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IARC’s Mission: Cancer research for cancer prevention

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization.

The objective of IARC is to promote international collaboration in cancer research. The Agency is interdisciplinary, bringing together skills in epidemiology, laboratory sciences, and biostatistics to identify the causes of cancer so that preventive measures may be adopted and the burden of disease and associated suffering reduced. A significant feature of the Agency is its expertise in coordinating research across countries and organizations; its independent role as an international organization facilitates this activity. IARC has a particular interest in conducting research in low- and middle-income countries through partnerships and collaborations with researchers in these regions.

Causes and prevention of cancer

Emphasis is placed on elucidating the role of environmental and lifestyle risk factors and studying their interplay with genetic background in population-based studies and appropriate experimental models. This emphasis reflects the understanding that most cancers are, directly or indirectly, linked to environmental factors and therefore are preventable. The IARC Monographs programme is a core element of the Agency’s portfolio of activities, with international expert working groups evaluating the evidence of the carcinogenicity of specific exposures. The Agency is also committed to studying approaches for the early detection of cancer and in evaluating prevention strategies.

A global reference for cancer information

IARC has an important role in describing the burden of cancer worldwide, through cooperation with and assistance to cancer registries and in monitoring geographical variations and trends over time. Key publications include the Cancer Incidence in Five Continents series and GLOBOCAN.

The classification of human tumours as reported in the WHO Classification of Tumours series (also known as the “WHO Blue Books”) is an additional resource of value to cancer researchers and clinicians worldwide. In all cases the Agency strives to make its findings available to the widest possible audience.

Global cancer biobank

One of the products of IARC’s coordinating role is an increasingly important biobank, which currently has about 6 million biological samples from about 600 000 individuals. This resource enables the application of innovative laboratory-based methodologies to study the causes, early detection, and prevention of cancer through collaborative studies with many international partners.


A core part of the Agency’s mission is capacity-building of cancer researchers worldwide. This is achieved through fellowships, courses, and publications. Priority is given to training researchers from low- and middle-income countries in the areas of cancer epidemiology, cancer registration, and implementing cancer prevention and early detection.

Producing evidence-based science for global cancer control policies

The close working relationship between IARC and its parent organization, WHO, enables the Agency’s research findings to be translated effectively into timely policies for cancer control. This is evident, for example, in cooperation in terms of reduction in tobacco use, implementation of vaccination against viruses associated with cancer causation, or in assessing the effectiveness of intervention strategies. IARC is not involved directly in implementation of control measures, nor does it conduct research on treatment or care of patients with cancer.

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