• Linear extrapolation;
  • MOE;
  • probabilistic risk assessment;
  • uncertainty analysis

Current methods for cancer risk assessment result in single values, without any quantitative information on the uncertainties in these values. Therefore, single risk values could easily be overinterpreted. In this study, we discuss a full probabilistic cancer risk assessment approach in which all the generally recognized uncertainties in both exposure and hazard assessment are quantitatively characterized and probabilistically evaluated, resulting in a confidence interval for the final risk estimate. The methodology is applied to three example chemicals (aflatoxin, N-nitrosodimethylamine, and methyleugenol). These examples illustrate that the uncertainty in a cancer risk estimate may be huge, making single value estimates of cancer risk meaningless. Further, a risk based on linear extrapolation tends to be lower than the upper 95% confidence limit of a probabilistic risk estimate, and in that sense it is not conservative. Our conceptual analysis showed that there are two possible basic approaches for cancer risk assessment, depending on the interpretation of the dose-incidence data measured in animals. However, it remains unclear which of the two interpretations is the more adequate one, adding an additional uncertainty to the already huge confidence intervals for cancer risk estimates.