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MSc Cancer Biology

Why we're great

  • Study specialist modules taught by academic staff, cancer specialists and clinicians within the academic and hospital environment
  • Carry out your own 16-week research project, based in an academic, industrial or clinical setting
  • Graduate in a subject which is in demand from the biotechnology and biomedical research industries

Course options2017-18

MSc Cancer Biology Full-time

Duration: 1 year
Start month: October
Location: Colchester Campus
Based in: Biological Sciences (School of)
Fee (Home/EU): £6,125
Fee (International): £15,950
Fees will increase for each academic year of study.
PGT fees information

Course enquiries

Telephone 01206 872719
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About the course

If you want to pursue a research career in academia or industry, our MSc Cancer Biology will provide you with the essential advanced skills and knowledge for a role in biopharma, healthcare or cancer research. We offer many opportunities for you to explore medically relevant research in the School of Biological Sciences including hospital-based sessions through our collaboration with local cancer specialists and clinicians.

An important and exciting part of your programme is an extensive independent research project, based in one of our academic research groups using advanced laboratories facilities and bioinformatics tools. There are also opportunities for research projects to take place within an industrial or clinical setting.

Throughout the course, you develop your knowledge in the essential areas of molecular and cellular biology which complement your specialist modules in cancer biology. You gain expertise in areas including:

  • Specific cancer types (including breast, prostate, pancreatic and colon cancer)
  • Clinical aspects of cancer
  • Emerging trends in cancer research

You are also trained in modern research methods and approaches which will develop your skills in complex biological data analysis and specific techniques in cancer research.

Within our School of Biological Sciences, two-thirds of our research is rated “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” (REF 2014), and you will learn from and work alongside our expert staff as you undertake your own research.

“The Department of Biological Sciences were brilliantly informative, supportive and organised. I was able to spend a lot of time in the laboratory, both during practical classes and whilst on placement at Cancer Research UK. As a direct result of this placement I was able to secure my current position as a Research Assistant at the institute.”

Marisa Di Monaco, MSc Molecular Medicine 2015

Our expert staff

We have a very strong research team in the area of cancer biology, who are well placed to deliver the specialist teaching on this course.

The team includes the course leader Professor Elena Klenova (molecular oncology and cancer biomarkers), Dr Ralf Zwacka (apoptotic and survival signalling in cancer), Dr Greg Brooke (steroid hormone receptor signalling in cancer), Dr Metodi Metodiev (clinical proteomics and bioinformatics), Dr Pradeepa Madapura (cancer epigenetics), Dr Vladimir Teif (computational and systems biology), Professor Nelson Fernandez (tumour immunology) and Dr Filippo Prischi (structural biology and biophysics of novel drug targets).

External experts also input to your teaching, including guest speakers from hospitals and research institutions, who deliver classes both on-campus and within the hospital environment.

As one of the largest schools at Essex, we offer a lively, friendly and supportive environment with research-led study and high-quality teaching, and you benefit from our academics’ wide range of expertise and research.

The University of Essex has a Women's Network to support female staff and students and was awarded the Athena SWAN Institutional Bronze Award in November 2013 in recognition of its continuing work to support women in STEM.

Specialist facilities

Recent investment has provided modern facilities for functional genomics, computational biology and imaging biological systems. On our course you have the opportunity to:

  • Study in an open and friendly department, with shared staff-student social spaces
  • Carry out your research project in shared lab space, alongside PhD students and researchers engaged in cutting-edge cancer research
  • Learn to use state-of-the-art research facilities, including an advanced microscopy suite, proteomics laboratory, cell culture, bioinformatics and genomics facilities, modern molecular biology laboratories, and protein structure analysis

Your future

Graduates who are skilled in the research methods embedded into your course are in demand from the biotechnology and biomedical research industries in this area of the UK and beyond.

Many of our Masters students progress to study for a PhD, and there are many opportunities within our school leading to a career in science.

We work with our University’s Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.

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Example structure

Most of our courses combine compulsory and optional modules, giving you freedom to pursue your own interests. All of the modules listed below provide an example of what is on offer from the current academic year. Our Programme Specification provides further details of the course structure for the current academic year.

Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.

Year 1

Integrating fundamental science with a clinical aspect, this module will provide you with advanced and up-to-date knowledge in contemporary cancer research. Members of the School and external experts, including guest speakers from hospitals and research institutions, will deliver classes both on-campus and within the hospital environment. The module will focus on breast, prostate, colon and lung cancer diseases studied at Essex. The role of cancer stem cells, immune system, genetic and epigenetic factors and signaling pathways in cancer development will be explored. The application of theoretical knowledge in cancer research into clinical practice (“from bench to bedside”) will be discussed.

This module will provide you with the most up-to-date skills and techniques used in contemporary cancer research. The program is composed of three cancer research themes: (1) Anti-cancer therapeutics: from design to production; (2) Use and the analysis of big data in cancer research; and (3) Molecular and cellular methods in cancer research. Lectures and seminars will be integrated with practical sessions linking theoretical knowledge with practical skills.

The development of techniques to manipulate and analyse nucleic acids has revolutionised the study of biology, and provided the key driver for massive expansion in biotechnology. You explore the major tools used in gene technology and gain a practical understanding of how they are used, as well as the molecular techniques that can be used to explore biological questions. Gain an understanding of the impact of gene technology and synthetic biology and explore the applications of genome scale methods for studying gene expression in biotechnology and molecular medicine.

Explore the features and properties of proteins, and examine how they are related to function, as well as their wider role within important biological processes. Getting hands-on, you produce, isolate, purify and characterise proteins with biotechnological potential, as well gaining valuable experience in obtaining and analysing proteomic data.

Get industry-ready. You are encouraged to think critically about the wider implications of molecular medicine, and gain an understanding of some of the key factors to be considered when translating a biological idea into a marketable technology. You explore some of the most relevant and contentious topics in Molecular Medicine, and develop a range of of transferable professional and research skills. Both of these activities are designed to effectively equip you for a successful career in Molecular Medicine.

The aim of this module is to provide you with current knowledge and understanding of cancer. We will discuss general aspects of cancer biology (cancer statistics and risk factors, origins and multistage nature of cancer, metastasis and angiogenesis). The identification and isolation of oncogenes and tumour suppressors and the mechanism of action of their products will be analysed. We will explore cancer molecular biology and signalling pathways in cancer. We will discuss cell cycle and apoptosis and their role in the maintenance of normal cell populations and in the emergence of cancer. The principles of some of the current approaches in cancer therapy will be discussed.

The Research Project is a core module, contributing 33% to your final marks and is the largest piece of work you will need to complete during the course. You will be allocated a supervisor with expertise in one of the areas of cancer research, who will design specific MSc projects and will provide guidance on the academic standard, methods, data analysis and means of scientific communications.

The sequencing of the human genome is one of the biggest achievements of this century. Nowadays, genomics is leading to major advances in biotechnology and molecular medicine, such as enhanced diagnostic tools, better vaccines, improved treatments for disease, and better detection of pollutants. In this module, you gain an understanding of current genomics approaches, including genome sequencing and comparative genomics. You also learn how to study your own genomic data, using state-of-the-art computational resources.

The module describes the fundamental principles of cell signalling and communication in the context of development, health, biological stress, and disease. You explore the biochemistry of signal transduction, control, integration, and signal processing as implemented by biological systems, and consider the newly developed tools of post-genomic biology.

Molecular medicine, underpinned by developments in biotechnology, has had a major impact on human diseases of socio-economic importance. Molecular medicine is concerned with the elucidation of disease mechanisms including genetically inherited diseases. This module aims to help you gain an understanding of how basic gene and protein-based technologies are applied in biomedical research and human medicine, with particular emphasis on relevance to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. Explore the molecular basis of various disease types and biotechnological applications in diagnostics and development of new therapeutics. Discover likely future biotechnological developments in the post-genomic era.

The study of human genetics is one of the fastest moving areas of scientific research today. Get to know some important emerging themes from the human genome sequence into the emerging fields of epigenetics and non-coding RNAs. You examine variations in genome sequence and structure in human populations, and consider the evidence for selection in human populations. Consider the evolution of the X chromosome and its regulation by the process of X-inactivation. You also investigate the significance of imprinting and epigenetics in human disease.

How does the immune system know when to trigger a response, and how are immune responses regulated? You’ll examine the immune process at a molecular level and also developmental aspects of immunity and it will assist you in understanding current developments in the field. You’ll look at the way cellular and molecular components of the immune system are integrated to provide immunorecognition in health and disease. Explore how landmark concepts in immunology evolved from hypothesis to experimental discovery, and consider the ways in which clinical immunotherapy approaches allow scientists to manipulate the immune system.

Acquire critical and transferable skills associated with the creation and growth of new business ventures. You focus on the development process from start up to early stage growth of new ventures, new small businesses spin offs from large firms, and especially innovative, technology-based firms. You study opportunity identification, self-efficacy, ideas generation, bricolage and bootstrapping, developing business models, networking, marketing, and finance.

How are new drugs and medicines developed? What is rational drug design? This module explores the process of finding new medicines based on the deliberate targeting of enzymes and receptors for the treatment of disease. You will use case studies to look at the some of the particularly interesting and effective biophysical and computer based approaches used by cutting-edge biotechnology companies in the molecular design of new drugs and gain practical experience in aspects of computer-aided design.

Medical microbiology is the study of the ways in which microbes, including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites, affect our health. The aim of this module is to develop your understanding of the theory and principles of Medical Microbiology and its' role in health and human disease. You will focus on the main human body systems and their microbial infections, exploring how microbes enter and cause infections in humans, how they spread and how they can be eradicated. You will also explore current diagnostic procedures and analyse the need for new techniques.


  • Advanced theoretical lectures and seminars
  • Small group laboratory sessions
  • Gain practical research skills on your individual research project


  • Our modules are assessed by a combination of exams, essays, verbal/visual presentations, laboratory reports, and your research project

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UK entry requirements

We will consider applications with an overall grade of 2:2 and above.

International and EU entry requirements

We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Email for further details about the qualifications we accept. Include information in your email about the undergraduate qualification you have already completed or are currently taking.

English language requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 5.5

If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.

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You can apply for our postgraduate courses online. You’ll need to provide us with your academic qualifications, as well as supporting documents such as transcripts, English language qualifications and certificates. You can find a list of necessary documents online, but please note we won’t be able to process your application until we have everything we need.

There is no application deadline but we recommend that you apply before 1 July for our taught courses starting in October. We aim to respond to applications within two weeks. If we are able to offer you a place, you will be contacted via email.

Visit us

Open days

We hold postgraduate events in February/March and November, and open days for all our applicants throughout the year. Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex, and give you the chance to:

  • tour our campus and accommodation
  • find out answers to your questions about our courses, student finance, graduate employability, student support and more
  • meet our students and staff

If the dates of our organised events aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.

Virtual tours

If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.


Our staff travel the world to speak to people about the courses on offer at Essex. Take a look at our list of exhibition dates to see if we’ll be near you in the future.

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The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its course finder is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to courses, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to courses may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep prospective students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications.

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