World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Occupational and Environmental Cancer

In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) as a Collaborating Centre for Occupational and Environmental Cancer. This designation is the result of a long-standing partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which serves as the Americas regional office of the WHO, on occupational cancer research and prevention in Latin America and the Caribbean.

As a Collaborating Centre, this designation will see OCRC and its sister organization CAREX Canada working with PAHO to provide technical advice, develop guidelines and manuals, and offer training and education on developing exposure surveillance projects. The team will also develop models for estimating the burden of occupational cancer applicable to Latin America and the Caribbean and other WHO regions, and promote the prevention of occupational cancer more broadly.

“The Collaborating Centre designation provides a platform to work together across borders,” says Dr. Paul Demers, Director of OCRC and Scientific Director of CAREX Canada. “We look forward to seeing these international CAREX projects develop, and to see them applied in preventing exposures and thereby reducing the burden of cancer.”

Major collaborative activities

  • Surveillance of exposure to occupational carcinogens: The OCRC, CAREX Canada, and PAHO have engaged with researchers from a dozen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to facilitate the development of national CAREX projects that profile and estimate occupational exposure to priority carcinogens in each country. Occupational carcinogens present in many countries include asbestos, crystalline silica, solar ultraviolet radiation, diesel engine exhaust, and pesticides, among others. CAREX projects have been or are currently being developed in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Caribbean. More information about this project is available here.
  • Estimating the burden of occupational cancer: The OCRC, in partnership with scientists from several institutions across Canada and the UK, are currently producing estimates of the human and economic burden of occupational cancer in Canada, described here. This study leverages detailed occupational carcinogen exposure data from CAREX Canada, and is an adaptation and expansion of the model used to assess occupational cancer burden in the UK. A similar approach can be taken in Latin America and the Caribbean using country-specific occupational exposure data from CAREX projects, as well as other information resources. These models, when they are developed, will improve estimates of the global burden of disease and may be applied to other regions of the world.
  • Promoting the prevention of occupational cancer: Other joint activities between the OCRC, CAREX Canada, and PAHO have focused on asbestos, a well-established carcinogen associated with mesothelioma and lung cancer. The OCRC and CAREX Canada have contributed Canadian data for a planned publication on asbestos in the Americas, a project that is currently in progress. The OCRC and PAHO have taken part in international scientific meetings to share research about the health risks of asbestos in the Americas and what actions need to be taken to prevent occupational exposure and the incidence of asbestos-related disease. The OCRC has also provided some scientific input on a large, multi-year study on the surveillance and projection of mesothelioma and lung cancer due to occupational asbestos exposure in Brazil.