Both master's and doctoral programs are research-intensive, and hands-on labs and field experiences are critical components of the curricula. These programs culminate in a thesis or dissertation, respectively. Graduates seek admission to medical school in preparation for becoming oncologists, though a master's or doctoral program is also offered jointly with some medical degrees.
Applicants to a two year master's degree program need a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or a related natural science. Undergraduate performance is also considered for admission. Schools require prerequisite coursework in organic chemistry, physics, calculus, and biology. Admission requirements for doctoral programs include a bachelor's degree in biology, with specific prerequisite coursework and lab experience. Like most doctoral programs, students need to submit academic or professional letters of recommendation and submit to graduate admissions testing. These programs can last anywhere from five to seven years.
Master's Degree in Biology
Few schools offer a master's program in cancer biology or as a concentration within a biology program, though admissions are limited. Upon completion of a master's curriculum, students either choose to be awarded a terminal degree or apply credit toward a doctoral degree. In addition to individual research projects, many graduate schools include student groups that provide peer evaluation, collaboration, and discussion. Universities that have or are affiliated with research centers allow students to receive practical training within a medical environment.
Core courses differ slightly based on the program focus. Curricula designed for a cancer biology field of study includes many classes centering on cancer examination and research. Biology programs with a concentration in cancer biology require core courses in general molecular and cellular biology as well as genetic sciences. Course topics include:
- Biological development
- Environmental health
- Biochemistry and biostatistics
- Nutrition in cancer prevention
- Pharmaceutical therapy
- Behavior of cancer cells and controlling cancer growth
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Doctoral Degree in Cancer Biology
Doctoral degree programs in cancer biology qualify students for teaching and research careers. In addition to coursework, students attend several clinical laboratory rotations, where they work on independent research and projects under the supervision of a research adviser. Doctoral programs in cancer biology include many hours of laboratory research in addition to advanced biology courses. Topics of study include:
- Tumor cell biology
- Cancer toxicology
- Cancer virology
- Genetic engineering techniques
- Cancer pharmacology
Popular Career Options
Graduates of a doctoral program in cancer biology may find employment in pharmaceutical, healthcare, and education industries. Some options might require further formal education. A few occupational options include:
- Biological scientist
- Cancer researcher
- Pediatric oncologist
- Postsecondary professor
- Pharmaceutical scientist
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for biophysicists and biochemists are expected to increase 8% between 2014 and 2024, due to the need to advance medical knowledge and create new drugs (www.bls.gov). The BLS stated that most biochemists and biophysicists require a doctoral degree for advanced research positions. The BLS reported in 2015 that these workers earned an annual median wage of $82,150.
Continuing Education Information
Cancer biologists and biological researchers are discovering and developing new and innovative solutions at a rapid pace. Those in the field should always stay aware of emerging technologies and findings in the field of cancer research through medical and professional networking, publications and continual review of governmental controls and trials. Several hospitals, nonprofit organizations and federal agencies offer information and training to researchers and the public. Additionally, after earning a master's degree, students can usually apply to doctoral research or medical programs to further their knowledge and careers.
Graduates of doctoral programs can choose to enroll in cancer biology postdoctoral training programs or fellowships. These interdisciplinary programs provide specialized laboratory research experience in a specialized area of cancer biology chosen by the student. Additionally, graduates may choose to continue their doctoral studies in medical school to become an oncologist or general physician.
Through master's and doctorate degrees, students can learn about cancer biology and related subjects, preparing them for work in a number of careers in science and medical fields. Graduates can take advantage of continuing education resources to stay up to date on their knowledge, and doctorate holders can enroll in postdoctoral training, fellowships, or medical school.