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Cancer Researcher: Job Description and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a cancer researcher. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and education information to find out if this is the career for you.

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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.

Essential Information

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 (Ph.D.s) in fields related to medical science, chemistry, or biology. Although doctorate of medicine degrees (M.D.s) are not necessarily required for this position, cancer researchers involved in clinical trials on human patients may need M.D.s to conduct the research. Individuals who pursue M.D.s 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.

Required Education Ph.D. and/or M.D.
Other Requirements Completion of graduate studies and/or residency training in cancer research; comply with certification or licensure requirements, if necessary
Projected Job Growth (2012-2024)* 8% for Medical Scientists
Median Salary (2015)* $82,240 for Medical scientists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Description

Whether working for universities, non-profit organizations, or private companies, cancer researchers utilize their science backgrounds to discover new ways to prevent and treat all kinds of cancer. They may conduct laboratory studies on the role genetic markers play in predisposition to certain cancers and how different treatments affect the growth of cancerous cells. Experts in pharmacology may lead clinical trials to test new cancer-fighting drugs on patients.

When they are not actively involved in research pursuits, cancer researchers can usually be found doing a fair amount of writing, from grant proposals to securing funding for cancer research to manuscripts that are published in medical journals and other scholarly publications. At universities, they may be a part of the faculty and have teaching duties in addition to their research and writing work.

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Education Requirements for a Cancer Researcher

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.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of medical scientists, including cancer researchers, is expected to grow by 8% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS also reported the median annual salary earned by such scientists as $82,240 in May 2015; those performing scientific research and development services earned an average annual salary of $104,310 in 2015, 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.

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