Research at Cancer Council NSW

Research at Cancer Council NSW

Research is fundamental to unlocking the answers that will help us beat cancer. Cancer Council NSW is committed to conducting and funding research that enhances outcomes across the entire cancer journey. We are proud of our role in the cancer research space and continue to be one of the largest non-government funders of cancer research in Australia. Over the past 10 years, Cancer Council NSW has been privileged to contribute over $136 million into research – supporting the best ideas and the best people in research.

Through a program of grants, we fund groundbreaking cancer research in institutions across the state, which is being undertaken by eminent and internationally recognised Australian researchers. We also have a dedicated team of our own researchers based at Cancer Council NSW, who specialise in providing expert, impartial evidence that influences the actions of government policy makers, doctors and the community to reduce the impact of cancer. 

Our unique position in the cancer research community

NSW has a large and culturally diverse population of over seven million people. The state has the largest population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the country, and around one in four residents were born overseas. This diverse population allows our researchers to undertake research that not only benefits the people of NSW but also has relevance to the rest of Australia and globally.

Our research generates cutting edge knowledge which informs changes to policies and practice. This unique ability to translate research into real world practice within the same organisation makes Cancer Council NSW an exciting place to perform research.

Research funded by Cancer Council NSW

Every year, we commit around $15 million in new funding to support researchers across NSW. As a charity with limited funding, research experts, cancer patients, survivors and carers helps us decide what research to fund.

Before we invest in any new research project, it is reviewed by both scientific experts and our panel of cancer survivors and carers. This allows us to make sure we fund research that is of most benefit to the cancer community whilst maintaining the highest scientific standards.

Learn more about how we fund research

Search for research projects we are currently funding

Research conducted by our team at Cancer Council NSW

Our in-house research is focused on understanding cancer risks, trends and outcomes right across the population, and this provides the critical evidence to underpin cancer control initiatives, nationally and internationally. The team conducts epidemiological research, which combines medicine, health sciences, and social sciences on the one hand and statistics on the other.

Here is Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Cancer Research, talking about what it’s like to be a researcher at Cancer Council NSW. 

The studies undertaken by our research team are centred on the four cancer types listed below. Each cancer type is the focus of a separate cancer research group led by a senior research fellow. These research groups are also supported by the expertise of our methods and health economics groups.

  • Cervix/HPV and breast cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Lung cancer

To support this program of work, researchers based at Cancer Council NSW have developed a flexible modelling platform called Policy1. Modelling is a type of complex mathematics that acts like a powerful search engine that we can use to answer key research questions. Policy1 draws on information about the natural history of different cancers across the population individual behaviours (risk factors and screening behaviour), and primary and secondary cancer prevention strategies (screening, vaccination, lifestyle change interventions). 

Our researchers use Policy1 to evaluate the impact of interventions related to cancer prevention and screening on a range of different cancers, costs, and resource use (for example, diagnostic tests and clinical services). Policy1 generates crucial information for provide policy-makers, providing them with an evidence-base to guide policies for cancer control and ultimately reduce the burden of cancer in Australia and around the world.

Cervix/HPV and breast cancer research group

The cervix/HPV and breast cancer research group is headed by Professor Karen Canfell, and consists of a wide range of researchers, PhD students and programmers.

To date, the main focus of this program has been the relationship between HPV vaccination and cervical screening in both high and low resource countries. The group works internationally, regularly conducting economic evaluations of new cervical screening technologies for government agencies in Australia, New Zealand and England. It also collaborates with the Cancer Institute of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences to evaluate options for cervical cancer prevention in China.

The group recently performed economic evaluations of primary HPV screening in England, and its research has also informed major changes to the National Cervical Screening Program in Australia. Known as Renewal, the new screening program will transition from two yearly Pap tests to an HPV test every five years in 2017.

In collaboration with the Victorian Cytology Service, our team has initiated Compass, a major new trial of HPV-based cervical screening in Australia. Compass is the first large scale clinical trial in the world to assess cervical screening in an HPV vaccinated population. The group is also the provider of Independent Monitoring Reports for the National Cervical Screening Program in New Zealand.

Our researchers are part of a new international cooperative research effort funded by the US National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute. This grant, known as CISNET-Cervix, involves five international modelling teams evaluating new cervical cancer prevention options in the USA and is coordinated by Harvard University. The group is also involved in developing HPV-FRAME, a consensus statement and quality framework for evaluations of HPV prevention.

Bowel cancer research group

The bowel cancer research group is currently recruiting a new senior researcher into the leadership role. Professor Karen Canfell is leading this team of researchers and programmers who are focused on reducing the burden of bowel cancer on the community using a model – the Policy1-Bowel model. This was developed in collaboration with VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands to simulate the typical way bowel cancer develops over time and is now being used to inform optimal approaches to bowel cancer screening.

The group recently completed some analysis which showed that if the current participation rate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) could be raised to 60%, 83,000 deaths would be prevented by the year 2040. The research showed that the NBCSP would also produce a $61 million total health saving by 2030, and will save $2.1 billion in health system costs from 2030 to 2040. This would make the NBCSP one of the most cost-beneficial health and life-saving programs in Australia’s history.

In partnership with our collaborators, Professor Canfell also leads a grant to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of new screening strategies for people with Lynch Syndrome in Australia.  Lynch syndrome is a hereditary cancer which makes people more likely to develop bowel and other types of cancer.

Prostate cancer research group

The prostate cancer research group is headed by Associate Professor David Smith, a leading expert in prostate cancer research. The researchers, postdoctoral fellows and analysts that work in this group have a wide ranging program focusing on the patterns and outcomes of prostate cancer care.

The group’s work includes prostate cancer testing, the diagnosis and management of prostate cancer, and the impact of the disease. For example, the NSW Prostate Cancer Care and Outcomes Study (PCOS15) is a long-term cohort study, following a group of men and their partners 15 years after an initial diagnosis of prostate cancer. This study will provide valuable insight into the long-term survivorship experience of these men and identify ways to help improve their quality of life. 

Our prostate cancer researchers are also undertaking, in collaboration with Macquarie University, a national trial of vitamin D supplementation in men with prostate cancer (Pros-D trial). This study will investigate whether vitamin D is able to prevent prostate cancer progression.

In partnership with the Sax Institute, the team is conducting the Clinician-Led Improvements in Cancer Care (CLICC) study to investigate whether a clinical practice network can influence adherence to clinical guidelines for treating high risk prostate cancer.

Lung cancer research group

The lung cancer research group is currently recruiting a senior researcher to lead an existing team of epidemiologists, modellers, clinicians, and health economists.

Lung cancer has been identified as a key research priority for Cancer Council NSW. The burden of lung cancer on the community is very high, and the five year survival rate is still only 15%. Despite this, investment in lung cancer research in Australia has been small when compared to the research investment in other types of cancer.

To address the disparity between research investment and disease burden, the lung cancer group is developing a program of work that integrates all aspects of the lung cancer ‘journey’, including risk factors, primary prevention, early detection, health service use, treatment outcomes and costs. 

A number of projects have begun on cost effectiveness evaluations of lung cancer screening, including: the use of CT scans for screening; developing and testing risk assessment tools for lung cancer; and assessing the direct health care and out of pocket costs associated with lung cancer.  

Methods research group

The methods research group is led by Professor Dianne O’Connell and provides all our researchers based at Cancer Council NSW with core research support and technical capability. The group consists of academic and professional staff, including postdoctoral fellows, data analysts, statisticians, systematic review experts, and PhD students.

Health economics research group

We are currently recruiting for a senior research fellow to lead in the development of our capacity in health economics research. This group focuses on the economics of existing and new strategies in cancer control.

Research staff at Cancer Council NSW

See our senior staff profiles here.


Our work is enriched through access to an international network of more than 150 collaborations..

collaborator map

Formal Affiliation


Cancer Council NSW has a close affiliation with the University of Sydney. The aim of this partnership is to encourage collaborative research and teaching between both institutions, which allows new opportunities to be explored and provides innovative solutions to health care needs. In working closely together, researchers at the University and Cancer Council NSW are able to engage with new frontiers of health and medical research.

For more information on research conducted at the University of Sydney, you can review their Research Supervisor Connect page here, or their Associated Research Centres page here.

Find out more

For further information on cancer research funded or conducted by Cancer Council NSW, please contact us at (02) 9334 1860 or Or, follow @CCNSWResearch on Twitter.