phd in oncology in canada

Last Updated on September 25, 2023 by Paschal Alvina


The Interdisciplinary Oncology program (IOP) is a graduate program designed to appeal to a broad range of students interested in cancer research. IOP offers advanced study and research in a variety of fields relating to oncology. Those fields include: molecular and cellular biology, genetics, biophysics, bioinformatics, pharmaceutical sciences, radiological sciences, immunology, molecular pathology, sociobehavioral studies, epidemiology and health economics. The goal of the program is to provide graduate students from diverse backgrounds, with an education in a number of disciplines relating to oncology, and to provide training opportunities for intensive training in specialized aspects of cancer research. For more than ten years, the program has been training the next generation of cancer research leaders.


IOP integrates the diverse areas of oncology by offering two required courses which provide an interdisciplinary perspective on oncology in a form that is accessible to students from diverse backgrounds. The elective courses provide intensive training in one or more subjects specific to the student’s research, and also gives the student an opportunity to gain expertise in other disciplines that have potential for synergy with their primary specialization. Students have access to clinicians and university faculty through the world-renowned BC Cancer Agency, to get a practical perspective on oncology treatments and outcomes. An innovative rotation course is a unique option for students to gain hands-on experience by rotating through specialty laboratories and by shadowing clinicians. 

The Cancer Research Group offers a comprehensive graduate program leading to the MSc and PhD degrees. The group is made up of 12 core scientists from the Division of BioMedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine.

The research interests of the members are in the Molecular and Cell Biology of cancer and offer graduate students the opportunity to gain strong research skills and experience. Fundamental cell and molecular biological questions are addressed, with investigative approaches including viral oncogenesis, growth factors and oncogenes in developmental models, programmed cell death and drug resistance. Colleagues from the Division of Community Health and clinicians from the Newfoundland Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation (NCTRF) and the St. John’s HealthCare Corporation, bring a great deal of experience and interest in clinical trials, pediatric oncology, epidemiology and cancer imaging/screening and diagnosis and participate in courses offered by the Cancer research group.

Students must be accepted by a faculty supervisor in order to enter the program. The supervisory committee will be chosen in consultation with the supervisor. For each student, the supervisory committee meets on a regular basis to monitor research and academic progress. The specific topic for research is selected by the student in consultation with the supervisor and the supervisory committee. All students are required to attend, for credit, and participate in the Cancer Research Journal Club (Cancer Seminars, Medicine 6400-6403; 6410-6413) for a minimum of four semesters. One other graduate course is required for MSc students and recommended for PhD students. These are minimum requirements; other courses may be required in individual cases.

Normally, all students entering the PhD program must have completed MSc level course requirements. Upon admission to the PhD program a student must take the comprehensive examination before the end of the seventh semester according to the General Regulations governing graduate studies at Memorial. The comprehensive exam will consist of a written and an oral component. The specific areas to be examined will be chosen by an examination committee in consultation with the student’s supervisor.


Candidates admitted to the Cancer Research Program must have, at least, a bachelor’s degree with a second class standing. All the courses listed below have, as a prerequisite, successful completion of an advanced, upper-level biochemistry, biology or medical course, with an emphasis on molecular biology or medicine.

Medicine 6400, 6401, 6402, 6403 — Cancer Seminars for MSc Students I-IV
Medicine 6410, 6411, 6412, 6413 — Cancer Seminars for PhD Students I-IV

Medicine 6580 — Molecular Biology of Cancer
The following areas are covered: Etiology of cancer, including oncogenes, viruses, cytogenetic aberrations, chemical and radiation carcinogenesis. Cancer biology, including tumor growth, properties of malignant cells, multi-drug resistance, hormones and cancer, metastasis, immunological aspects; molecular biology of cancer treatment, including molecular principles of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and gene therapy.

Medicine 6590 — Molecular Biology I (cross-listed as Biochemistry 6590, Biology 6200)
Specific topics may vary from year to year, but generally include: The structure and organization of DNA and chromatin; genetics; the mechanism of DNA replication and repair; recombination; transcription; the structure/function of various cellular RNAs, recombinant DNA technology.

Medicine 6591 — Molecular Biology II (cross-listed as Biochemistry 6591, Biology 6210)
Specific topics may vary from year to year, but generally include: Regulation of post-transcriptional RNA processing; ribosome structure; initiation, elongation and termination of protein synthesis; protein modification and subcellular targeting; growth factors and their receptors; signal transduction; transcriptional control, translational regulation; eukaryotic expression vectors.

Medicine 6340 and 6341 — Research Topics in Cancer I and II
These are two courses where a student works under the direction of a faculty member generally other than his/her supervisor on a small research project not part of the student’s degree program. The courses may be laboratory-oriented or may be based with a faculty member specializing in population and patient-based research. The aim is to provide the student with a broad background in research methods and to develop the capability for original and independent work in cancer or cancer-related research.

Medicine 6342 — Basic Principle of the Pathology of Cancer
This course is designed to study common cancers with reference to:
i) nomenclature and general pathological characteristics of benign and malignant neoplasms; ii) epidemiology of the common cancers including incidence, environmental influences, hereditary and acquired pre-neoplastic disorders; iii) the molecular and cellular basis of cancer and its relevance to clinical practice; iv) characteristics of cancer growth in terms of the kinetics of tumor growth, tumor angiogenesis and mechanisms of local and distant spread; v) etiology of cancer including chemical carcinogenesis, radiation carcinogenesis and viral oncogenesis; vi) aspects of tumor immunology such as tumor antigens and immunosurveillance; vii) clinical features of cancer including the effects of tumor on the host, cancer cachexia, paraneoplastic syndromes and the laboratory diagnosis using histological, cytological and other methods.

Seminar Series

Program Seminars — The Cancer Research Group hold a weekly seminar series during both fall and winter semesters. These sessions are devoted to, but not limited to, special topic presentation of current cancer-related literature, or ongoing research and technique workshops. Both faculty and graduate students will lead a discussion on issues of importance to any aspect of cancer research, and offer student both exposure to a broad selection of cancer and cancer research-related issues, and experience in oral presentations. Registration and participation in this course for four (4) semesters (i.e. students must register in each section in any order) is required of all students.

Visiting Speaker Series

Cancer Research Speaker Program — Throughout the year, the Cancer Research Group invites notable researchers from Canada and elsewhere to describe their work in order to promote scientific exchange and to inform students and faculty of ongoing work in other institutions. This forum may, from time to time, be included in Cancer Seminars (Medicine 6400-6413).


University Fellowships— University fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis to outstanding students by the School of Graduate Studies upon the recommendation of the Faculty of Medicine. Currently, MSc fellowships are valued at $12,500 and PhD fellowships are valued at $14,000 per annum.

Colman Graduate Student Award — This award, valued at $1,000, is made annually to the graduate student in the Faculty of Medicine deemed to have excelled in all aspects of his/her program of study. Applications are accepted by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies (Medicine) and should be accompanied by a letter of support from the student’s supervisor.

Burness Graduate Student Award — This prize, valued at up to $5,000, is awarded annually to the MSc student in the Faculty of Medicine deemed to have excelled in all aspects of his/her program of study. Applications are accepted by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies (Medicine) and should be accompanied by a letter of support from the student’s supervisor.

Mary Pater Award for excellence in Cancer Research — Awarded to the graduate student who gives the best presentation judged in an annual research forum held at the end of the Winter semester. The participants of the forum are judged both on their research results and quality of their presentation. The award is presented by the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies upon the recommendation of the program coordinator.

Program Overview

The graduate program in cancer research is jointly offered by the Departments of Biomedical & Molecular Sciences, Pathology & Molecular Medicine, Public Health Sciences, Psychology and Translational Medicine. The strengths in graduate education in Cancer Research at Queen’s span many research areas including structural and tumour biology and genetics, through epidemiology, to outcomes research, cell signaling and health policy development.


Our students have the opportunity for centralized access to a broad range of cancer research opportunities available to them within the Faculty of Health Sciences, and at Queen’s University as a whole. The collaborative program provides an intellectual focus on cancer and connects researchers and graduate students with different perspectives on this area. The program encourages interactions of researchers and students with common interests in cancer, regardless of departmental home, and at the same time facilitates productive interaction between individuals involved in different research areas, all focused on different aspects of cancer research.

Career paths – employment opportunities

Graduates of the collaborative program in Cancer Research can expect to find a wealth of employment opportunities in the area of cancer research or related fields including basic or applied research or other employment in academic centres, industry or health research institutions, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, private industry and many other career paths.–Degrees Offered/Method of Completion

Degrees Offered

M.Sc. : 24 months (full time)

Ph.D.: 36 months (full time)

Method of Completion

Graduate students in the collaborative program will be required to satisfy the academic requirements of the program-of-registration, as well as complete the following:

  • A thesis project in an area of Cancer Research.
  • One or more designated Cancer Research courses.
  • Participate in the Cancer Research Seminar Series.

–Fields of study and Supervisors

Areas of cancer research interest span multiple Departments. Students are encouraged to contact potential Supervisors within their specific area of interest to discuss enrolment in the collaborative program. Research areas include:

Molecular Epidemiology

Molecular Epidemiology – focuses on the contribution of potential genetic and environmental risk factors, identified at the molecular and biochemical level to the etiology, distribution, and prevention of disease. Explores cancer etiology by incorporating laboratory methods to document the molecular dose, and pre-clinical effects of carcinogens, as well as factors that increase individual susceptibility to carcinogens. Trainees will conduct research developing or employing biomarkers of genetic susceptibility, carcinogenic exposure and mechanisms, and intermediate endpoints.

Cancer Genetics, Gene Regulation and Molecular Diagnostics

Focuses on the genetic implications of cancer diagnosis, prevention and treatment, and on novel strategies for improving these processes. Employs postgenomic/proteomic era research methodology in such areas as transcriptional regulation, genotype/phenotype based prediction of disease course, genetic association studies, and biomarker development. Research areas include: gene regulation, pharmacogenomic applications in diagnosis, drug design, treatment and prediction of outcomes, implications and psychosocial impact of population screening and genetic testing.

Drug Development & Experimental Therapeutics

Focuses on the development and characterization of novel drugs and therapeutic modalities through to initial application of new drugs in cancer patients. Relevant topics include small molecule design and evaluation, development and validation of cell-based and preclinical models, preclinical drug testing, design and interpretation of phase I and II trials, with an emphasis on regulatory, and ethical requirements.

Cellular Regulation and Signal Transduction in Cancer Cells

 Focuses on areas of cancer biology including tumor progression and metastasis, drug resistance and metabolism, and regulation of cell growth and differentiation. Specific interests include cytoplasmic and nuclear signalling cascades, gene expression and function in malignant cells, stromal-tumor interactions, and metastasis. Training takes advantage of state-of-the-art approaches including genomic and proteomic resources, structure/function analysis, microarray based gene expression profiling, and animal models.

Cancer Care & Service Delivery

Focuses on integrating clinical and health services research to optimize patient outcomes. Training addresses themes including: access to timely diagnosis and treatment, improving doctor-patient communication, making appropriate treatment decisions, correct treatment delivery, and adequate follow up care and patient preferences and education. Training includes: clinical epidemiologic, psychology, health services, and health policy research methods.

Outcomes Research and Health Policy Development

Focuses on measurement, evaluation, and improvement of patient outcomes in delivery of cancer care. Training areas include development and implementation of medical management policies, geographic variations in the management and outcome of cancer, and the structure of the cancer system and its influence on the effectiveness and efficiency of treatment programs. Thesis research in the areas of cancer morbidity and mortality outcomes, evaluation of patient symptoms and quality of life, patient experience of and satisfaction with health care, and the social consequences of cancer care will be available.

Drug Metabolism and Pharmacogenetics

Focuses on drug metabolism, gene expression, availability and regulation of drug metabolizing enzymes. Research projects employ in vitro and in vivo systems to explore the metabolism and disposition of endogenous and exogenous compounds, including pharmacologic agents and environmental chemicals.

Molecular Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis

Focuses on molecular mechanisms of chemical, physical, and viral (biological) carcinogenesis. Training opportunities include studies of genetic and epigenetic pathways regulating cell proliferation, differentiation, and death; carcinogenesis studies in transgenic mice; and research on tumor viruses. The effects of environmental and endogenous factors on tumour growth and DNA damage, and the implications of these events for oncogene activation, DNA amplification, gene transposition, and chromosome translocations are research foci.

and blurb “Immuno-Oncology (I-O) is an innovative area of research that seeks to help the body’s own immune system fight cancer. The goal is to address the unmet need for long-term survival in patients with advanced cancers.”–Funding, Academic Prerequisites & Deadline

Funding Information

All students in the collaborative program will be considered for funding support in accordance with their respective home program’s funding policy. Students are also encouraged to apply for external scholarships such as CIHR, NSERC, or SSHRC studentships, or the ACCELERATE Ontario-Research Internship Program. Students involved in transdisciplinary cancer research projects may apply for funding through the Terry Fox Foundation Training Program in Transdisciplinary Cancer Research in partnership with CIHR –Program Overview

Cancer Research (1.11MB)

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