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Carcinogen Assessment Groups


Of the perhaps 70,000 chemicals in commerce, only a few dozen are known to cause cancer in humans. Many others are strongly suspected, but unproven, of being capable of causing human cancer. Public concern about cancer has led national and international scientific groups to be chartered to evaluate the cancer-causing potential of chemical and physical agents. These groups include the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization, and the U.S. National Toxicology Program, which is administered by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Although differing in details, these scientific bodies use what is known as a "weight of evidence" approach to identify those agents that have the specific capability of causing cancer. In this approach, scientific groups review the evidence and then assign each chemical or physical agent to a category that roughly corresponds to possible, probable, or known human carcinogens, or negative or no evidence of human cancer-causing capabilities. Certain carcinogen assessment groups, such as that of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, go beyond the hazard identification step to also evaluate the potency of the chemical in causing cancer. This permits a numerical prediction of the risk of cancer from a specific level of exposure.

Bernard D. Goldstein

(see also: Carcinogen; Carcinogenesis; Environmental Protection Agency; National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences; Risk Assessment, Risk Management; World Health Organization )


International Agency for Research on Cancer (2000). Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Geneva: Author.

National Toxicology Program (2000). Report on Carcinogens, 9th edition. Research Triangle Park, NC: Author.

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