MPhil (Cancer Science)

Want to be part of the next generation of cancer scientists mobilising the cancer-research agenda in Africa?

With the introduction of the MPhil (Cancer Science) degree under the auspices of the African Cancer Institute (ACI) within the Department of Global Health, Stellenbosch University (SU) became the first academic institution in Africa to offer a structured cancer-science programme of this nature.

Cancer ranks as one of the primary causes of death in over 60% of countries worldwide, according to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019. Within the next two decades, the burden of cancer incidence is expected to almost double to 28.4 million cases in 2040. These statistics point to a major epidemic that requires a coordinated response – one that effectively targets research gaps, and which also succeeds in establishing sustainable cancer research programmes.

While our understanding of cancer has increased significantly over the past few decades, cancer knowledge is still underrepresented in academic curriculums on the continent, says Prof Vikash Sewram, Director of the ACI.

The ACI was launched in 2013 to consolidate the university’s cancer and cancer-related research activities, with the goal of developing a critical mass of scientists, clinicians, postgraduate students, and fellows that will assist in mobilising the cancer-research agenda in Africa. The MPhil (Cancer Science) programme, launched in January 2017, was the next necessary step.


Profs Vikash Sewram (Director: ACI), Jimmy Volmink (Dean: FMHS) and Usuf Chikte (Head: Department of Global Health Sciences) with the first MPhil Cancer Science cohort in 2017. Lauren Philips (MPhil Programme Coordinator) is at the back.

The interdisciplinary programme, which offers postgraduate training to all cadres of health personnel, is being offered on a full-time basis over a minimum period of 18 months. Fourteen students are currently enrolled – ten from South Africa and four from other African countries and they represent a diversity of background educational experiences ranging from, clinicians with oncology expertise to registered nurses to those with a background in the basic sciences.

During the first academic year, the students are expected to attain the required insights into cancer biology and tumour physiology. Topics covered also include planning cancer research studies, selecting the correct research methods, understanding the role of infection in cancer risk in Africa, the importance of nutrition in cancer survivorship, the principles of cancer chemotherapy and the role of the environment on public health.

Students are also exposed to biostatistics for analysis of cancer data and expected to plan their research projects in the second semester of the first year. International students are encouraged to identify a research topic of relevance to their home country.