ACS Research Priority Areas

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has established these 6 areas to prioritize the research we fund to help advance the missionAll 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 

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: 

  • Understanding fundamental cellular processes in carcinogenesis including DNA damage, hypoxia, and extracellular matrix remodeling. 
  • Developing new cancer models of cancer initiation to understand the intersection of genetics and exposures.
  • Understanding factors that contribute to tumor evolution, including the adaptive immune system and its interplay with innate responses.
  • Identifying and characterizing target genes involved in cancer, 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:

  • Determining how lifestyle habits and environmental factors (including tumor microenvironment) alter cellular metabolism and impact cancer development, disease progression, recurrence, and survivorship.
  • Studying how body composition—adiposity, lean mass, and body mass index—impact cancer treatment, prognosis, and survivorship.
  • Establishing and/or implementing evidence-based lifestyle interventions to understand underlying biological and behavioral mechanisms associated with adoption and sustainment of behavior changes leading to healthy weight control, healthy diet, and adequate levels of physical activity.

simply defined

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:

  • Discovery and development of new screening opportunities, surveillance, and risk assessment, including developing or advancing technologies that could lead to reducing the burdens of cancer.  
  • Development of diagnostic tests to distinguish high-risk early lesions from those that do not necessitate rushing into curative therapy that could incur unnecessary side effects and financial toxicity. 
  • Improving the understanding of cellular and molecular underpinnings of the earliest stages of cancer and premalignant disease, with a focus on subtypes associated with health disparities. 
  • Understanding and identifying barriers and social determinants of health that interfere with the adoption of recommended guidelines and/or the testing of  innovative strategies to  increase and sustain their uptake, equity, and effectiveness. 

Simply Defined

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)
SDOH are non-medical factors that influence health. They are conditions in the environments where people are born, live, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, quality-of-life-outcomes and risks, and the social, economic, and political systems that shape the conditions of daily life.

SDOH are closely linked to health disparities.


The ACS supports research to develop new cancer treatments, targets, and systems to monitor and treat resistant disease 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:

  • Identifying new agents, combinations, and approaches useful in cancer therapy.
  • Developing and integrating interventions that reduce barriers and social determinants of health that interfere with cancer treatments.
  • Development of systems to predict, and monitor for, resistance to treatment.


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, and may include: 

  • Improving the quality of care and quality of life for cancer survivors and caregivers, which may involve an assessment of survivor and caregiver needs, assessment of survivor function, improving communication and decision making with health care professionals and caregivers, effective care coordination, and integrating early primary and specialty palliative care into interventions that personalize and tailor care.
  • New models of delivering care and interventions inclusive of interdisciplinary approaches and economic evaluation, i.e. 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, 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:

  • Multilevel research and multilevel interventions that address root causes of cancer health disparities related to SDOH, including classism and structural racism, and that lead to improved health outcomes.
  • Implementation research to test novel strategies with underserved communities to integrate research-based evidence into clinical and public health practice.
  • Implementation research that involves under- served communities to increase participation and overcome barriers for adherence to study protocols by developing and testing culturally tailored approaches.
  • Testing interventions that address financial barriers, cost benefit, cost effectiveness, and implications of health insurance and health policy on care across the cancer continuum.
  • Increasing diverse subjects in clinical trials to increase participation, overcome barriers, and improve generalizability. 

Simply Defined

Health Equity
Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. The ACS definition is more specific: Everyone has a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer. This 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.