Thanksgiving is here! Honoring the holiday spirit of gratitude, CAPHR is using this time to reflect and be thankful for all the everyday items that have not been banned following seriously flawed evaluations by the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) Monographs Program.
Whether it’s cell phones or drinking coffee, IARC has classified these everyday items and activities as carcinogenic to varying degrees, while other scientific organizations have come to the exact opposite conclusion. Let’s have a look at our list of the top five items that we’re thankful haven’t been banned as a result of IARC’s flawed classifications:
#1. Coffee: This universal pick-me-up is an essential ingredient for just about everyone’s morning routine. But in 1991, IARC classified coffee as “possibly carcinogenic” to humans based on “a weak positive relationship between coffee consumption and the occurrence of bladder cancer.” Fast forward a quarter of a century later, and IARC (sort of) admitted that its original determination was not accurate, and downgraded coffee to “not classifiable as carcinogenic to humans.” In the meantime, study after study has shown that coffee does not have a credible link to cancer, and can even be beneficial for your health. Despite this, IARC still hasn’t categorized coffee as “probably not carcinogenic to humans.” Thankfully, IARC’s determinations have not stopped Americans from enjoying a cup or two.
#2. Cell phones: Most people probably can’t imagine their lives without their smart phones – and the convenience they provide. So it’s no surprise that IARC’s Monograph 102, which concluded that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields such as those emitted by wireless phones are “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” caused a lot of unfounded fears. IARC already admitted it based its classification on just two studies. Furthermore, IARC admitted that one of those studies — its own Interphone study — had biases and errors that prevent a causal interpretation of its results. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization agree that studies have consistently demonstrated that radiofrequency does not pose a cancer risk, including studies in Environmental Health Perspectives and the British Medical Journal . There are currently an estimated five billion mobile phone users worldwide, yet there has been no uptick in brain cancer rates since the introduction of the technology. Fortunately, sound science is prevailing in this debate.
#3. Red meat: There’s nothing quite like biting into a good burger or steak. While IARC has declared that the all-American grilling favorite, red meat, is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, we continue to enjoy red meat. Though we don’t know exactly why IARC reached this determination (it has yet to release the Monograph more than a year and a half after the announcement was made), it is already in dispute. Among those pushing back on IARC’s announcement is (again) its own parent agency, the World Health Organization, which set the record straight by stating: “Meat provides a number of essential nutrients and, when consumed in moderation, has a place in a healthy diet.” Numerous studies have come to exactly the same conclusion. Again, IARC based its decision on “limited evidence” and did not take into account recent large cohort studies, which found no significant associations between eating red meat and cancer. We’re grateful that IARC is an outlier on this one.
#4. Night shifts: An estimated 15 million Americans, or 15 percent of the workforce, work at night. Many of the most common night shift occupations — such as nurses, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, police officers and air traffic controllers – are essential, often life-saving occupations. Again, based on extremely limited evidence, IARC found “exposure to light at night disturbs the circadian system with alterations of sleep-activity patterns, suppression of melatonin production, and deregulation of circadian genes involved in cancer-related pathways.” And again, numerous other studies have found that IARC’s determination is off base. For instance, a 2016 study by Oxford University — called “the largest of its kind,”— found no evidence that nightshift work leads to increased chances of developing breast cancer. We’re thankful that those who work the night shift are able to continue doing so – especially those whose job is to keep communities healthy and safe.
#5. Sunscreen: While it’s not exactly the season, it won’t be long before we’re reaching for our sunscreen bottles again. IARC has classified a key component of physical (mineral-based) sunscreen — titanium dioxide — as “possibly carcinogenic” to humans, despite the fact that they found “inadequate evidence in humans.” In fact, IARC based its decision on a small amount of evidence observed in rats, primarily due to excessive inhalation. This is something that’s unlikely to happen when you apply sunscreen on your skin, even in the case of spray-on sunscreen, if used as directed. Numerous experts have criticized IARC’s determination such as Warwick L. Morison, Professor of Dermatology at Johns Hopkins University and Steve Q. Wang Director of Dermatologic Surgery and Dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who said, “the evidence that sunscreens are safe and effective is overwhelming.” When summertime rolls around again, we’ll be thankful IARC didn’t make much headway on this one.
It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without these items – and in each case the science is overwhelming that they are not carcinogenic. So why is IARC always the outlier?
This Thanksgiving, we’re grateful for all the important things that haven’t been banned.