Postgraduate study

Cancer Biology and Precision Oncology MSc, PgCert, PgDip

Awards: MSc, PgCert, PgDip

Study modes: Part-time

Online learning

This new programme will equip students with the knowledge and skills required to tackle the challenges related to cancer diagnosis and treatment in the 21st Century.

The programme will integrate an in depth understanding of the molecular basis of cancer with the knowledge and skills required to rapidly translate this understanding to new personalized treatment protocols and diagnostic tools. Individuals with this dual expertise are essential in the rapidly advancing field of precision oncology.

Courses will be delivered by expert scientists and clinicians from the world-renowned Edinburgh Medical School. They will include:

  • Hallmarks of cancer (including how the hallmarks of specific cancer types are targeted to improve patient outcomes)
  • Multi-omic approaches in oncology
  • Data analysis and communication skills in cancer research
  • Tumour host interactions (focused on immune-oncology)
  • Cancer drug discovery and clinical application

Each year the syllabus will be fine-tuned to incorporate the latest advances in molecular understanding, technologies and precision oncology. In Year 3, you will have the opportunity to undertake original research based on the expertise of cancer research scientists in the Medical School.

Why Choose this Programme?

Study something you are passionate about

Cancer related morbidity and mortality is set to increase significantly in the next 20 years. This programme aims to develop practitioners and researchers who are focused on making a significant contribution to reducing the burden of the disease globally.

Learn at an internationally renowned Medical School

Edinburgh Medical School is internationally renowned in the fields of cancer cell biology and precision oncology, and a world leader in advancing research into real-world applications.

Grow a lifelong network of experts in the field of cancer research

Our programme team brings together experienced clinicians and world-changing researchers. Through ‘meet the scientist’ and ‘meet the clinician’ sessions you will expand your professional network of experts who are leading developments in patient care, clinical trials, drug development, and research.

Learn alongside like-minded professionals around the world

A big part of your learning experience is achieved through engaging with your peers, exchanging ideas, and developing different perspectives to solve problems. You will be part of a global community that, together with academic staff, will form the foundation of your network.

Learning is delivered through:

  • core and guest materials available for you to read, watch and listen to in your own time, including sound cloud interviews with patients and clinicians that will immerse you in real-world learning, putting you in the shoes of the clinicians, facing the challenges they encounter regularly
  • opportunities to connect regularly with scientists/clinician scientists in online discussion boards and live sessions
  • assessments aligned to real world activities, including grant proposals, patient materials and presentations, that will reinforce what you have learnt
  • group assignments and online discussions with your peers that will expose you to different perspectives and new ways of thinking about a problem or topic

This is a three-year online programme with the option of graduating after:

  • 1 year with a postgraduate certificate (60 credits required)
  • 2 years with a postgraduate diploma (120 credits required)
  • 3 years with a Masters (180 credits required)

Year 1

In Year 1, you will study 5 courses:

  • Cancer biology I: Cellular and Molecular Biology of Cancer. You will cover the hallmarks of cancer and learn how these influence the aetiology and treatment of the most common cancer types. *Precision Oncology I: Multi-omics approaches in oncology. You will learn the basics of multi-omic technologies (to explore epigenome, transcriptome, proteome, and metabolome) and be able to demonstrate how these are being used to improve patient outcomes.
  • Core skills: research techniques and science communication. You will be given an omics dataset and be taught how to analyse the data with statistics in R, bioinformatic analysis, and digital pathology software. You will learn how to present the data to peers and to the public, and how to write reports.
  • Cancer Biology II: Tumour-host interactions. You will explore tumor intrinsic and extrinsic conditions of the host that impact tumor initiation, progression, and therapeutic response. Specifically, you will investigate immune evasion and immunotherapies, the tumour microenvironment, and how metabolic and hormonal changes influence tumour growth. How this knowledge can be harnessed to improve therapies will also be discussed.
  • Precision oncology II: From bench to beside. This course will focus on drug design and mechanism of action from chemistry, phenotypic screening to clinical trials and biomarker identification. You will learn from success stories of local drug discovery and benefit from input from specialist nurses, trial coordinators, and patients.

Year 2

You will select six electives from a choice of twelve:

  • Cancer vaccine sciences
  • Cancer stem cells
  • Reproductive tract cancers
  • Comparative oncology
  • Epigenomics and cancer
  • Lifestyle, genes, and cancer Infectious causes of cancer
  • Introduction to R
  • Innovative approaches to health challenges across disciplines
  • Science communication and engagement for practice
  • Bioinformatics and data management
  • Data ethics and ownership

Year 3

In your third year, you will undertake an original research project with the support of a dissertation supervisor. The dissertation is an opportunity to further develop your expertise in an area of interest through an independent and original piece of research. You will develop skills in research techniques, analysing data, report writing and presentation.

Find out more about compulsory and optional courses

We link to the latest information available. Please note that this may be for a previous academic year and should be considered indicative.

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
MSc3 YearsPart-timeProgramme structure 2022/23
PgCert1 YearPart-timeProgramme structure 2022/23
PgDip2 YearsPart-timeProgramme structure 2022/23

By the end of this programme, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the molecular basis of cancer and a critical appreciation of how this understanding is translated to a clinical setting
  • analyse and critically evaluate complex research outputs and apply creative and inventive thinking to develop appropriate hypothesis/solutions
  • explain and communicate both basic and clinical cancer research effectively in multiple situations to diverse audiences
  • apply an innovative and creative approach to problem solving
  • plan and lead projects on the molecular and clinical aspects of cancer research with increased confidence in your professional ability
  • analyse, interpret, and present "big data" using a variety of applications

This programme is designed to enhance your career prospects and to develop your ability to apply laboratory research to personalised cancer treatment.

Some examples of who this programme will suit include:

  • health professionals working in a clinical environment (e.g., hospital-based doctors, specialist nurses, specialist GPs, veterinarians, pharmacists)
  • those who are working ever closer with the Research & Development side of the business and would like to develop the skills and scientific knowledge to apply research to patient treatment
  • biomedical science graduates working in an academic or clinical laboratory seeking a stepping-stone to a PhD
  • professionals working in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries
  • mathematicians, chemists, or physicists wishing to cross disciplines
  • professionals in pharmaceutical sales who regularly liaise with scientists and clinicians

Our core team combines academic teaching expertise and specialist oncologist experience.

Programme Director: Lesley Stark Research focus: Nucleolar signalling and cancer prevention Teaching: Biomedical Sciences, MScR Cancer Research bio: Lesley received a BSc in Cell Biology from the University of Aberdeen before pursuing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh on the role of papillomavirus in skin cancer. She undertook post-doctoral training with Professor Ron Hay at the University of St Andrews, where she became interested the NF-kB pathway. She returned to the University of Edinburgh and began working on the role of NF-kB in aspirin prevention of colorectal cancer with Professor Malcolm Dunlop. This triggered an interest in the role of the nucleolus as a cancer driver, drug target and regulator of stress response. She has been an independent group leader in the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre since 2005, exploring crosstalk between nucleoli and NF-kB signalling in the regulation of cell homeostasis and cancer initiation. She was promoted to Reader in Cancer Cell Signalling in 2012, became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2014 and a Fellow of the Higher Education Authority in 2020.

Deputy Programme Director: Kathryn Ball Research focus: Proteostasis and Immune Signalling in Cancer and Dementia Teaching: MSc in Biochemistry Research bio: Kathryn was always set on a career in science that has taken her from her degree at the University of Salford to a PhD at the University of Leeds, followed by a Brookbank Fellowship at the University of Cambridge. Following post-doctoral studies at the University of Michigan, she was awarded a project grant and then a CRUK Senior Cancer Research Fellowship to establish her own group studying the post-translational regulation of the growth regulator p21WAF1 at Dundee University. In 2004, Kathryn took up a readership at the University of Edinburgh and in 2007 was awarded a personal chair (Biochemistry and Cell Signalling).

Clinical Oncology Lead: David Cameron Research focus: Breast cancer and international clinical trial management Teaching: Undergraduate and post-graduate oncology Research bio: Professor Cameron’s first degree was in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, followed by a medical degree from St. George’s Hospital Medical School, London. After completing a fellowship and MSc in Clinical Oncology at the University of Edinburgh, he received a M.D. with distinction in 1997 and completed his training as a medical oncologist that same year. He is currently Professor of Oncology at Edinburgh University and works in NHS Lothian’s cancer centre treating breast cancer patients. David is the joint lead for the Edinburgh Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre and is currently also the part/time deputy director role within the Scottish Government funded Innovative Health Care Delivery Programme (IHDP.) He also chairs the Scottish Cancer SACT data group, off label cancer medicines’ group and is Scottish Government R&D (CSO) clinical cancer research champion. Internationally he is the chair of the Breast International Group, a Brussels-based umbrella group of 57 worldwide academic/not-for-profit breast cancer trials’ groups, and the vice chair of the steering group of the Oxford-based Early Breast Cancer Clinical Trialists’ Group. He is active in several current and past clinical trials in breast cancer.

Clinical Oncology Lead: Caroline Mitchie Research focus: Gynaecological cancer-drug development and clinical trials Teaching: Pan-Scotland oncology trainee teaching programmes Research bio: Caroline is consultant in Medical Oncology (breast cancer) at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre and Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer & NRS Clinician, at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre & University of Edinburgh. Following completion of a medical oncology specialist training and research programme, Caroline undertook a Senior Clinical Research Fellowship at the renowned Royal Marsden Hospital Drug Development Phase I drug development unit in London. Caroline has been principal investigator on several breast cancer clinical trials of novel agents and co-investigator on over 80 oncology clinical trials. She is the UK Chief Investigator for the DESTINY-breast09 study and since 2020, has been the lead clinician for the Southeast Scotland breast cancer clinical trial team. Caroline is also the Scotland representative on the Association of Cancer Physicians executive committee, an external advisor for Medical Oncology for the Scottish Academy, and a scientific advisor for the Melville Trust.

These entry requirements are for the 2022/23 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ. Entry requirements for the 2023/24 academic year will be published on 3 October 2022.

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in a biomedical, medical, public health, veterinary or relevant bioscience topic.

We may also consider your application if you have a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in other STEM subjects relevant to precision oncology such as physics, chemistry, statistics, bioinformatics, mathematics, or informatics, or if you have 3-5 years of relevant work experience. Please contact the programme team to check before you apply.

Students from China

This degree is Band D.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

You must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies, regardless of your nationality or country of residence.

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified*:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 6.0 in each component.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 169 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 62 with at least 59 in each component.

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, Trinity ISE or PTE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

(*Revised 17 November 2021 to add accepted PTE Academic qualifications.)

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries.

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than three and a half years old at the beginning of your programme of study.

Find out more about our language requirements:

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
MSc3 YearsPart-timeTuition fees
PgCert1 YearPart-timeTuition fees
PgDip2 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Teviot Place
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9AG

You must submit one reference with your application.

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Teviot Place
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9AG