The human and economic burden of occupational cancer in Canada

Asbestos abatement
Asbestos abatement during construction

Status: in progress


This study will estimate the number of cancers and cancer deaths occurring in Canada due to occupational exposure to carcinogens. The term ‘burden’ is used to refer to the human impact (deaths, illness) and the economic costs (health care, productivity) associated with a cause or group of causes.


Millions of Canadians are exposed to a wide range of known and suspected carcinogens in the workplace.  These include industrial chemicals, metals, engine exhaust, fibres and dusts, solar UV radiation, second-hand smoke and night work.  However, the impact of these exposures is less clear. Researchers have estimated the number of work-related cancers that occur in other countries, but a study of this type has not been undertaken in Canada on a national scale.


To derive occupational cancer estimates specific to the Canadian context, we will make use of national and provincial cancer statistics, literature reviews on the cancer risks associated with workplace exposures, and estimates of historical exposures in Canada. The end result will be a series of robust province- and sex-specific estimates for the cancers caused by forty-four occupational carcinogens and twenty-four cancer sites.


First, this project will help raise awareness of occupational exposure as an important causal factor in cancer etiology. We will target our results towards primary care physicians and their professional associations to raise awareness in the medical community and improve early recognition of disease.

Second, the results of this project will be useful in highlighting priority areas for prevention activities. Estimates will direct attention to where the greatest number of people will be impacted, and data produced on economic costs will provide added importance for policy makers. The projections component of this project will make it possible to demonstrate the impact of decreasing or eliminating exposure to specific substances and factors on future cancer rates.


This project is nearing completion.


This study received a four-year, $1 million grant from the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, covering 2012-2016.


Paul Demers (OCRC)
Desre Kramer (OCRC)
Hugh Davies (CAREX Canada, University of British Columbia)
Anne-Marie Nicol (CAREX Canada)
Cheryl Peters (CAREX Canada, Carleton University)
Chris McLeod (University of British Columbia)
France Labrèche (IRSST)
Jérôme Lavoué (Université de Montréal)
Lesley Rushton (Imperial College London)
Sally Hutchings (Imperial College London)
Emile Tompa (Institute for Work & Health)
Christina Kalcevich (Institute for Work & Health)
Martin Lebeau (IRSST)
Victoria Arrandale (OCRC)
Joanne Kim (OCRC)
Manisha Pahwa (OCRC)
Chaojie (Daniel) Song (OCRC)

Trainees (current and former):

Alex Hill (OCRC, MPH Occupational and Environmental Health)
Roseanna Presutti (OCRC, MPH Epidemiology)
Melissa Ramprashad (OCRC, MPH Epidemiology)
Amanda Veglia (OCRC, MPH Occupational and Environmental Health)
James Spencer (IWH, PhD Economics)


Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division
Canadian Cancer Society, National Division