Research Group: Environmental and Spatial Epidemiology

Group leader: Ben Spycher, PD PhD

The group “Environmental & Spatial Epidemiology” focuses on the spatial and temporal patterns of disease occurrence, particularly of cancer, and investigates links with environmental exposures. For this purpose, we seek to maximise the use of existing routine datasets including cancer registries and administrative datasets.

Our research focuses mainly on potential risk factors of childhood cancers including ionizing radiation, air pollution, electromagnetic fields, and parental occupational exposures. This work is based on combined data from the national Childhood Cancer Registry (ChCR) and the Swiss National Cohort. A major challenge is estimating individual exposure to environmental factors of interest based on the information available from these routine datasets. This typically involves the use of job exposure matrices or geographic exposure models, or both, to estimate exposures based on occupational or residential information, respectively. We also participate in multi-national collaborative studies on potential risk factors of childhood cancer. Our work also includes exploratory investigations of the geographic distribution of cancer using Bayesian spatial modelling, tests for spatial and spatio-temporal clustering, and cluster detection methods.

Group leader

Group members

Ongoing projects

  • RadoNorm
    (EURATOM Horizon 2020)
    The RadoNorm project aims at managing risks from radon and NORM (Naturally Occuring Radioactive Materials) exposure situations to assure effective radiation protection based on improved scientific evidence and social considerations. We are a partner in Work Package 4, Task 4.3 “Studies on the association of radon and childhood leukemia and brain cancer” and will lead a collaborative study that will jointly analyse nationwide data from several European countries.
  • Better Science Through SIMulation (BESTSIM): A tool for simulating scientific discovery
    (funded by Swiss National Science Foundation, Spark Grant: CRSK-3_190801)
    This is a meta-research project aiming to develop a simulation platform that can be used to model the effects of changes in research practices and incentive structures on the system-wide performance of the process of scientific discovery.
  • Residential and occupational exposure to UV radiation and hematological malignancies
    (Swiss Cancer Research, KLS-4592-08-2018).
    The main objective of the project is to investigate associations between ultra-violet radiation (UVR) exposure and hematological malignancies in the child and adult population in Switzerland. A further aim of this project is to extend our work on space-time modelling of childhood cancer to adult cancers. Specifically, we will investigate the spatio-temporal variation in the incidence of lung and colorectal cancer in Switzerland.
  • Residential and parental occupational exposure to agricultural pesticides and the risk of childhood cancer in Switzerland
    (Fondation de France, Fellowship to Astrid Coste)
    This study aims to investigate childhood cancer risks in relation to exposure to agricultural pesticides using nationwide data on cancer incidence in Switzerland. Specifically, we will assess whether children’s risk of developing cancer is associated with i) proximity of residence to agricultural fields, and ii) parental occupations involving the use agricultural pesticides.
  • Low dose ionizing radiation and the risk of childhood cancer (Swiss National Science Foundation, 320030_176218)
    The overall objective of this project is to contribute to a better understanding of the cancer risks associated with exposure to low dose ionizing radiation in childhood. Specifically, we aim to improve exposure models of background ionizing radiation in Switzerland and, based on this, assess the association between childhood cancers and background radiation. This project includes a nationwide survey on factors affecting radiation exposure in children. In a subsample of surveyed children, exposure measurements were conducted. These dosimetry data are being used to validate our exposure model and to better understand potential sources of measurement error. A detailed description of this nationwide survey can be found here: CALIRIS
  • TransExpo: International Study of Childhood Leukemia and Residences Near Electrical Transformer Rooms
    We are partners in this international study and are responsible for developing the case-control dataset for Switzerland.

Completed projects

  • Spatial variation of childhood cancer risk in Switzerland and associations with traffic-related air pollution
    (Swiss Cancer Research, KFS-4012-08-2016)
  • Spatial and spatio-temporal clustering of childhood cancer: the role of infections and environmental hazards
    (Swiss Cancer Research, KFS-3515-08-2014)
  • Pooled analysis of childhood leukemia and distance to power lines
  • The spatial epidemiology of childhood cancer in Switzerland
    (Ambizione Fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation, PZ00P3_147987).
  • The role of population mixing and exposure to infections in the aetiology of childhood leukaemia: a national cohort study
    (Swiss Cancer Research, KFS-3049-08-2012)
  • Childhood cancer and geographically defined exposures in Switzerland: a census-based nationwide cohort study
    (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, BAG 12.008357)
  • Childhood cancer and vicinity of residence to petrol stations and major roads: a census-based nationwide cohort study (PETROL)
    (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, BAG 10.002946)
  • Childhood Cancer and Nuclear Power Plants in Switzerland (CANUPIS)
    (Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, BAG 08.001616; the Swiss Cancer League, KLS 02224-03-2008).