The North American Association of Central Cancer Registries and the International Association of Cancer Registries Conference 2019 – Vancouver

The NAACCR/IACR 2019 conference took place from 10th-14th June, in Vancouver. These conferences happen every year, with a joint conference every five years. They are a great opportunity for the international cancer registration community to come together and share ideas and developments.

Seven people from NCRAS attended, with four oral presentations between us. The conference covered aspects of registration, technology, analysis and epidemiology with multiple parallel sessions; so we all had our own particular plan of what we wanted to see!

The conference started with a welcoming ceremony from local First Nations peoples, pictured below:

It was appropriate then that the opening talk was on cancer in the First Nations populations in Canada: one of three groups of indigenous peoples. As with indigenous populations across the world, the legacy of historical treatment by settlers continues to affect current affairs. First Nations in Canada are more likely to live in remote areas, which requires a different approach to diagnosis and awareness. Dr Nadine Caron made the point that previous underestimation of the cancer burden in First Nations may mean it have been unfairly deprioritised.

Looking at a more worldwide view on cancer was Dr. Elisabete Weiderpass, Director of the International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC). She made the point that if cancer rates grow by 2% each year then in 2040 there will be 45 million cancers diagnosed worldwide, and that “no country is prepared for this”. The point was made that data, from cancer registries, is a part of the solution.  Worldwide the coverage of cancer registries is growing, but there are challenges in low and middle income countries.

Even in high income countries, there are challenges to registration in using more and more complex electronic data sources. Several talks looked at potential solutions to dealing with this challenge, using approaches such as automated text processing and machine learning/artificial intelligence. In a notable example from Cancer Council Victoria, presented by Dr Catherine Shang, the use of AI in pathology labs had led to a 32% increase in tumour registrations.

One of the benefits of attending a wide-ranging conference is that you can learn about areas of cancer registration which are outside your daily work. Some talks which stood out for me covered topics such as: organising a virtual registry across Caribbean islands which are too small to support their own; a simplified ‘essential’ TNM staging system for use in countries where data is more limited; and, the racial disparities in receipt of guideline care for ovarian cancer.

While travelling to and from the conference, I did notice one point of public health interest on the side of a bus! This was a government warning on the dangers of vaping; in clear contrast to the PHE stance, which highlights that vaping is some 95% less harmful than tobacco smoking. Smoking is still the biggest modifiable risk for cancer, notably for lung, oral cavity and bladder cancers, so the benefits of vaping in the context of cancer control continue to be debated. Just another example of the perspective on cancer which can be gained from attending such conferences. Slides from parallel sessions are now on the NAACCR/IACR 2019 website.

My colleague, Dr Cong Chen, from the Health Data Insight – Public Health England partnership also attended the conference. Read about his presentation and observations here. Thanks to Cong for the photo of Vancouver at the top of the blog!