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Cancer Research

Detect cancer earlier, prevent new cases and develop better therapies

Picture: Paech D, Nagel A M, Schultheiss M N, et al. Quantitative dynamic oxygen 17 MRI at 7.0 T for the cerebral oxygen metabolism in glioma. Radiology 2020;295:181-189.

In Germany, around half a million people are diagnosed with cancer every year. In recent years and decades, there have been considerable successes in early detection and treatment. But many people still die from the disease; cancer is the second most common cause of death. To change that, we need to understand the disease even better. Strictly speaking, cancer is a variety of diseases that have in common uncontrolled cell proliferation and invasive spread in the body.

What processes in the body are responsible for the growth and survival of cancer cells? How do genes, signaling mechanisms, and metabolism in cancer cells differ from those in healthy cells, and why is the immune system unable to fight off these cancer cells? How do lifestyle factors influence the development of cancer? How can artificial intelligence help diagnose cancers more safely and accurately? And what innovative forms of therapy can effectively combat tumors? Helmholtz scientists are tackling these questions in the "Cancer Research" program. Our goal is to detect cancer earlier, prevent new cases and develop better therapies. The course of cancer is different for every patient. This is why treatment focuses on the specific characteristics of the individual disease: finding them makes personalized cancer therapy possible for each and every person affected. Tailored treatment, for example in the form of certain antibodies or specially selected drugs that exploit the genetic characteristics of the tumor. The aim is to ensure that the treatment works better and has fewer side effects.

The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), with the participation of the Helmholtz- Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), is leading the implementation of the program. The Helmholtz program "Cancer Research" combines focal areas in cell and tumor biology, functional and structural genome research, cancer risk factors and prevention, immunology and cancer, infection, inflammation and cancer, as well as imaging and radio oncology, to which the HZDR makes a decisive contribution. It takes a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach: from prevention and early detection to diagnostics, innovative clinical trials and new therapies. This process, known as translation, is implemented and expanded in specific networks and centers such as the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), the Hopp Children's Tumor Center Heidelberg (KiTZ), HI-TRON Mainz and the DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim and OncoRay Dresden, together with university partners and university medicine. Another goal is to strengthen the national and international networking of cancer research with partners.

The Cancer Research program also plays a key role in the "National Decade against Cancer" initiative launched by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in 2019. An important objective is to bring new findings from research quickly to the patient. With the expansion of the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), a total of six NCT sites are now cooperating with the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) with the goal of sustainably advancing state-of-the-art clinical cancer research in Germany and thereby improving the treatment outcomes and quality of life of cancer patients. In addition, DKFZ is establishing the "National Cancer Prevention Center" in partnership with German Cancer Aid, which will combine research on cancer prevention and early detection and bring evidence-tested prevention programs to the wider community.


  • Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Germany
  • The "Cancer Research" program takes an interdisciplinary approach at all levels: Prevention, early detection, diagnostics, innovative clinical studies and therapeutic approaches.
  • The transfer of findings from basic research to clinical research is of particular importance and is implemented and expanded with partners in translational networks and through innovative clinical research in centers such as the NCT
  • Within the "National Decade against Cancer" launched in 2019 on the initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Cancer Research Program plays a major role.
  • In partnership with the German Cancer Aid, the "National Cancer Prevention Center" is currently being established, which will unite research on cancer prevention and early detection and bring evidence-based prevention programs to the wider society
  • The research program is carried out by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), with the participation of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR).

The program is subdivided into the following topics

  • Cell and Tumor Biology
  • Functional and Structural Genomics
  • Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention
  • Immunology and Cancer
  • Imaging and Radiooncology 
  • Infection, Inflammation and Cancer


Michael Baumann

Program spokesperson Cancer Research
German Cancer Research Center

Dr. Katja Großmann

Chief Research Manager Health
Helmholtz Association

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