SURVMARK-2: Cancer survival visualization

Spherical has completed a cancer survival visualization project for IARC/WHO.

Why are we doing this?

IARC is the leading international cancer research agency. Due to various reasons, good and bad, worldwide cancer incidence is growing and the fight against cancer is becoming the focus of modern medical science, technology and practice. IARC's mission is not only to advance the research but also to educate the public about cancer risks, inform clinicians about new methods of treatment and prepare new generations of competent oncologists worldwide. Helping IARC's public communications is therefore a contribution to SDG 3, Good Health and Well-being.

Our task

Our task was to analyse outcomes of research on cancer survival statistics, and propose and implement visualizations of collected data for use by researchers, policymakers, clinicians and patients worldwide.


Lots of stories to tell with data – but which ones are interesting, and to whom?

SURVMARK-2 is a global study of cancer survival in developed countries. It produced lots of data about incidence, mortality and survival of various cancers and for different patient cohorts.

Our task was to put the data in a visual form on the web and make it useful for four audiences:  researchers, policymakers, clinicians and patients. The trickiest part of the project was to identify visualizations and information products that may be of interest to each of the groups and guide the users to the right visualizations.

Our approach

Together with the IARC team, we started by thinking of the questions that might bring each of the target groups to SURVMARK-2 web pages. We validated available data and mapped the questions to subsets of data which contained the necessary answers. We then came up with ideas for eight different ways to visualize available data and used R Shiny to prototype them. We planned the user journey through the system so that it starts with a question and then offers one or more visualizations as answers.

On the technical side, we wanted the solution to be lightweight and undemanding to server-side arrangements. No user-generated content is expected in the system and the data in SURVMARK-2 does not change frequently, which means it can be hosted statically. We developed an R script to prepare data for visualization and used a static Lektor CMS to assist the IARC team in content management and cleanly separate content, design and layout work. Finally, we used D3js to implement visualizations.

Project management

The project was managed according to PRINCE2 methodology with a custom, formally approved tailoring statement. Task management and project tracking was done in JIRA, code collaboration in GitHub.

Spherical has a distributed team and we did not have a physical presence at the client's location. To facilitate collaboration and team coherence, we set up a constantly available video meeting room in Zoom and organized regular (weekly) and ad-hoc meetings with all project stakeholders there. Minutes of meetings were routinely distributed to project stakeholders and annotated with task tracking links in JIRA. This allowed us to maintain the focus and constantly keep the finish line in sight for everyone involved.

Link and client testimonial

Note that the project is currently undergoing stakeholder reviews, data and content updates. We will publish the link and screenshots when the final web pages become publicly available.

Provision of testimonials to any vendor is against the the client's internal policies. Contacts for reference checks are available upon request.