The human and economic burden of occupational cancer in Canada

Asbestos abatement
Asbestos abatement during construction

Status: complete


This study estimated 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 (e.g. deaths, illness) and the economic costs (e.g. 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 (e.g. benzene), metals (e.g. nickel, chromium), fibres and dusts (e.g. asbestos, silica), radiation (e.g. solar UV radiation, ionizing radiation), complex mixtures (e.g. diesel engine exhaust), and exposure circumstances (e.g. shiftwork, painting, welding). 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 previously been undertaken in Canada on a national scale.


To derive occupational cancer estimates specific to the Canadian context, we made use of national and provincial cancer statistics, literature reviews on the cancer risks associated with workplace exposures, and estimates of historical exposures in Canada (developed by CAREX Canada). This allowed us to develop a series of robust province- and sex-specific estimates for the cancers caused by 33 occupational carcinogens affecting 22 cancer sites. Economic cost estimates for these cancers were developed by the Institute for Work & Health.

Results and Resources:

More results and resources related to burden are available on our Burden Page.


The results of this study 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.

These results will be useful in highlighting priority areas for prevention activities. Burden estimates will direct attention to industries, occupations, and workplaces where the greatest impact can be achieved, and data produced on economic costs will provide added importance for policy makers.


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


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

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