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International Agency for Cancer Research

Twenty-seven scientists from eight countries met at the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, last month to reevaluate substances, including asbestos, suspected of being carcinogenic to humans. IARC is an intergovernmental agency whose mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of cancer in humans. IARC conducts epidemiological and laboratory research and disseminates scientific information through a series of monographs on the cancer risks to humans posed by a variety of agents.

IARC reconfirmed that all forms of asbestos cause lung cancer and mesothelioma and decided there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes laryngeal cancer and ovarian cancer. Additionally, there is limited evidence that asbestos is involved in colorectal cancer, as well as cancers of the pharynx and the stomach. Minerals such as talc and vermiculite that are frequently contaminated with asbestos were also regarded as “carcinogenic to humans.”

According to IARC, “Identifying the causes of human cancer is the first step in cancer prevention. National and international health agencies can then take action to reduce avoidable exposures to cancer-causing agents. Individuals, too, can use this information to make better choices that reduce their exposure to carcinogens and their risk of developing cancer.

“Differences in cancer incidences in developed and developing countries suggest that many kinds of agents can contribute to the occurrence of cancer. These include chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, lifestyle factors, and physical and biological agents. Scientific advice that is credible, authoritative, and impartial can greatly aid efforts to reduce the global burden of cancer.”

The review of human carcinogens will be published as Part C of Volume 100 of the IARC monographs.

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