The Burden of Occupational Cancer


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.

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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.


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.


Results and resources related to the study are available on our Burden Page.

Fact Sheets
  • Burden of Occupational Cancer: Fact Sheets

  • Canadian team working to identify the most important workplace carcinogens

  • OCRC Report: Burden of Occupational Cancer in Ontario - Major Workplace Carcinogens and Prevention of Exposure

  • OCRC Report: Burden of occupational cancer in Canada - Major workplace carcinogens and prevention of exposure

  • OCRC Report: Preventing the Burden of Occupational Cancer in Canada: Stakeholder Meeting Summary

Scientific Articles
  • Burden of lung cancer attributable to occupational diesel engine exhaust exposure in Canada

  • The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma due to occupational and para-occupational asbestos exposure

  • The current burden of cancer attributable to occupational exposures in Canada

  • Occupational Exposure to Wood Dust and the Burden of Nasopharynx and Sinonasal Cancer in Canada

  • Estimating the burden of lung cancer in Canada attributed to occupational radon exposure using a novel exposure assessment method

  • The Economic Burden of Bladder Cancer Due to Occupational Exposure

  • The impact of night shift work on breast cancer: Results from the Burden of Occupational Cancer in Canada Study

  • Burden of non-melanoma skin cancer attributable to occupational sun exposure in Canada

  • The economic burden of occupational non-melanoma skin cancer due to solar radiation

Research Team
Paul Demers, Victoria Arrandale, Joanne Kim, Chaojie (Daniel) Song, Manisha Pahwa, Desre Kramer
CAREX Canada
Hugh Davies, Anne-Marie Nicol, Cheryl Peters
University of British Columbia
Chris McLeod
France Labrèche, Martin Lebeau
Université de Montréal
Jérôme Lavoué
Institute for Work & Health
Emile Tompa, Christina Kalcevich
Imperial College London
Lesley Rushton, Sally Hutchings
Trainees (current and former)
Alex Hill, Roseanna Presutti, Melissa Ramprashad, Amanda Veglia, James Spencer
Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division
Canadian Cancer Society, National Division