Improving the International Agency for Research on Cancer's consideration of mechanistic evidence

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The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently developed a framework for evaluating mechanistic evidence that includes a list of 10 key characteristics of carcinogens. This framework is useful for identifying and organizing large bodies of literature on carcinogenic mechanisms, but it lacks sufficient guidance for conducting evaluations that fully integrate mechanistic evidence into hazard assessments.


We summarize the framework, and suggest approaches to strengthen the evaluation of mechanistic evidence using this framework.


While the framework is useful for organizing mechanistic evidence, its lack of guidance for implementation limits its utility for understanding human carcinogenic potential. Specifically, it does not include explicit guidance for evaluating the biological significance of mechanistic endpoints, inter- and intra-individual variability, or study quality and relevance. It also does not explicitly address how mechanistic evidence should be integrated with other realms of evidence. Because mechanistic evidence is critical to understanding human cancer hazards, we recommend that IARC develop transparent and systematic guidelines for the use of this framework so that mechanistic evidence will be evaluated and integrated in a robust manner, and concurrently with other realms of evidence, to reach a final human cancer hazard conclusion.


IARC does not currently provide a standardized approach to evaluating mechanistic evidence. Incorporating the recommendations discussed here will make IARC analyses of mechanistic evidence more transparent, and lead to assessments of cancer hazards that reflect the weight of the scientific evidence and allow for scientifically defensible decision-making.

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