Preamble to the IARC Monographs


1. Background

Soon after IARC was established in 1965, it received frequent requests for advice on the carcinogenic risk of chemicals, including requests for lists of known and suspected human carcinogens. It was clear that it would not be a simple task to summarize adequately the complexity of the information that was available, and IARC began to consider means of obtaining international expert opinion on this topic. In 1970, the IARC Advisory Committee on Environmental Carcinogenesis recommended ‘ . . . that a compendium on carcinogenic chemicals be prepared by experts. The biological activity and evaluation of practical importance to public health should be referenced and documented.’ The IARC Governing Council adopted a resolution concerning the role of IARC in providing government authorities with expert, independent, scientific opinion on environmental carcinogenesis. As one means to that end, the Governing Council recommended that IARC should prepare monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risk of chemicals to man, which became the initial title of the series.

In the succeeding years, the scope of the programme broadened as Monographs were developed for groups of related chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical and biological agents and lifestyle factors. In 1988, the phrase ‘of chemicals’ was dropped from the title, which assumed its present form, IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans.

Through the Monographs programme, IARC seeks to identify the causes of human cancer. This is the first step in cancer prevention, which is needed as much today as when IARC was established. The global burden of cancer is high and continues to increase: the annual number of new cases was estimated at 10.1 million in 2000 and is expected to reach 15 million by 2020 (Stewart & Kleihues, 2003). With current trends in demographics and exposure, the cancer burden has been shifting from high-resource countries to low- and medium-resource countries. As a result of Monographs evaluations, national health agencies have been able, on scientific grounds, to take measures to reduce human exposure to carcinogens in the workplace and in the environment.

The criteria established in 1971 to evaluate carcinogenic risks to humans were adopted by the Working Groups whose deliberations resulted in the first 16 volumes of the Monographs series. Those criteria were subsequently updated by further ad-hoc Advisory Groups (IARC, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1988, 1991; Vainio et al., 1992; IARC, 2005, 2006).

The Preamble is primarily a statement of scientific principles, rather than a specification of working procedures. The procedures through which a Working Group implements these principles are not specified in detail. They usually involve operations that have been established as being effective during previous Monograph meetings but remain, predominantly, the prerogative of each individual Working Group.

Posted 23 January 2006