Cancer Research

Publication Analysis 1998-2009
by Ralf Neumann, Labtimes 01/2012

Europe... ... and the World Most Cited Authors... ... and Papers

Most Cited Authors - Pictures

Colour-enhanced scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of prostate cancer cells (MIT Boston)

Germany and England form the head-to-head lead in European cancer research, a discipline which is widely diverse and, therefore, attracts enormous amounts of citations.

Not long ago, a certain Professor Emeritus was asked what exactly had been achieved by the enormous input and effort that had gone into cancer research in the last decades. Of course, the inquirer alluded to the fact that up until that day really satisfactory, not to say successful, cancer treatments were, nevertheless, still far out of reach. The old professor, however, just smiled and replied, “Everything we can do today in bio­medical research we can do largely due to cancer research. All those wonderful techniques as well as all those fantastic fundamental insights into cell and molecular biology, immunology, virology and many other biomedical fields – do you think we would have really ‘made’ them within the same short time if we hadn’t put so much money, brains and fingers into the ‘battle against cancer’? No way at all! Thus, there has already been a tremendous lot of achievement due to the decade-long commitment to cancer research – even if we are still waiting for really potent cancer cures.”

The global fight against the widely perceived “disease no. 1” as the main catalyst for basic research in a whole number of biomedical disciplines, so to speak. Without doubt, there’s some truth about this notion, which is also reflected by the fact that, vice versa, many researchers in their different biomedical fields still maintain some more or less close ties to the various aspects of cancer with their projects. (Even if evil tongues might now insist that the main motivation for this is based on presumably better funding opportunities for “cancer-related” research).

Creeping branches

Be it as it may, clear fact is that one can actually see quite a number of branches from various disciplines creeping from all sides under the gigantic roof of “cancer research”: oncology and haematology, certainly, but also pathology, molecular and cell bio­logy, biochemistry, immunology, radiology, epidemiology, toxicology... The consequence being that you will inevitably encounter a couple of problems when performing a publication analysis of “cancer researchers”. While there is hardly any trouble with comparing the publication outputs of whole countries in cancer research (tables, next page), the analogous comparison of individual researchers is yet another story (table, page 42). The reason being that publication and citation culture as well as the requirements for a “typical” paper vary largely between, for example, an epidemiologist, a molecular biologist and a clinical oncologist.

That means, of course, that at least in the case of the “most-cited heads” in European cancer research the well-known apples and oranges problem is perhaps more profound than in many other disciplines. Hence, be sure to bear that in mind when going over the list of Europe’s 30 most-cited cancer researchers – and don’t take the absolute ranks too much at face value.

Italian surprise

Yet another restriction to our publication analysis “cancer research” resulted from the limited possibilities of Thomson Reuters’ database Web of Science, which was used for this analysis. Of course, many of the “top papers” on cancer research are actually published in multidisciplinary journals like Nature, Science or The Lancet. Nevertheless, we had to restrict the “country” part of the analysis to the 185 expert journals listed in the subject category “Oncology” of Web of Science. The reason is that Web of Science doesn’t provide any sufficiently reliable tools to automatically extract relevant cancer articles from those multidisciplinary journals. Of course, as a result, this way some of the most prominent papers in the field have been omitted from the performance analysis of individual countries (see tables, next page). Despite this limitation, however, we believe that a survey, restricted to the specialist journals only, still provides sufficiently valid indicators for the countries’ overall productivity in cancer research.

On the contrary, rankings of the most-cited researchers and papers (see tables, p. 42) could be analysed from publications in all journals.

Given this directive, the results of our analysis as presented in the tables are largely self-explanatory. What certainly stands out right away are the very high publication and citation counts for the analysis period 1998-2009. The pure numbers of articles and citations obtained for the individual countries, for example, are way higher in total than in any other biomedical discipline. This, however, doesn’t necessarily indicate a higher quality of research but instead, and first of all, simply reflects the fact that the pure mass and, therefore, the (citation) network of researchers working on cancer-relevant topics are much larger than in “lower number”-disciplines as, for instance, parasitology or animal ecology.

In terms of total citations, Germany and England virtually came in head-to-head occupying the first two places in the European countries ranking, with the former beating the latter just by the very tip of the nose. The real surprise, however, is the strong performance of Italy in third place: Between 1998 and 2009, Italy-based researchers published almost as many articles in the cancer expert journals as their colleagues from England. And, despite not being exactly cited as much on average as the English or German papers, they finally obtained a sufficiently high total citation count to leave their colleagues from France and The Netherlands behind them.

The sum of many parts

As usual, however, other countries emerge at the top when calculating the average of citations per article. This way, Finland popped up as the European leader in cancer research by achieving 26.4 citations per article on average. At some distance, there followed three countries in quite close intervals to one another: Switzerland (21.7), The Netherlands (21.4) and Sweden (21.2).

When compared to the USA, the whole of Europe on the one hand produced significantly more articles in the cancer expert journals but, on the other hand, was clearly left behind by the US researchers when it came to total citations. Logically, this fact also gave the USA a much higher average citation rate (22.4 vs. 14.9). Of further interest because it does not exactly fit the usual picture: in terms of total citations, Japan slightly went ahead of Germany and England.

When going through the list of the most-cited heads in European cancer research for the years 1998 to 2009, you might immediately realise that the very top places are occupied by people not doing exclusively cancer research. Guido Kroemer in first place, for example, has focussed on cell death, which, of course, also has implications for cancer cells; Richard Peto (2nd) studies the epidemiology of cancer risks but also of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes; Adrian Harris (3rd) is a specialist for hypoxia-induced cell pathways, including their effects on tumour growth; Josef Penninger (4th) as a molecular biologist studies the basic mechanisms of disease pathogenesis, among them not only cancer but also osteoporosis as well as heart and lung diseases; Kari Alitalo (5th) has dedicated his research to the control of blood vessel formation, a process which is also necessary for the establishment of solid tumours.

Altogether, the whole list of the most-cited heads nicely represents the wide variety of biomedical disciplines that make up “cancer research”: side by side, there are molecular, cell and developmental biologists, epidemiologists, clinical oncologists, biochemists, a toxicologist, immunologists, pathologists, haematologists,... Thus, it’s obviously the sum of the respective parts from each of those disciplines that finally does constitute “cancer research”. In another sense, however, – and as mentioned above – it was obviously this “cancer research” that has tremendously helped to push all those disciplines to the high level they are at today.


Articles appearing between 1998 and 2009 in ‘cancer research journals’ as listed by Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science under ‘Oncology’. The citation numbers are accurate as of December 2011. A country’s figures are derived from articles, where at least one author working in the respective European nation is included in the authors’ list. Israel is included because it is a member of many European research organisations and programmes (EMBO, FP7 of the EU...).

Citations of articles published between 1998 and 2009 were recorded up until Dec. 2011 using the Web of Science database from Thomson Reuters. The “most-cited papers” had correspondence addresses in Europe or Israel.


Country Citations Articles Cit./Art.
20.Czech Rep.23.2412.4969,3

... and the World

Citations Articles Cit./Art.
South Korea87.1557.28612,0

Most Cited Authors...

Citations Articles
1.Guido Kroemer, Inst. Gustave Roussy, CNRS, Villejuif39.661336
2.Richard Peto, Clin. Trial Serv. & Epidemiol. Studies Unit Univ. Oxford38.105100
3.Adrian L. Harris, Weatherall Inst. Mol. Med. Univ. Oxford31.084475
4.Josef Penninger, Inst. Mol. Biotechnol. Vienna26.632239
5.Kari Alitalo, Mol. Canc. Biol. Progr. Inst. Mol. Med. Univ. Helsinki26.358244
6.Douglas F. Easton, Genet. Epidem. Grp. Canc. Res. UK Univ. Cambridge25.030283
7.Chris J.L.M. Meijer, Pathol. Vrije Univ. Med. Ctr. Amsterdam24.253417
8.José Baselga, Oncol. Vall d’Hebron Univ. Hosp. Barcelona (s. 2010 USA)24.160206
9.Alberto Mantovani, Inst. Clin. Humanitas Milan23.032285
10.Manel Esteller, Bellvitge Inst. Biomed. Res. Barcelona22.165217
11.Hans Clevers, Hubrecht Inst. Univ. Med. Ctr. Utrecht20.316152
12.F. Xavier Bosch, Bellvitge Biomed. Res. Inst. Barcelona20.187270
13.Michael R. Stratton, Wellcome Trust Sanger Inst. Hinxton19.652144
14.Peter John Ratcliffe, Nuffield Dep. Clin. Med. Univ. Oxford19.265114
15.Silvia Franceschi, Int. Agcy. Res. Canc. Lyon18.330473
16.Jaap Verweij, Med. Oncol. Erasmus Med. Ctr. Univ. Rotterdam17.913272
17.Jan G.M. Klijn, D. den Hoed Canc. Ctr. Erasmus Med. Ctr. Univ. Rotterdam17.489185
18.Peter H. Krammer, German Canc. Res. Ctr. Heidelberg17.138204
19.Tony Kouzarides, Gurdon Inst. Univ. Cambridge16.94791
20.Carlo La Vecchia, Epidemiol. Mario Negri Inst. Pharmacol Res. Milan16.684642
21.Aron Goldhirsch, Med. Oncol. Europ. Inst. Oncol. Milan16.623223
22.Stephen P. Jackson, Gurdon Inst. Univ. Cambridge15.980132
23.D. Maxwell Parkin, Clin. Trial Serv. & Epidemiol. St. Unit Univ. Oxford15.539126
24.Andreas Hochhaus, Hematol./Oncol. Univ. Hosp. Jena14.779187
25.Mitch Dowsett, Inst. Canc. Res. London14.759238
26.Pier Giuseppe Pelicci, Eur. Inst. Oncol. Milan14.626190
27.Jiri Bartek, Ctr. Genotox. Stress Res. Danish Canc. Soc. Copenhagen14.386137
28.Guido Sauter, Pathol. Univ. Med. Ctr. Hamburg14.171194
29.Helmut Friess, Dep. Surg. Tech. Univ. Munich14.041506
30.John M. Goldman, Haematol. Imperial Coll. Univ. London13.768154

... and Papers

1.Parkin DM; Bray F; Ferlay J; Pisani P
Global cancer statistics, 2002.
2.Walboomers, JMM; Jacobs, MV; Manos, MM; Bosch, FX; [...]; Peto, J; Meijer, CJLM; Munoz, N
Human papillomavirus is a necessary cause of invasive cervical cancer worldwide.
JOURNAL OF PATHOLOGY 189 (1): 12-9 SEP 1999
3.Stupp, R; Mason, WP; van den Bent, MJ; [...]; Thum, P; Baumert, B; Ryan, G
Radiotherapy plus concomitant and adjuvant temozolomide for glioblastoma.
Davies, H; Bignell, GR ; Cox, C; [...]; Wooster, R; Stratton, MR; Futreal, PA
Mutations of the BRAF gene in human cancer.
NATURE 417 (6892): 949-54 JUN 2002
5.van de Vijver MJ; He YD; van’t Veer LJ; [...]; Rutgers ET; Friend SH; Bernards R
A gene-expression signature as a predictor of survival in breast cancer.
NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE 347 (25): 1999-2009 DEC 2002

Last Changed: 31.03.2012