How to Become a Cancer Research Scientist

Last Updated on August 30, 2023

Cancer researchers are involved in preventing and ceasing one of the most ongoing medical problems of today, cancer. They coordinate a massive amount of research though studies and experiments. A doctoral degree in a relevant field is usually mandatory, although some areas require an M.D. and licensure as well. Want to know more about How to Become a Cancer Research Scientist, careers in cancer research, what does a cancer researcher do & cancer researcher education requirements.

Researching cancer, as a scientist, can be rewarding as it gives one the undeniable sense of contributing to humanity. Reading through this article will give you access to the best and latest information on how to get into cancer research, cancer research scientist salary, cancer researcher salary and how to research cancer and other related topics.

Here on CollegeLearners, you will also find similar posts on how much do cancer research scientists make, Cancer research college major, what does a cancer research scientist do, how to become a cancer researcher UK, cancer researcher jobs and so much more. Comb through our catalogue for other relevant topics of interest.

What does a Cancer Research Scientist Do

A Cancer Researcher’s professional life revolves around Cancer: a disease caused by the abnormal reproduction of a single cell.

Cancer Researchers are medically trained professionals that investigate specific cases of the disease in order to understand it and its behavior better.

Cancer Researchers are considered medical scientists.

These scientific professionals research ways to prevent the disease, look for the causes and work towards the goal of eradicating it.

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Cancer Researchers will also analyze a variety of medical applications or formulate a drug combination that will help ease or eradicate cancer’s existence.

The majority of these professionals work in research labs at hospitals and universities.

Some are also hired by corporations in the private sector and work for biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies.

Those who want to become a Cancer Researcher require extensive training and education.

Some sought after skills include having great skills in both writing and conversational communication.

Some Cancer Researchers spend a lot of their time writing grants and proposals for fundraising in order for their institution to continue its researching efforts.

What do cancer researchers do

Cancer researchers are medical scientists who conduct research on carcinoma (cancer), which is a disease that causes accelerated cell reproduction in areas of the body that cannot support such levels of growth. To become a cancer researcher, individuals must earn bachelor’s degrees and then go on to earn doctoral degrees (PhDs) in fields related to medical science, chemistry, or biology. Although doctorate of medicine degrees (MDs) are not necessarily required for this position, cancer researchers involved in clinical trials on human patients may need MDs to conduct the research. Individuals who pursue MDs will most likely have to participate in additional residency training and complete the physician licensure process, as dictated by state guidelines. This career may be the right fit for individuals who enjoy science and for those who have a passion for finding a cure for cancer.

Cancer Researcher Education Requirements

If you’re interested in becoming a Cancer Researcher, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. We’ve determined that 40.4% of Cancer Researchers have a bachelor’s degree. In terms of higher education levels, we found that 22.7% of Cancer Researchers have master’s degrees. Even though most Cancer Researchers have a college degree, it’s possible to become one with only a high school degree or GED.

How to become a Cancer Research Scientist - College Learners

Choosing the right major is always an important step when researching how to become a Cancer Researcher. When we researched the most common majors for a Cancer Researcher, we found that they most commonly earn Biology degrees or Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology degrees. Other degrees that we often see on Cancer Researcher resumes include Nursing degrees or Business degrees.

You may find that experience in other jobs will help you become a Cancer Researcher. In fact, many Cancer Researcher jobs require experience in a role such as Research Assistant. Meanwhile, many Cancer Researchers also have previous career experience in roles such as Volunteer or Internship.

As medical scientists, the majority of cancer research positions require candidates to hold doctorate degrees. Some research positions may require applicants to have medical degrees instead of or in addition to holding doctorate degrees. Cancer researchers may consider obtaining medical degrees and licensure as a physician to perform certain medical procedures on human research subjects.

For aspiring cancer researchers, majoring in a biological science as an undergraduate sets the foundation for their path to graduate school. Taking general courses in English or communications in college can also be helpful due to the required writing associated with the career. Many future cancer researchers apply their area of focus for graduate studies to a specialty area of cancer research. For example, students interested in researching the causes of cancer may want to study cellular biology, molecular biology, genetics, or epidemiology in graduate school, whereas those interested in drug research may want to focus more on pharmacology or biochemistry.

Undergraduate Education

Cancer researchers are college-educated professionals. Undergraduate degrees for those seeking a career in cancer research vary, but chemistry, biochemistry, biology or pre-med are all useful backgrounds. Whatever bachelor’s degree you decide on, you need to take a significant amount of life sciences coursework to prepare for graduate school or medical school.

Graduate Education

Nearly all U.S. or European cancer researchers have one or more graduate degrees. Many choose to attend medical school, and others decide to pursue a master’s degree or a PhD in chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, molecular biology, genetics or a related field. Researchers attending medical school typically undertake a joint MD/PhD program that takes seven or eight years to complete. Earning a doctorate in the life sciences typically takes five or six years, including writing a dissertation based on original research.

Post-Doctorate Fellowships

After completing grad school, most new researchers accept a one- to two-year paid post-doctorate fellowship. A post-doc fellowship allows a young researcher to gain some experience in the field, and focus the direction of the research she intends to pursue. Major universities, medical research-related foundations, government agencies and public-private research consortia all offer oncology or biochemistry research post-doc positions.

Professional Employment

Finding your first position as a medical researcher is largely about networking. You generally start to become known in your specialized area of cancer research after your dissertation research and post-doc work. Given there are likely no more than a few dozen researchers in most sub-specialties, you will likely have at least a passing acquaintance with a significant percentage of your colleagues. Not surprisingly, jobs offers often come from those who know your work or share a close research interest.

How long does it take to become a cancer researcher?

Cancer researchers typically need at least 8-9 years of training beyond high school.

If you want to start a career in this field you should start your training with 4 years of undergraduate studies.

Afterward, you can choose to enroll at a Ph.D. program or to continue your medical studies by applying to medical school.

Medical school can be completed in 4 years while Ph.D. programs typically take between 5-7 years be completed.

Swansea University Medical School - Swansea University

what to major in to do cancer research

I think you can’t go wrong with any subjects. The more important thing if you want to do cancer research is to join a lab at UofT which does cancer research. So, what I’d say to do is look up what faculty at the university are doing cancer research and see about picking a major that coincides with their department. Of those that you list, immunology is the odd one out, but at the same time immunotherapies are very prominent right now in cancer.

That said, you are likely not restricted to performing research in your home department. I work in a laboratory in a pharmacology department and we’ve had undergrads from the microbiology major work with us.

As for later doing a MD, it doesn’t matter which one of those you pick. Medical schools don’t care. But, keep in mind while it’s possible for MDs to enter a research career, that medical school does not train students to be researchers. Medical school is about treating patients.

What knowledge and skills do cancer researchers need to have

Cancer researchers must have the critical thinking skills necessary to develop research questions and determine the best methods for solving them. They need strong analytical skills, including knowledge of statistics, so they can analyze their data and interpret the results properly. They must have strong communication skills, so they can explain their findings to a wide audience.

Clinical oncologists need:

  • a high level of compassion, sensitivity and empathy to treat people with cancer
  • an interest in the pathology and biology of cancers and radiation physics
  • an interest in the pharmacology of systemic cancer therapies
  • emotional resilience to help patients during very difficult times
  • the ability to work well in a team and to manage others effectively
  • excellent communication skills to deal with patients and colleagues
  • an interest in cancer research, statistics and new technologies

what does a cancer research scientist do

Cancer Researchers spend their time researching new ways to prevent and treat cancer.

They can work for private institutions such as pharmaceutical companies, universities or nonprofit organizations.

They perform their research in laboratories using certain samples of cancer in order to determine how it acts and what kind of treatments it responds to.

Several clinical trials are needed in order to determine the treatment’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Cancer Researchers working for nonprofit or educational institutions may also perform fundraising efforts in order to accumulate money for further research.

They use the information they have gathered during their research to use as data in their proposals to enthrall potential donors.

how much do cancer research scientists make

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of medical scientists, including cancer researchers, is expected to grow much faster than average between 2018 and 2028. The BLS also reported the mean annual salary earned by such scientists as $96,420 in May 2018; those performing scientific research and development services earned an average annual salary of $102,260 in 2018, per the BLS.

A career as a cancer researcher demands a great deal of education, particularly a Ph.D in cancer research, and an M.D. if needed. They engage in extensive writing and fieldwork, so they must possess skills in data-analysis, critical thinking, and observation. A large salary will be expected as reward for helping to save people’s lives.

how long does it take to become a cancer researcher and cost

There are several educational paths that can help you become a cancer researcher and costs vary depending on the path you choose.

Cancer researchers typically hold a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in biology or a related field.

Some cancer researchers hold a medical degree instead of a Ph.D. and some hold both a medical degree and a Ph.D.

Bachelor’s degree programs can cost you anywhere between $10,000 and more than $50,000 a year, depending on the school you choose.

Research-based doctoral programs cost, on average, somewhere in the range of $35,000-$40,000 a year and can usually be completed in 5-7 years.

If you choose to earn a medical degree, you should expect to pay around $200,000 or more for medical school.

Computational Biology and Integrative Genomics — Department of Oncology

cancer research education

MSc Degrees (Cancer Research)

 MSc in Biomedical Sciences

1. Hebrew University of Jerusalem  Masters Programs

The Graduate program in Biomedical Sciences includes 5 sub-teaching tracks. Biochemistry, Metabolism, and Endocrinology; Cellular Biology, Immunology, and Cancer Research; Human Genetics (and Human genetics – genetic counseling); Microbiology and Neurobiology.

A day in the life of a Medical Oncologist at Cancer Research UK | New  Scientist Jobs

Cancer Cell Biology – MSc

2. University of Sussex  School of Life Sciences

On this course, you’ll learn from research scientists at the forefront of cancer research and cancer therapy design, based in the Genome Damage and Stability Centre.

MSc in Precision Cancer Medicine

3. University of Oxford  Department of Oncology

This course aims to provide a broad training in the scientific and clinical disciplines involved in precision medicine. You will cover the scientific basis for precision medicine, genomic technologies, drug discovery and development, and the global regulatory, payer and ethical challenges.

Biotechnology – MSc

4. University of Salford  School of Science Engineering and Environment

The field of biotechnology has been revolutionised in the past ten years by advances in molecular biology, genome sequencing and large scale-omics profiling (including proteomics) as well as the ability to manipulate genomes via genetic modification and genome editing tools. 

MSc in Radiation Biology

5. University of Oxford  CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology

A one-year, full-time, MSc in Radiation Biology awarded by the University of Oxford. This established state-of-the-art course, run by the Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology, combines traditional and molecular radiation biology principles along with clinical and practical applications.

Biomedical Science – MSc

6. University of Salford  School of Science, Engineering and the Environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has refocused attention on society’s health. With increased life expectancy predicted to fuel age-related increases in heart disease, dementia, stroke, pulmonary disorders, and cancer, the pandemic has brought a greater urgency to understand how we can better manage these conditions.

Biomedical Sciences MSc

7. University of Groningen  Health and Life Sciences

What causes disease? What are the (epi)genetic background of disorders? How do microorganisms in the intestine contribute to health and disease? What are the underlying mechanisms of diseases and what novel strategies can be designed to cure disease? During the Master’s degree programme in Biomedical Sciences you will be trained to find answers to these questions. 

How Much Does A Cancer Research Scientist Make

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to being a cancer researcher. For example, did you know that they make an average of $25.37 an hour? That’s $52,772 a year! Between 2018 and 2028, the career is expected to grow 8% and produce 10,600 job opportunities across the U.S.

The average Cancer Researcher salary in the United States is $72,058 as of August 27, 2021, but the salary range typically falls between $61,611 and $84,847. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession. With more online, real-time compensation data than any other website, helps you determine your exact pay target. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of medical scientists, including cancer researchers, is expected to grow faster than average between 2019 and 2029. The BLS also reported the mean annual salary earned by such scientists as $98,770 in May 2019; those performing scientific research and development services earned an average annual salary of $106,930 in 2019, per the BLS.

A career as a cancer researcher demands a great deal of education, particularly a Ph.D. in cancer research, and an M.D. if needed. They engage in extensive writing and fieldwork, so they must possess skills in data analysis, critical thinking, and observation. A large salary will be expected as reward for helping to save people’s lives.

cancer research scientist salary by state

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$90,800
New Hampshire$71,350
New Jersey$81,270
New Mexico$50,280
New York$81,540
North Carolina$69,250
North Dakota$60,840
Rhode Island$79,070
South Carolina$67,420
South Dakota$56,220
West Virginia$53,280
Puerto Rico$50,280

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