Identifying research themes and trends in the top 20 cancer journals through textual analysis

Academic Article


  • Background: The rapid growth in cancer research continues expanding the literature. Text mining approaches help make sense of large bodies of scientific literature and integrate the mounting data into the health care delivery system. Our objective is to generate a comprehensive understanding of the themes and trends in cancer research. Methods: We employed a three-step text mining process of corpus generation and term-list creation and analysis, including latent semantic analysis for dimension reduction and factor analysis for topic identification to analyze 93,423 abstracts from the top 20 cancer/oncology journals for the period between 1999 and 2020. Results: We identified 14 distinct topics in cancer literature. The results revealed the uptrend topics - including cell signaling (T-2), immunotherapy (T-3), clinical trials (T-5), disparities and epidemiology (T-7), cancer practice and policy (T-8), outcome research (T-9), and molecular therapeutics (T-10). - and downtrend topics such as cell death (T-1), early phase clinical trials (T-4), angiogenesis (T-6), cancer screening (T-12), and transplant (T-13). The topics of biomarkers(T-11) and cancer genetics(T-16) remained relatively stable. While the topics of angiogenesis (n = 10,490) and cell death (n = 10,258) included the highest number of abstracts, biomarkers (n = 3203), and cancer genetic (n = 4322) themes included the least number of articles. These findings suggest that despite having the lowest numbers of publications, certain topics such as cancer genetic (T-16) and biomarkers (T-11) have been exhibiting a stable trend and drawing a steady amount of attention from cancer researchers over the past 20 years. Conclusion: Findings of this study contribute explanatory insight about themes and trends in cancer research, which can help researchers and stakeholders to identify areas for future studies. Policy Summary Statement: The findings indicate the increasing efforts to improve cancer practice and cancer care through policy efforts. Therefore, policymakers and other stakeholders may use the findings in prioritization and funding of specific topics.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Zengul AG; Zengul FD; Ozaydin B; Oner N; Fiveash JB
  • Volume

  • 30