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Cancer Surveillance Branch (CSU)


To fulfil IARC’s mandate from WHO to describe the occurrence of cancer, the Cancer Surveillance Branch (CSU) systematically collects, analyses, interprets, and disseminates cancer data and statistics worldwide. CSU builds on its long-standing expertise and track record in cancer registration and descriptive epidemiology, aligning its activities with the evolving global cancer agenda. The key priorities align with IARC’s mission and vision:
  • To ensure that locally recorded high-quality cancer data are available to governments in countries in transition, to inform priorities for national cancer control.
  • To serve as a reference to the global cancer community in the provision of national cancer indicators.
  • To describe and interpret the changing magnitude and the transitional nature of cancer risk profiles around the world.
  • To advocate the health, social, and economic benefits of preventive interventions, through a systematic quantification of their future impact.

CSU informs global, regional, and national priorities for cancer control action via dedicated programmes of work in six complementary areas.

Cancer registry support and development

CSU provides the Secretariat for the International Association of Cancer Registries (IACR), the professional society dedicated to fostering the aims and activities of cancer registries worldwide. This direct link to registries remains vital to CSU’s remit of expanding the availability of quality-assured cancer data. The IACR supports the exchange of information among registries through annual scientific meetings, the development of registry standards (such as continuing ICD-O revisions according to updates of the WHO Classification of Tumours series), and the provision of registry tools (including CanReg5 operating software for registries, with modules for data entry, quality control, consistency checks, and basic analysis of the data). The joint IARC-IACR Cancer Incidence in Five Continents series is a flagship publication that compiles comparable cancer incidence rates across diverse registry populations worldwide.
The Global Initiative for Cancer Registry Development (GICR) aims to markedly increase the coverage, quality, and use of data from population-based cancer registries in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Coordinated by IARC, the GICR brings together major international and national agencies committed to working collaboratively to improve cancer surveillance worldwide. Six IARC Regional Hubs serve as regional coordinating bodies for GICR activities and as the main point of contact for countries within Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. GICR Collaborating Centres have been established to further strengthen capacity in cancer registration by delivering specific functions in identified geographical areas in one or more Hubs. The GICRNet uses a Train the Trainer model to form a network of experts, whereby standardized teaching materials for cancer registries are developed jointly between IARC and future trainers across the Hub regions.

Global cancer indicators

CSU compiles, estimates, and reports cancer statistics through its flagship projects and databases and through high-impact peer-reviewed publications. The Global Cancer Observatory is an interactive web-based platform that presents global cancer indicators of direct relevance to cancer research and policy, developed via CSU’s descriptive research programme. See also the links to CSU websites.

Descriptive epidemiology of cancer

CSU has several major lines of research based on the databases held within CSU, including in-depth assessments of the international variations for specific cancer types, quantification of the major risk factors contributing to the current cancer burden worldwide, and a global assessment of the long-term benefits of preventive interventions. Further information is available here.

Childhood cancer

The International Incidence of Childhood Cancer (IICC) series is a flagship project of CSU, undertaken in collaboration with the IACR, that produces quality-assured incidence data on cancer in children and adolescents, based on collaborations with paediatric and general cancer registries worldwide. With unprecedented efforts to raise awareness of the impact of childhood cancer and the marked disparities in childhood cancer survival observed between low- and high-income settings, CSU’s surveillance and research work is increasingly embedded within the GICR programme and linked to the continuing efforts of the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer. A new bilateral collaborative agreement with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, called Targeting Childhood Cancer through the Global Initiative for Cancer Registry Development (ChildGICR), contains workstreams on implementation, education, and research. The aim is to build global capacity for childhood cancer surveillance and, in so doing, help deliver the initiative’s goals of achieving at least 60% survival and reducing suffering for all children with cancer, by 2030. Further information is available here.

Social inequalities and cancer

IARC convened an expert workshop of multidisciplinary scientists to identify research priorities for reducing social inequalities in cancer, leading to the production of IARC Scientific Publication No. 168. On this basis, several research projects on social inequalities and cancer are being developed within CSU, including the documentation of social inequalities in cancer between and within countries, with a primary focus on the gradient of the association, as well as temporal and geographical variations. New indicators are also being developed for inclusion in the Global Cancer Observatory. Further information is available here.

Descriptive economics

Building on several collaborative descriptive economic studies within CSU, the aim is to better understand the economic burden of cancer, to national economies and health systems as well as to individuals and households. In close collaboration with WHO, a tool is being developed to assist national policy-makers in identifying value-for-money priority interventions, as part of national cancer planning. New indicators are also being developed for inclusion in the Global Cancer Observatory. Further information is available here.



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