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Cancer research output continues to increase with most high-quality papers coming from institutions in the US and China

The Nature Index 2020 Cancer supplement tracks trends in cancer research output and collaboration, as well as research funding and progress in the prevention, treatment and survival rate for different forms of the disease

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The number of cancer research articles published in journals listed in the Nature Index increased by 25.8 percent between 2015 and 2019. This is four times the growth for overall article output in this period. According to article Share – the key metric of the Nature Index, explained in the note below – institutions in North America and China made up the top 20 in terms of high-quality research output in the journals tracked by the Nature Index. In fact, when analysing the output using article Share from different countries, China’s output in cancer research rose by around 114.9 percent between 2015 and 2019, eclipsing by a factor of five percentage growth of Canada, the next fastest-rising country in cancer research with 24.2 percent growth over the period. Statistics were determined using both the Nature Index and Dimensions databases and are included in the latest Nature Index supplement which focuses on cancer.

The supplement also analyses the rise and distribution of cancer research funding using data from Dimensions, an inter-linked research information system provided by Digital Science. Although the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US is by far the world’s biggest funder of cancer research, the National Natural Science Foundation in China allocated more individual grants of smaller amounts, and the European Commission’s average grant size is 40 percent larger than the NCI’s.

Improved outcomes for some forms of cancer such as melanoma, or successful prevention strategies, such as for cervical cancer, provide examples of how this substantial investment in research is paying off. However, this supplement also shows that many of the latest treatments, such as robotic surgery for prostate cancer, are not available in the countries where 70 percent of cancer deaths occur.

David Swinbanks, Founder of the Nature Index, said: “We sometimes hear about a mismatch between investment in cancer research and patient outcomes. This supplement shows that the output of cancer research is increasing significantly, with strong collaboration domestically and internationally, but that this is driven by specific regions and countries. Analyses like these are important because they emphasise the need to find ways of bringing the latest developments and improvements in cancer prevention and treatment to regions where there is currently a low rate of survival.”

Further features in the supplement include profiles of three emerging researchers with strong collaboration networks identified using a combination of data from Nature Index and Dimensions.

Note: The Nature Index is one indicator of institutional research performance. The metrics of Count and Share used to order Nature Index listings are based on an institution’s or country’s publication output in 82 natural science journals, selected on reputation by an independent panel of leading scientists in their fields. The Nature Index recognises that many other factors must be taken into account when considering research quality and institutional performance; Nature Index metrics alone should not be used to assess institutions or individuals. Nature Index data and methods are transparent and available under a creative commons license at

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