WHO accused of ‘failure’ on women’s work cancer

The UN’s top health and cancer agencies were accused in August 2023 of ‘institutional failure’ and of perpetuating the under-count of occupational cancers in women through “the publication of inaccurate statements about the adverse health effects of exposure to asbestos among females.”

A commentary in the Journal of Scientific Practice and Integrity by authors from universities in Italy, Germany, USA and Canada, notes that the most recent editions of the Classification of Tumours published by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) state that asbestos is rarely the cause of malignant mesothelioma (MM) – an aggressive and usually deadly cancer linked primarily to asbestos exposure – in females, “when, in fact, the epidemiologic literature shows that the risk of MM in females exposed to asbestos approaches that in males.

“While it is correct that the overall incidence of MM in females is lower than in males, the view that MM in females is not caused by asbestos is unsupported.

“This view results from an inadequate occupational history, the failure to recognise the importance of environmental exposures, and the misrepresentation of published literature by the selection of limited literature and biased bibliographies, often by authors with financial conflicting interests.”

They say despite “several fruitless attempts to correct the record” WHO has refused to amend the classification. They conclude the classification is “inconsistent with the published scientific literature, suggesting deliberate misrepresentation and raising the question of undisclosed COI [conflicts of interest] as a factor. The consequences in this case are dire for the females at risk, for their families, and for the public at large.”

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