About our research

Investing in the best research has led to tremendous progress against cancer. We know more about what causes cancer, how it develops, how best to treat it and how we can improve the quality of life of people living with cancer. Today, over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In the 1940s, survival was about 25%.


In 2014–2015, the Canadian Cancer Society funded $44 million in leading-edge research supporting more than 400 projects across the country. As the largest national charitable funder of cancer research in Canada, we are leading the fight against cancer.


Infographic depicting research funding by research area 


Search our database of research projects currently funded by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Basic cancer research

Basic research is the cornerstone of cancer research and usually takes place in a laboratory, where scientists seek to understand the disease at its deepest levels.


Using sophisticated tools and technologies, scientists peer inside single cells, observing and describing complicated biochemical and genetic processes to answer our most fundamental questions about cancer:

  • How does the disease start?
  • How do tumours grow and spread to other parts of the body?
  • Can this growth be stopped?

Research has already yielded many answers to such questions, and our understanding of cancer has never been greater than it is today. In fact, many of the milestones achieved in cancer research over the last 50 years have been thanks to basic research.


The range of basic cancer research funded by the Canadian Cancer Society is vast and sets the stage for a new era of advances in our fight against the disease. Today, basic researchers are:

  • hunting for substances or markers that can be detected in the bodies of people with different kinds of cancer
  • trying to find out why certain cancer cells and tumours become resistant to chemotherapy or other treatments
  • looking at the genetic basis of different cancers – for example, how certain genes make us more vulnerable to cancer or make us more resistant to anti-cancer drugs
  • testing and analyzing various substances – either for their ability to fight cancer or for their potential to cause it
  • developing specialized animal models and cell lines to help scientists carry out their cancer research studies

The goal of basic cancer research is twofold – find a breakthrough discovery that will help prevent, control or even cure cancer and contribute a small but significant bit of knowledge that will help other scientists as they work on their own piece of the cancer puzzle.

Behavioural and population-based cancer research

Every year, the Canadian Cancer Society supports a wide range of studies aimed at:

  • helping people lead healthier lives and reduce their risk of cancer
  • identifying what can improve the quality of life of people with cancer and their caregivers
  • examining the causes and control of cancer


Researchers examine the cancer risk factors affecting groups of people, such as genetic or inherited factors and environmental or workplace carcinogens, and they evaluate the quality and accessibility of cancer care in communities across the country.


The Canadian Cancer Society also funds the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo. Propel conducts research, evaluation and knowledge exchange in tobacco control, youth health and research capacity development.

Breast cancer research

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among Canadian females, affecting many thousands of women and their families each year, and causing concern for millions more.


Breast cancer is one of the most active areas of study today, as researchers tackle the problem from many sides. Some are working to learn more about what causes breast cancer so that one day it might be preventable. Other researchers are finding new and better ways to detect, diagnose and treat the disease.


In 2014-2015, the Society dedicated $6.0 million to fund a broad range of breast cancer research projects across Canada.

Cancer prevention research

Current research shows that about half of cancers can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices and policies that protect the public. But we need to learn more about how cancer develops and how we can stop it before it starts so that fewer Canadians will be diagnosed with this disease.


In 2014–2015, the Society targeted $5.5 million for prevention and risk reduction research.

Childhood cancer research

Cancer is considered a rare disease in children between birth and 14 years of age. Yet it is still the leading cause of disease-related death among children.


Research over the past 5 decades has led to new and more effective treatments for childhood cancers, and the number of children with cancer who survive has increased.


Since 1985, there has been a dramatic decline in childhood cancer death rates, thanks largely to major advances in our ability to treat cancers common to children, such as leukemia.


The Canadian Cancer Society funds a broad range of research projects every year related to the prevention and understanding of childhood cancers and the treatment and care of children with cancer.

Colorectal cancer research

Colorectal cancer is currently the second leading cause of death from cancer in men and the third leading cause of death from cancer in women in Canada. There is no single cause of colorectal cancer, but many factors such as age, diet and smoking appear to increase the risk of developing it. In 2015, an estimated 25,100 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 9,300 will die from it.


The disease, however, usually grows slowly, almost always arising from benign growths called adenomas. If these growths are detected early and removed, the disease is very treatable and curable – and even preventable.


The Canadian Cancer Society funds research every year to better prevent, treat and control colorectal cancer.

Lung and tobacco research

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in Canada.


We know that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer in both men and women. Cigarette smoking causes about 30% of cancer deaths in Canada and is related to more than 85% of lung cancers. Second-hand smoke is linked to the deaths of more than 250 Canadians every year.


On behalf of the thousands of people affected across the country each year, the Society encourages and funds research that will help to control tobacco use.

Prostate cancer research

Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in Canadian males and is the third most common cause of death due to cancer in men after lung and colorectal cancer.


We support prostate cancer research projects that examine important questions about how to prevent and better treat the disease.