Current Burden of Occupational Cancer

About the Study

The Burden of Occupational Cancer in Canada project developed estimates of the number and proportion of cancers caused by exposure to workplace carcinogens in Canada. The study was funded by a national team grant from the Canadian Cancer Society, and was done in collaboration with researchers across the country.

The study estimated the burden of cancer occurring in Canada due to exposure to 44 different occupational carcinogens. These hazards included industrial chemicals (e.g. benzene), metals, (e.g. nickel, chromium), dusts and fibres (e.g. asbestos, silica), radiation (e.g. solar UV radiation, ionizing radiation), complex mixtures (e.g. diesel engine exhaust, welding fumes) and exposure circumstances (e.g. shiftwork). While the study examined 44 different exposures, the results shown here focus on the most important hazards that were feasible to assess. A study of this type had not previously been undertaken in Canada on a national scale.

Estimating the number of cancers caused by specific workplace exposures is challenging because there are many lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors that can also contribute to the development of disease. To develop occupational cancer estimates for Canada, this study used national and provincial cancer statistics, employment data, literature reviews on the cancer risks associated with workplace exposures, and estimates of historical exposure primarily developed by CAREX Canada. Economic cost estimates were developed by the Institute for Work & Health.

The long-term objective of this study is to promote prevention of workplace cancer in Canada. The results have been used to support policy change and raise awareness of the risk of cancer due to work. For example, the asbestos estimates were used in the call to action and justification for the Government’s asbestos ban.


Our results show that in 2011, approximately 3.9-4.2% of all new cancer cases were due to occupational exposure, corresponding to between 9,700 and 10,400 new cases. The majority of these cases were due to solar radiation, asbestos, diesel engine exhaust, crystalline silica, and shiftwork. Other important exposures include welding fumes, radon, second-hand smoke, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, and benzene.

The top five cancer types based on number of cases were non-melanoma skin, lung, female breast, mesothelioma, and bladder.

For more detailed results, visit our Exposure Pages, access the Reports & Publications, or view the resources below. An overview of the methods is available in the national burden report, with a more detailed summary available in Labrèche et al 2019.


Research Team

The Burden of Occupational Cancer Study was a collaboration between researchers at OCRC, CAREX Canada, the Institute for Work & Health (who led the economic analyses), University of British Columbia, Université de Montréal, Institute de recherché Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail, and Imperial College London. Visit our Research Team page to learn more.