MSc in oncology

Authors: Susannah Stanway, Susana Banerjee 

Publication date:  08 Feb 2011

The MSc in oncology is a part time, postgraduate, two year taught course, followed by a one year supported research dissertation, run by the Institute of Cancer Research, London.

Who is it for?

It is aimed at doctors who wish to pursue a career in clinical and medical oncology and leads to a postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma, or MSc in oncology. Most students have entered specialty oncology training in clinical or medical oncology, but doctors in other disciplines have attended in the past and are welcome. The course aims to deliver a theoretical understanding of cancer and research methodology, application of this knowledge in the clinical setting, critical awareness, and advanced communication skills.

Why did you do it?

We felt that a structured programme promoting learning of clinical and scientific skills that focused specifically on cancer care would help equip us with the essential tools to become confident leaders in the future. Colleagues who had done this course confirmed that it provides an effective forum and uses proactive problem solving and reflective approaches to deliver this. The deanery encourages and endorses trainees to attend this course.

When did you do it?

Most oncology trainees do the course towards the beginning of their specialist training because it helps towards preparation for the fellowship of the Royal College of Radiologists (FRCR) exam. However, some trainees who attend the course at later stages have also found it useful to consolidate knowledge and experiences and to gain a degree in this field. It is anticipated that the MSc syllabus will also be useful when preparing for the forthcoming medical oncology exit exams.

What was the content?

The course is divided into three parts: A, B, and C, with each taking one academic year to complete. Parts A and B entail one day a week (Friday and Thursday respectively) during term time. Part A consists of modules in the pharmaceutical treatment of cancer, statistics, radiation sciences, experimental cancer pharmacology, and cell and molecular biology of cancer. Part B modules include palliative care and late effects; research methodology; cancer in context; paediatric, haematological, and rare cancers; gastrointestinal and urological malignancy; breast and gynaecological malignancy; and respiratory, head and neck, and adult central nervous system malignancy. Not all modules are compulsory. Part C entails submitting a research dissertation suitable for subsequent submission to a peer reviewed journal.

Is there an assessment?

Multiple choice question assessments that must be passed to gain credits for the module are taken at the end of each module. These—together with seminars, group work, and a portfolio consisting of a mixture of work, including case reports, critical reviews, and audit reports submitted at the end of each year—can be put towards a postgraduate certificate or diploma. If Part C is completed with the submission of a dissertation of 10 000 words, an MSc is awarded.

How much did it cost?

The course costs £1350 a year for parts A and B and £700 a year for part C.

Was it worth it?

Yes, the course is well organised and dynamic, with changes made as a direct result of student feedback. The speakers are excellent, many with an international name in their subject. Teaching on the course is a mixture of didactic and interactive lectures. It is a good opportunity to meet colleagues in the field, network, and collaborate on projects. The cancer.ed: website is well set up and allows access to e-journals, enables discussion between students, and has all presentations uploaded on it. The course is well attended by colleagues nationally. We would thoroughly recommend and indeed encourage oncology trainees to attend this course.

Top tips

  • To gain the most of this course while also having clinical commitments, prepare for the multiple choice question assessments as you go along and steadily work on and submit the coursework to ensure deadlines are met.

Pros and cons


  • The course is thorough and covers basic science in the first year and all the major tumour types and their management in the second year

  • There is a steady stream of work throughout the two years in the form of presentations, written work, and multiple choice question preparation. Feedback from previous years means that work you are required to do as a specialist registrar—for example, audit and publications—can be submitted for some modules instead of doing separate work


  • The commitment of a day a week during term time to this course means that for many trusts, all study leave for two years is used up on this MSc course.

Further information

The course is run by the Institute of Cancer Research. Further information and an application form are at [Link] .

Competing interests: None declared.

Susannah Stanway specialist registrar
Susana Banerjee specialist registrar Royal Marsden Hospital, London, UK

Correspondence to: S Stanway  susannah.stanway@rmh.nhs.uk

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: