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ACS Research Priority Areas

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has established these 6 areas to prioritize the research we fund to help advance the mission. All research proposals (except Institutional Research Grants, Mission Boost Grants, and Professor grants) must fall into at least 1 of these 6 priority areas: 

  • Etiology (causes of cancer)
  • Obesity/Healty Eating and Active Living (HEAL)
  • Screening and Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Survivorship
  • Health Equity Across the Cancer Continuum

For examples of recent awards in these priority areas, see this press release.

Etiology (Causes of Cancer)

The ACS supports research into the causes of cancer and the incidence, initiation, and biology of early-onset cancers.

To accelerate progress in understanding the causes of cancer, this priority area supports research to identify early, inherited, somatic, molecular, behavioral, environmental, and societal causes and risk factors that impact cancer incidence, progression, and mortality. 

Research in this priority area could include studying: 

  • Fundamental cellular processes to better understand carcinogenesis, including DNA damage, hypoxia (too little oxygen), and extracellular matrix remodeling. 
  • New models of cancer initiation to understand the intersection of genetics and exposures to carcinogens.
  • Factors that contribute to tumor evolution, including the adaptive immune system and its interplay with innate responses.
  • Target genes involved in cancer to better identify and characterize them, using global-scale genomic and epigenomic approaches.


Obesity/Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) 

The ACS supports research on metabolism, inflammation, nutrition, and physical activity to better understand each factor’s role in cancer risk, initiation, treatment, progression, and survivorship. 

Studies can span the research continuum (i.e., from molecular to population-based). Research in this priority area could include studying:

  • Lifestyle habits and environmental factors (including tumor microenvironment) to determine how they alter cellular metabolism and affect cancer development, progression, recurrence, and survivorship.
  • Body composition to better understand how adiposity, lean mass, and body mass index affect cancer treatment, prognosis, and survivorship.
  • Evidence-based lifestyle interventions to better understand underlying biological and behavioral mechanisms associated with the adoption and sustainment of behavior changes in order to establish and implement improved programs to help people stay at a healthy weight, maintain a healthy diet, and continue adequate levels of physical activity.

Health Disparities

Health disparities are differences in health and health care between population groups that are preventable and closely linked with economic, social, and/or environmental disadvantage. Health disparities may be characterized by age; race or ethnicity; religion; literacy; socioeconomic-status; mental health; disability; gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics that are historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. 

Screening and Diagnosis

The ACS supports research on cancer screening and early detection, diagnostics, and prognostics. We encourage studies focused on high-mortality cancers and major cancer types that lack screening tests.

Studies can span the research continuum (i.e., from molecular to population-based). Research in this priority area could include studying:

  • New screening opportunities, surveillance, and risk assessment to discover, develop, or advance technologies that could lead to reducing the burdens of cancer.  
  • Diagnostic tests so their results improve the distinction between high-risk early lesions from lesions that do not require immediate curative therapy, with the goal of reducing unnecessary side effects and financial toxicity. 
  • The earliest stages of cancer and premalignant disease to improve the understanding of cellular and molecular structures of subtypes associated with health disparities. 
  • Barriers and social determinants of health to better understand and identify what interferes with the adoption of recommended guidelines and/or the testing of innovative strategies to increase and sustain their uptake, equity, and effectiveness. 

Social Determinants of Health 

Non-medical factors that influence health, the ability to function, risk for health problems, and quality of life. These include conditions in the environments where people are born, live, work, play, worship, and age as well as the social, economic, and political systems that shape those conditions of daily life.

Closely linked to health disparities.


The ACS supports research to develop new cancer treatments, targets, and systems to monitor and treat resistant diseases and to enhance opportunities in immunotherapy and precision medicine. 

To accelerate progress in cancer treatment, this priority area supports research to improve models and test interventions for prevention, tumor dormancy, recurrence,  resistance, and metastasis. 

This priority area will further generate predictive preclinical models to streamline clinical testing of combination or multi-modal therapies by funding research on tumor microenvironment, heterogeneity, microbiome, and immune escape. 

Research in this priority could aim to improve timely access to treatment, increase participation rates of diverse populations in clinical trials and advance our understanding of barriers to the receipt of timely and high-quality treatment. Research in this priority area could include studying:

  • New agents, combinations, and approaches to continue to identify the most useful cancer therapies.
  • Barriers and social determinants of health to develop interventions that reduce interference with cancer treatments.
  • Resistance to treatment to develop systems that better predict resistance and monitor it.


Survivorship research focuses on improving the survivorship journey and quality of life for survivors and their caregivers, including emotional, financial, spiritual, and supportive services or care delivery, as well as communication research.  

Research may address access barriers to high-quality cancer care and health equity across the cancer continuum—screening and early detection, diagnosis, treatment, or palliative care and survivorship. Research in this priority area could include studying:

  • The quality of care and quality of life for cancer survivors and caregivers. This could involve assessing survivor function as well as caregiver and survivor needs, improving communication and decision-making with health care professionals and caregivers, improving the effectiveness of care coordination, and integrating early primary and specialty palliative care into interventions that personalize and tailor care.
  • New models of delivering care and interventions that include interdisciplinary approaches and economic evaluation, such as novel strategies for coordinating care between specialists and primary care providers, telehealth/virtual care, virtual reality, or artificial intelligence. 
  • Improving risk-prediction models, tools, and standardization of real-world data to inform improvements in practice, public health, and public policy.    

Health Equity Across the Cancer Control Continuum  

The ACS believes that everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer. Societal issues —such as poverty, education, social injustices, and unequal distribution of resources and power —underpin profound inequities. 

These macro-environmental conditions where people are born, grow, live, work, and age, along with the available systems supporting health are known as the social determinants of health (SDOH). The SDOH are interrelated and extend across the life span to impact health. 

This area of research addresses the interplay between SDOH and access to high-quality care and services across the cancer continuum and solutions to achieve optimal outcomes for all.

 Research may include studying:

  • Multilevel interventions that address root causes of cancer health disparities related to social determinants of health, including classism and structural racism, and that lead to improved health outcomes.
  • Novel strategies designed to help underserved communities with testing and implementation to gather research-based evidence to improve their integration into clinical and public health practice.
  • Under-served communities to develop and test culturally tailored approaches that increase participation in clinical trials and that overcome barriers to the adherence of study protocols.
  • Health insurance and health policy to test interventions that address financial barriers, cost-benefit, cost-effectiveness, and implications on care across the cancer continuum.
  • Ways to overcome barriers and increase participation of diverse subjects in clinical trials to help improve the generalizability of their results. 

Health Equity

The state in which everyone is able to reach their full health potential, and no one is at a disadvantage for attaining this potential on the basis of race/ethnicity, gender, health insurance coverage, disability, place of residence, or other social circumstances, such as lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.

Achieving health equity requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty and discrimination, as well as their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.