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What is the "Provocative Questions" Project?

The provocative questions project is intended to assemble a list of important but non-obvious questions that will stimulate the NCI’s research communities to use laboratory, clinical, and population sciences in especially effective and imaginative ways. The questions should not be simple restatements of long-term goals of the National Cancer Program, which are to improve the prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of all forms of cancer. Instead they should:
  • Build on specific advances in our understanding of cancer and cancer control;
  • Address broad issues in the biology of cancer that have proven difficult to resolve;
  • Take into consideration the likelihood of progress in the foreseeable future (e.g. 5 to 10 years); and
  • Address ways to overcome obstacles to achieving long-term goals.

Why Now?

Due to recent technological advances in many fields, especially in genomics, molecular biology, and computational sciences, there has never been a better time for doing cancer research. We have made large leaps in our basic knowledge about cancers---especially about the genetic and biochemical mechanisms by which they arise. Now we have an opportunity to take a step back from the momentum of these discoveries and make sure we have left no stone unturned and no important but perhaps non-obvious question left unexplored.   The new leaders at the NCI are eager to influence the state of cancer research by attempting to define more potentially game-changing scientific questions that could influence the directions taken by NCI-sponsored research in the future.

"Provocative Questions" and the Broader Community

The collaborative process of formulating the provocative questions should engage the NCI’s scientific community in serious debate and energize the NCI’s many constituencies (advocacy groups, health professionals, Members of Congress, and others) about the prospects for improving the welfare of cancer patients through research. These other constituencies are encouraged to take part in the "Provocative Questions" enterprise through discussions and activities on this Web site.

Thank you to everyone for contributing and commenting on NCI’s Provocative Questions.
For the current issuance of the PQ Program, the original list of PQs is now updated to a set of 24 PQs. Some of these PQs are new whereas others are refocused relative to the original list. The new/updated PQs have been divided into four groups (related thematically), resulting in four R01 FOAs and four R21 FOAs. The Request for Applications can currently be viewed at:

The Notice for selection of appropriate funding opportunity can currently be viewed at:

The 24 questions with supporting information can be found at:

We would still appreciate your participation by suggesting new questions and commenting on posted questions in the ‘Community Dialog’ section of this website:


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