Understanding the Publication and Format of Cancer Research Studies

Aprobado por la Junta Editorial de Cancer.Net, 07/2022

Research studies answer key questions about how cancer works in the body. They also show what tests and treatments may work best. To help improve cancer care, scientists share the results of their studies with other scientists and doctors. The main way they do so is by publishing them in medical journals.

Scientists may publish their own cancer research, which can be done in a laboratory or with volunteers in a clinic. Studies that involve people are known as clinical trials. Or they may write a review article. A review article looks at all of the published research on a certain topic.

Most cancer research studies are written for scientists and medical doctors. But people with cancer may read them to learn about their disease and treatment options. Research studies use scientific terms that some people may not know. Talk with your health care team if you have questions about research you find.

How is cancer research published?

Different medical journals often focus on different topics, such as clinical cancer research. These journals present new scientific findings and the research methods used.

Most journals publish in print and online. This includes the American Society of Clinical Oncology journals. Journals usually publish on a specific schedule, such as weekly, biweekly, monthly, or quarterly.

For articles published in scientific journals, the phrase “peer reviewed" means that the article has undergone a process in which qualified experts have reviewed it and provided feedback to the authors to improve the scientific quality and integrity of the article. The reviewers were not part of the study. These experts decide whether the research data and results are reliable. Learn more about the importance of peer review in research quality.

How is a cancer research study formatted?

Most cancer research studies include background information, the researcher's methods, results, and the meaning of the findings. Studies published in many journals present this data in a certain format known as Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion (IMRAD).

The IMRAD format allows other scientists to do similar studies to see if there is the same result, a scientific principle called replication. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors supports IMRAD. But some journals may use other names for the format's sections, which are described below.

  • Introduction. This section explains why a study was done. It also states the research question. For example, "Does this treatment help people with stage IV colon cancer live longer?"

  • Methods. This is where researchers describe how they answered the research question. To do this, they explain the study's design. This may include how, how much, and how often people in the study received treatment. The researchers also state what result they were measuring. For instance, this may be how long the participants lived without the cancer progressing ("progression-free survival") or if the tumors shrank. They also show how they studied the data.

  • Results. This section shares the main study findings. Tables and graphics may show the data in different ways. The results section also gives general information about study volunteers, such as the age range and sex. It explains why the volunteers were chosen and the type and stage of cancer they have.

  • Discussion. This section is also known as the conclusion. It describes what the results mean in relation to the study's purpose. It also looks at the importance of the results and how they may affect cancer research and care. For instance, the results may confirm or challenge earlier research.

What is a cancer research study abstract?

An abstract is a summary that is at the beginning of published cancer research studies. It shares the study's main data. This allows readers to quickly learn about the most important parts of the research. Researchers often share their abstracts at scientific meetings, sometimes even before they have been published in a journal.

How can I find cancer research studies?

There are many ways to find cancer research studies. One way is to visit a journal's website. Then you can use either the search function or the online archive to find a study. An archive stores older studies.

You can also use large, online databases that provide study abstracts. One popular database cancer researchers and doctors use is PubMed. PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Another online database you can use to search for studies in Google Scholar. These databases include millions of citations from a wide range of medical journals. A citation is a reference to a source that provides information. This includes the study title, author names, and journal title.

PubMed and Google Scholar can be hard to use because they include so many studies. You can make it easier by searching for a certain cancer topic. If you cannot find studies on that topic, try including more medical terms in your search. For example, try "renal cell carcinoma" instead of "kidney cancer." You can also include the word "review" along with the type of cancer to find review articles. Be as specific as you can about the topic you are interested in.

Abstracts can often be read online for free. However, sometimes you may not be able to read the full study if you do not subscribe to the journal that published it. Sometimes there may be a way to pay a one-time fee to read a study. For printed copies of medical journals, visit a local library or university.

Related Resources

Understanding Cancer Research Study Designs and How to Evaluate Results

What to Know When Searching for Cancer Information Online: An Expert Perspective

Evaluating Cancer Information on the Internet

Journals and Magazines

Major Milestones Against Cancer