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90 Years of Making Cancer Research Possible

CANSA is turning 90 this year and we’ve always had a heart for supporting cancer research.

Areas of research CANSA supports through our funded programmes is:

Priority cancers as identified by the National Department of Health (NDoH) and could include the following areas of investigation:

  • Epidemiology and determinants of the burden of cancer in South African populations and interventions to address these
  • Health seeking behaviours to improve early detection, diagnosis, and interventions to reduce cancer risk
  • Optimal patient care including clinical care, rehabilitation, and palliation
  • Health services and health systems strengthening, including research relating to pathways to cancer care
  • Health economics of cancer, including the economic burden of cancer, its risk factors, and cost-effectiveness research
  • Research relating to cancer biology / biochemistry / molecular biology as these relate to risk reduction, early detection, and both definitive and supportive patient care

CANSA acknowledges the importance of building the capacity of a new generation of cancer researchers to further develop much-needed advances in cancer research in South Africa. Where appropriate, CANSA’s Type A grants permit students to work under the supervision of the principal investigator and grant holder to obtain a postgraduate qualification. Emanating from these projects are the following degrees awarded to students: MSc, Ph.D., BSc honours, MPH.

#CANSAResearch #CANSA90  Funds, mainly donated by bequest, have been invested for use in enabling cancer research.

Did You Know?

  • CANSA is one of the largest local funders of cancer research in South Africa.
  • Dr Oettlé was the first cancer researcher to receive a grant in 1958, and made important contributions towards understanding of oesophageal cancer and environmental factors.
  • Between 1994 and 2020, 255 researchers from 12 educational institutions were funded by CANSA.
  • Currently we are supporting 18 researchers through grants.
  • CANSA’s highest award, the AG Oettlé Memorial Award (2020) for outstanding contributions to cancer research was presented to Professor Paul Ruff of the University of the Witwatersrand. View past winners
  • CANSA strives towards an evidence-based approach to inform our advocacy work, our health education programmes and our service delivery to those living with cancer and members of the public.

Significant Results

CANSA-funded research has yielded significant findings, a case in point being the identification of Hepatitis B infection as a major risk factor for liver cancer. In 2015 CANSA honoured Professor Michael Kew with a Lifetime Achievement Award to recognise his contribution, knowledge and understanding of primary liver cancer. Thanks to his work, a link between Hepatitis B and liver cancer was discovered, followed by the development of a vaccine that was incorporated into the government’s infant immunisation programme in South Africa. CANSA is proud to have been a funder of Prof Kew’s research for over 30 years.

CANSA Research Highlights Through the Years


  • The Founders set out to establish a cancer register, cancer centres and clinics throughout the country, where optimal treatment and diagnostic methods could be investigated.


  • Clinical facilities for the early detection of uterine cancer were established and a Durban-based laboratory performed about 70 000 Pap smears annually.
  • Dr George Oettlé was the first cancer researcher to receive a grant from CANSA in 1958, in order to initiate a cancer research programme in South Africa.


  • Research grants continued to be sponsored at major universities and research institutions and enabled South African cancer therapists to continually improve levels of therapy to patients.


  • As a member of the organisation known as the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the National Cancer Association hosted the UICC’s Executive Committee meeting in Johannesburg, as well as an international conference on oesophageal cancer in Cape Town.


  • An information service was formed to gather, archive and distribute information about cancer and CANSA’s activities to cancer patients and their families, academics, medical professionals, students and members of the public. This was later renamed the CANSA Science and Resource Centre in 2009.


  • CANSA’s environmental awareness campaign was launched, taking a stand on environmental issues by actively communicating CANSA’s researched-based position statement on cancer and the environment.
  • From 2003 to 2006, CANSA underwent a paradigm shift, with much more emphasis being placed on public health aspects of cancer, such as prevention and early detection, pathways to care, cancer services and palliation.


  • As a component of the role of raising awareness of evidence based (backed by research) carcinogens, CANSA launched the ‘CANSA Seal of Recognition’ with ‘Smart Choice’ and ‘SunSmart Choice’ labels, awarding products that have been assessed to contain no known carcinogens and thereby to help reduce the cancer risk.
  • CANSA helps support correct food labelling on products, especially of trans fatty acids based on scientific findings.
  • CANSA has called on the public and Government to protect children against harmful chemicals such as BPA in toys and baby bottles.
  • In 2013, organised by the UICC and hosted by CANSA, United Nations officials, Ministries of Health and leading international decision makers came together for the first time in Africa to discuss the growing global cancer burden at the 2013 World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Cape Town.
  • In 2015 CANSA honoured Professor Michael Kew with a Lifetime Achievement Award to recognise his contribution, knowledge and understanding of primary liver cancer. Thanks to his work, a link between Hepatitis B and liver cancer was discovered, followed by a vaccine that is saving lives.


  • CANSA revised its research strategy in 2020 to play a better strategic role in funding research on priority cancers in South Africa, aligning with and supporting the National Department of Health’s strategy on cancer control including formulating health policy. The research programme aims to target the challenges of cancer risk reduction, early detection and survivorship in South Africa.

Will you help us continue to make cancer research in South Africa possible? Make an online donation or consider leaving a bequest.

Do you have a question?
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 0800 22 6622 Toll Free
 072 197 9305 English and Afrikaans (text only)
 071 867 3530 isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi (text only)


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1931 - 2021. 90 Year Anniversary

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