What is cancer research?  

What is cancer?

Every day, cancer research is being conducted by individuals in laboratories across the world. Without these researchers, advancements would not be made in creating new cancer treatments and little would be understood about how cancer occurs, and why cancer occurs.  

Cancer research is vital. The better understanding that researchers have of cancers, they will be able to make progress towards reducing the burden that cancer poses to so many individuals. Research studies can lead to the development of new drugs to treat cancer, new treatments to lessen the severity of symptoms from treatments and cancer itself, as well as more knowledge on lifestyle changes that can lessen the risks of developing cancer. 

Types of Cancer Research  

There are four major types of research studies as well as subtypes of them. The four broad categories of cancer research are:  

  • Laboratory research involves the study of animals, cells, molecules, and/or genes. The purpose of basic research is to gain knowledge on the cellular and molecular changes that occur when cancer is present. 
  • Translational research aims to speed up the rate of application of laboratory research discoveries into clinical medicine. This is commonly referred to as moving advances bench to bedside. 
  • Clinical Research involves applying the developed treatments and procedures to patient care. Clinical researchers conduct clinical trials and study a group of patients, including their behaviors, to understand more about the effectiveness of the treatment in humans. Clinical researchers may use samples collected from humans (examples include blood samples or tissue samples) to learn more about the disease itself, how the body works, or how the sample itself responds to treatments.  
  • Population research, or epidemiological research, studies the causes and patterns of the incidence rates of cancer across populations, as well as what members of the population are at an elevated risk based on trends. Population scientists, or epidemiologists, study the causes, health effects, and patterns of diseases in defined groups of said population. This type of research is extremely collaborative and can consider factors from any other form of cancer research.  


Research progress with these projects is often cyclical and ongoing. Advances can only occur if progress continues to build so that more information can be discovered regarding these research areas. 

Numerous institutions can be referenced for active cancer research projects. To name just a few: 

Monitor publications by these institutions and others to stay up to date on new findings and advancements in cancer research.

Participant Information 

Federal regulations ensure that research participants remain safe. Every study being conducted is regulated by federal law and requires review and approval, ongoing monitoring, and informed consent. Informed consent allows participants the chance to review the potential risks associated with participating in the study and decide if they would like to move forward with participating. As added information is learned during the study, participants will receive that information and continue to decide to move forward with participating.  

In return for participation, primarily, you offer hope for future breakthroughs and have an active contribution to cancer research. In addition, there may also be direct benefits involved, such as having access to the newest treatment, which is unavailable otherwise. Participants may also receive care and attention from the clinical trial staff as they receive treatments.  

If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial, talk with your healthcare provider about your options and understand both the positives and the risks associated prior to making a final decision. For many individuals, clinical trials are a great fit for their personal interests. For others, participating in a clinical trial is not the best option.