Mapping the cancer imaging research landscape: which cancers are more and which cancers are less frequently investigated?

  • Robert M. Kwee
    Corresponding author at: Department of Radiology, Zuyderland Medical Center, Henri Dunantstraat 5, 6419 PC Heerlen, the Netherlands.
    Department of Radiology, Zuyderland Medical Center, Heerlen/Sittard/Geleen, the Netherlands
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  • Thomas C. Kwee
    Medical Imaging Center, Department of Radiology, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands
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      • Most cancer imaging studies concerned female breast cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, and CNS cancers.
      • Several cancer types have unbalanced publication-to-incidence and unbalanced publication-to-mortality ratios.
      • Some cancers may be overinvestigated, whereas others may be underinvestigated relative to their overall societal importance.



      To investigate the proportion of published imaging studies relative to incidence and mortality rate per cancer type.


      From a random sample of 2500 articles published in 2019 by the top 25 imaging-related journals, we included cancer imaging studies. The publication-to-incidence and publication-to-mortality ratios (defined as the publication rate divided by the proportional incidence and mortality rate, respectively) were calculated per cancer type. Ratios >1 indicate a higher publication rate compared to the relative incidence or mortality rate of a specific cancer. Ratios <1 indicate a lower publication rate compared to the relative incidence or mortality rate of a specific cancer.


      620 original cancer imaging studies were included. Female breast cancer (20.2%), prostate cancer (13.0%), liver cancer (12.9%), lung cancer (8.8%), and cancers in the central nervous system (8.1%) comprised the top 5 of cancers investigated. Cancers in the central nervous system and liver had publication-to-incidence ratios >2, whereas nonmelanoma of the skin, leukemia, stomach cancer, and laryngeal cancer had publication-to-incidence ratios <0.2. Cancers in the prostate, central nervous system, female breast, and kidney had publication-to-mortality ratios >2, whereas esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, laryngeal cancer, and leukemia had publication-to-mortality ratios <0.2.


      This overview of published cancer imaging research may be informative and useful to all stakeholders in the field of cancer imaging. The potential causes of disproportionality between the publication rate vs. incidence and mortality rates of some cancer types are multifactorial and need to be further elucidated.


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