Oncology research in late twentieth century and turn of the century Portugal: a scientometric approach to its institutional and semantic dimensions


This paper analyses the developmental dynamics of oncology research in Portugal during the second half of the twentieth century and early twenty first century. Grounding its conclusions in a scientometric analysis of a database of publications covering the period 1976–2015, the paper shows how the expansion of oncology research from the end of the 1990s through the 2000s is closely related to science and technology policy decisions in the country. The main actors of the institutional evolution of the field are public organizations, both hospital and academia/research-based, frequently working together. Portuguese oncology research focused especially on organ-based cancers, underlining the strong link between the laboratory and the clinic. Accordingly, translational research is a major trend in oncology research, as evidenced by the analysis of publications in major journals and inter-citation maps. Networks of institutional co-authorships show the importance of regional and international collaborations. The collaboration patterns over time reveal the importance of national and European collaborations during the initial years covered by our publication database, in line with the major impact of Portugal’s integration into the European Union, and a growing importance of regional collaborations, as well as with North and South American institutions in more recent years. Portugal provides a case study of how twentieth century policies at the national and European levels have impacted on the evolution of oncology research in countries from southern Europe.

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  1. 1.

    The database therefore includes the research conducted in Portuguese institutions regardless of the nationality of the researchers.

  2. 2.

    Of the top 100 journals in our database two are Portuguese: Acta Medica Port (11°), Rev Port Cardiol (32°). In 27° place there is the Brazilian journal An Bras Dermatol. Thus, in our top 100 journals we retrieved three in which publications may have been mostly written in Portuguese language.

  3. 3.

    See below for a definition of associated laboratories.

  4. 4.

    National Committee for Scientific and Technological Research.

  5. 5.

    The apparently striking reduction from 2014 to 2015 is misleading since the database was built in October 2015 leaving out a considerable number of publications coming out in the last months of 2015.

  6. 6.

    The publications of institutions do not add up to the total number of publications in the database because each publication is frequently co-authored by more than one institution.

  7. 7.

    We computed all the institutions authoring the publications and not just the Portuguese ones. From the twenty first institution onwards an increasing number of foreign institutions appear in the ranking.

  8. 8.

    For greater clarity in reading and interpreting data, we aggregated some of the original categories for types of publications. We aggregated the original categories “Article proceedings paper” and “Proceedings paper” into the category “Proceedings”, and we aggregated the original categories “Note”, “Review book chapter”, and “article book chapter” into the category “Other”.

  9. 9.

    Some of which figure in the top 20 institutions, demonstrating a rapid growth in their production.

  10. 10.

    We are here considering the top 20 journals excluding meeting abstracts.

  11. 11.

    Lewison and Paraje (2004) calculated the research level of biomedical journals between 1980 and 2014, attributing to each journal a numerical value on a continuum ranging from 1 (corresponding to the clinical observation pole), to 4 (corresponding to the basic research pole). Their classification captures changes over time in the research level of journals. In between the two poles, the authors consider the translational levels “clinical mix” (closer to the clinical pole) and “clinical investigation” (closer to the basic pole).

  12. 12.

    12% of the publications in the top twenty journals are basic research and 10% clinical mix research.

  13. 13.

    21% of the publications in the top twenty cited journals are clinical investigation and 11% clinical mix research.

  14. 14.

    The more intense the red color of the spots the more an institution has focused on that theme. Each set of heat maps for one institution presents its own scale, calculated according to the total number of publications of that institution and the maximum specialization level it presents. We have defined ten-year periods for the heat maps so we can see what were the main themes each institution focused on over time.


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Oriana Rainho Brás would like to thank Diogo Cordeiro, Rita Rainho, and Tiago Ribeiro for their support.


This research was funded by Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Bristol Myers Squibb and ASPIC-Portuguese Association for Cancer Research.

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Correspondence to Oriana Rainho Brás.

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Brás, O.R., Cointet, J., Cambrosio, A. et al. Oncology research in late twentieth century and turn of the century Portugal: a scientometric approach to its institutional and semantic dimensions. Scientometrics 113, 867–888 (2017).

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  • Oncology research
  • Institutional collaboration networks
  • Semantic networks
  • Portugal
  • Scientometrics