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Cancer Surveillance Branch (CSU)


As the reference source for global cancer statistics, the Cancer Surveillance Branch (CSU) supports cancer registry development, develops and disseminates global indicators, and conducts a research programme aligned with the evolving cancer and development agendas. CSU is involved in many collaborative studies seeking to describe and interpret the changing magnitude and the transitional nature of cancer profiles around the world, through observation of variations by geography and over time.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, IARC became a founding partner of both the COVID-19 and Cancer Taskforce and the COVID-19 and Cancer Global Modelling Consortium (CCGMC). The CCGMC brings together the global modelling community to support decision-making in cancer control both during and after the crisis.

Current areas of research within CSU include the following:

COVID-19 and cancer

  • Excess deaths from colorectal cancer in high-income countries: modelling the impact of worsening stage.
  • Systematic reviews, including critical appraisal, of the early literature:
    • Do people with a pre-existing cancer diagnosis have a higher risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 or developing COVID-19?
    • Do COVID-19 patients with cancer have a higher risk of death from COVID-19 than COVID-19 patients without cancer?
    • Changes in smoking behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global survival benchmarking

  • SURVMARK. Provision of up-to-date survival measures, and systematic approaches to understanding the impacts of registry processes and stage.
  • SURVCAN. Global synthesis of comparable survival statistics in LMICs, with an emphasis on bilateral collaborations with registries to ensure complete follow-up of patients.
  • SURVPOOL. Provision of evidence on the impact of major risk factors on cancer survival.

The societal impact of cancer, beyond traditional measures

  • Cancer attributable fractions for prevention. Studies quantifying the proportion of cases attributable to risk factors.
  • Estimation of the burden of cancer using disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).
  • Gains in (healthy) life expectancy. The assessment of gains in life expectancy through hypothetical elimination of cancer.
  • Prevalence by phase of care. A global update of methods to better identify the needs of cancer patients and attach economic costs.

Estimating the current future cancer burden and impact of cancer control measures

  • Meeting global noncommunicable disease (NCD) targets. Using mortality trends to predict future premature deaths from cancer and other NCDs, as well as the contribution of risk factors and prevention strategies in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals targets.
  • Dynamic models to predict the long-term future burden under scenarios of roll-out of screening and vaccination programmes.
  • Tobacco control and alcohol control: impact of prevention policies on the long-term burden of related cancers.

Cancer in children and adolescents

Social inequalities and cancer

  • Descriptive epidemiology of social inequalities in cancer (the SOCINEQ project), including assessment of social inequalities in cancer between and within countries and over time, and projections of social inequalities in cancer into the future.
  • Identifying modifiable factors underlying the association between inequalities and cancer, and quantifying the avoidable cancer burden through addressing social inequalities.
  • The economic costs of thyroid cancer overdiagnosis and overtreatment (the THYCOST project).

Descriptive economics of cancer

  • Estimation of productivity losses due to cancer-related premature mortality at the global, regional, and national levels.
  • Systematic reviews on financial hardship experienced by cancer patients for both adult and childhood cancers, with a focus on catastrophic out-of-pocket expenditures in LMICs.
  • Priority-setting in cancer prevention and control. Working with WHO to assist national policy-makers to obtain the best value for money by identifying priority interventions in cancer planning and evaluating the impact, cost, and feasibility of a package of interventions according to country capacity.

Other related activities within CSU

Provision of global public databases

  • GLOBOCAN. The global estimates for 2020 are included in the Cancer Today subsite of the Global Cancer Observatory. These estimates will be updated every 2 years, based on the most recently available recorded data worldwide. The release of new estimates is accompanied by an open access article assessing regional variations in cancer incidence and mortality.
  • Cancer Incidence in Five Continents. The call for data for Volume XII, covering incidence datasets for the period 2013–2017, will be launched in 2021, with the Cancer Over Time subsite of the Global Cancer Observatory scheduled to provide national time trend analyses of the incidence and the WHO mortality data series, and registry-specific data and statistics to be provided via new interactive tools on the IACR website.
  • Global Childhood Cancer database (GLOBOKID). Based on the International Incidence of Childhood Cancer (IICC) series, national estimates of childhood cancer incidence will be published according to the International Classification of Childhood Cancer and selected diagnostic subgroups.
  • Integrating research findings into the Global Cancer Observatory platform. Indicators developed through CSU’s research are being integrated through infographics and interactive tools, accompanied by short excerpts from the research articles.

Scaling up cancer registry activities for better data through the GICR

  • Target countries are now the critical focus for tailored assistance based on the identified requirements, national readiness, and an alignment with the overall GICR goals.
  • Training is being restructured to widen the use of local experts through the development of the GICRNet and the launch of a GICR Mentorship Programme.
  • New electronic tools and reference works are being developed, including online learning modules and standardized slides, with appropriate linkages to the IACR and WHO.


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