BACKGROUND: Recently the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Programme for the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans has been criticized for several of its evaluations, and also the approach used to perform these evaluations. Some critics have claimed that IARC Working Groups' failures to recognize study weaknesses and biases of Working Group members have led to inappropriate classification of a number of agents as carcinogenic to humans.
OBJECTIVES: The authors of this paper are scientists from various disciplines relevant to the identification and hazard evaluation of human carcinogens. We have examined here criticisms of the IARC classification process to determine the validity of these concerns. We review the history of IARC evaluations and describe how the IARC evaluations are performed.
DISCUSSION: We conclude that these recent criticisms are unconvincing. The procedures employed by IARC to assemble Working Groups of scientists from the various discipline and the techniques followed to review the literature and perform hazard assessment of various agents provide a balanced evaluation and an appropriate indication of the weight of the evidence. Some disagreement by individual scientists to some evaluations is not evidence of process failure. The review process has been modified over time and will undoubtedly be altered in the future to improve the process. Any process can in theory be improved, and we would support continued review and improvement of the IARC processes. This does not mean, however, that the current procedures are flawed.
CONCLUSIONS: The IARC Monographs have made, and continue to make, major contributions to the scientific underpinning for societal actions to improve the public's health.