Key characteristics of carcinogens as a basis for organizing data on mechanisms of carcinogenesis

Martyn T. Smith, Kathryn Z. Guyton, Catherine F. Gibbons, Jason M. Fritz, Christopher J. Portier, Ivan Rusyn, David M. DeMarini, Jane C. Caldwell, Robert J. Kavlock, Paul F. Lambert, Stephen S. Hecht, John R. Bucher, Bernard W. Stewart, Robert A. Baan, Vincent J. Cogliano, Kurt Straif

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

444 Scopus citations


Background: A recent review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) updated the assessments of the > 100 agents classified as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans (IARC Monographs Volume 100, parts A–F). This exercise was complicated by the absence of a broadly accepted, systematic method for evaluating mechanistic data to support conclusions regarding human hazard from exposure to carcinogens. Objectives and Methods: IARC therefore convened two workshops in which an international Working Group of experts identified 10 key characteristics, one or more of which are commonly exhibited by established human carcinogens. Discussion: These characteristics provide the basis for an objective approach to identifying and organizing results from pertinent mechanistic studies. The 10 characteristics are the abilities of an agent to 1) act as an electrophile either directly or after metabolic activation; 2) be genotoxic; 3) alter DNA repair or cause genomic instability; 4) induce epigenetic alterations; 5) induce oxidative stress; 6) induce chronic inflammation; 7) be immunosuppressive; 8) modulate receptor- mediated effects; 9) cause immortalization; and 10) alter cell proliferation, cell death, or nutrient supply. Conclusion: We describe the use of the 10 key characteristics to conduct a systematic literature search focused on relevant end points and construct a graphical representation of the identified mechanistic information. Next, we use benzene and polychlorinated biphenyls as examples to illustrate how this approach may work in practice. The approach described is similar in many respects to those currently being implemented by the U.S. EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System Program and the U.S. National Toxicology Program.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)713-721
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2016

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© 2016, Public Health Services, US Dept of Health and Human Services. All rights reserved.


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