 2018. [13]


Transparency (1998–2004)

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" [14] in a 2002 article. [15] In 2003 thirty public-health scientists signed a letter targeting conflicts of interest and the lack of transparency. [14] 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. [14]

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. [14] 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. [14]

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, [16] as "probably carcinogenic to humans" (Group 2A). [17] [18]

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. [16] California put glyphosate on its list of unsafe chemicals.[ citation needed ] 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. [19]

Since the publishing, IARC claimed it has suffered unprecedented large-scale attacks on its reputation from the agro-chemical industry. [20]

Industry reactions

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." [21]

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. [16]

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. [21] 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. [22] 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. [22] Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz argued that the IARC is too prone to conclude that substances are carcinogenic.[ citation needed ] 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." [16] [22] 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. [21]

Further attacks on Monographs methodology and other findings

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". [23] [24] [25]

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). [26] Ed Yong, a British science journalist, criticized the agency and its "confusing" category system for misleading the public. [27] 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. [28]

Some of the items that the IARC classifies, such as mobile phones (Group 2B) and processed meat (Group 1) have caused controversy. [16]


The five founding states were the US, France, Italy, West Germany and the UK.

They were later joined by 21 other members, of which 2 left :

Australia September 1965GC/1/R1
USSR then Russia September 1965GC/1/R2
Israel April 1966GC/2/R1October 1971GC/9/R11
Netherlands April 1967GC/3/R1
Belgium October 1970GC/8/R10
Japan May 1972GC/10/R1
Sweden May 1979GC/18/R1
Canada January 1982GC/22/R1
Finland April 1986GC/27/R1
Norway April 1987GC/28/R1
Denmark May 1990GC/31/R1
Switzerland May 1990GC/31/R2
Argentina May 1998GC/39/R1May 2001GC/42/R3
Brazil May 1998GC/39/R2May 2001GC/42/R4
Spain May 2003GC/44/R1
India May 2006GC/48/R1
South Korea May 2006GC/48/R2
Ireland May 2007GC/49/R2
Austria May 2008GC/50/R18
Brazil May 2013GC/55/17
Qatar May 2013GC/55/19
Morocco May 2015GC/57/19

See also

Related Research Articles

Roundup is the brand name of a systemic, broad-spectrum glyphosate-based herbicide originally produced by Monsanto, which Bayer acquired in 2018. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the United States. As of 2009, sales of Roundup herbicides still represented about 10 percent of Monsanto's revenue despite competition from Chinese producers of other glyphosate-based herbicides. The overall Roundup line of products, which includes genetically modified seeds, represented about half of Monsanto's yearly revenue.

Glyphosate Broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant. It is an organophosphorus compound, specifically a phosphonate, which acts by inhibiting the plant enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase. It is used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with crops. It was discovered to be an herbicide by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970. Monsanto brought it to market for agricultural use in 1974 under the trade name Roundup. Monsanto's last commercially relevant United States patent expired in 2000.

Carbon black chemical compound

Carbon black is a material produced by the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products such as FCC tar, coal tar, or ethylene cracking tar. Carbon black is a form of paracrystalline carbon that has a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, albeit lower than that of activated carbon. It is dissimilar to soot in its much higher surface-area-to-volume ratio and significantly lower polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) content. However, carbon black is widely used as a model compound for diesel soot for diesel oxidation experiments. Carbon black is mainly used as a reinforcing filler in tires and other rubber products. In plastics, paints, and inks, carbon black is used as a color pigment.

Cocamide DEA, or cocamide diethanolamine, is a diethanolamide made by reacting the mixture of fatty acids from coconut oils with diethanolamine. It is a viscous liquid and is used as a foaming agent in bath products like shampoos and hand soaps, and in cosmetics as an emulsifying agent. See cocamide for the discussion of the lengths of carbon chains in the molecules in the mixture. The chemical formula of individual components is CH3(CH2)nC(=O)N(CH2CH2OH)2, where n typically ranges from 8 to 18.

Processed meat

Processed meat is considered to be any meat which has been modified in order either to improve its taste or to extend its shelf life. Methods of meat processing include salting, curing, fermentation, and smoking. Processed meat is usually composed of pork or beef, but also poultry, while it can also contain offal or meat by-products such as blood. Processed meat products include bacon, ham, sausages, salami, corned beef, jerky, canned meat and meat-based sauces. Meat processing includes all the processes that change fresh meat with the exception of simple mechanical processes such as cutting, grinding or mixing.

Diethyl sulfate chemical compound

Diethyl sulfate is a highly toxic and likely carcinogenic chemical compound with formula (C2H5)2SO4. It occurs as a colorless, oily liquid with a faint peppermint odor and is corrosive.

<i>N</i>-Nitrosonornicotine group of stereoisomers

N-Nitrosonornicotine (NNN) is a tobacco-specific nitrosamine produced during the curing and processing of tobacco. It has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen. Although no adequate studies of the relationship between exposure to NNN and human cancer have been reported, there is sufficient evidence that NNN causes cancer in experimental animals.

Arecoline chemical compound

Arecoline is a nicotinic acid-based alkaloid found in the areca nut, the fruit of the areca palm. It is an odourless oily liquid.

Doxefazepam chemical compound

Doxefazepam is a benzodiazepine medication It possesses anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, sedative and skeletal muscle relaxant properties. It is used therapeutically as a hypnotic. According to Babbini and colleagues in 1975, this derivative of flurazepam was between 2 and 4 times more potent than the latter while at the same time being half as toxic in laboratory animals.

Furylfuramide chemical compound

Furylfuramide is a synthetic nitrofuran derivative which was widely used as a food preservative in Japan since at least 1965, but withdrawn from the market in 1974 when it was observed to be mutagenic to bacteria in vitro and thus suspected of carcinogenicity. This was confirmed later when animal testing found it to cause benign and malignant tumors in the mammary glands, stomachs, esophagi, and lungs of rodents of both sexes, although insufficient evidence exists in human exposure.

Chlorozotocin chemical compound

Chlorozotocin is a nitrosourea. It is used for cancer therapy.

A co-carcinogen is a chemical that promotes the effects of a carcinogen in the production of cancer. Usually, the term is used to refer to chemicals that are not carcinogenic on their own, such that an equivalent amount of the chemical is insufficient to initiate carcinogenesis. A chemical can be co-carcinogenic with other chemicals or with nonchemical carcinogens, such as UV radiation.

2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid Herbicide

2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (usually called 2,4-D) is an organic compound with the chemical formula C8H6Cl2O3. It is a systemic herbicide which selectively kills most broadleaf weeds by causing uncontrolled growth in them, but leaves most grasses such as cereals, lawn turf, and grassland relatively unaffected.

2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo(4,5-b)pyridine chemical compound

PhIP (2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine) is one of the most abundant heterocyclic amines (HCAs) in cooked meat. PhIP is formed at high temperatures from the reaction between creatine or creatinine, amino acids, and sugar. PhIP formation increases with the temperature and duration of cooking and also depends on the method of cooking and the variety of meat being cooked. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program has declared PhIP as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen". International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of World Health Organization, has classified PhIP as IARC Group 2B carcinogen. There is sufficient evidence in experimental animals, as well as in vitro models, for the carcinogenicity of PhIP.

Glyphosate-based herbicides are usually made of a glyphosate salt that is combined with other ingredients that are needed to stabilize the herbicide formula and allow penetration into plants. The glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup was first developed by Monsanto in the 1970s. It is used most heavily on corn, soy, and cotton crops that have been genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide. Some products include two active ingredients, such as Enlist Duo which includes 2,4-D as well as glyphosate. As of 2010, more than 750 glyphosate products were on the market. The names of inert ingredients used in glyphosate formulations are usually not listed on the product labels.


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Coordinates: 45°44′37″N4°52′34″E / 45.7435°N 4.8761°E / 45.7435; 4.8761