The Cancer Atlas, Second Edition
Header Image
Case Study By
Language Dept
December 2014
The American Cancer Society
Project Title
The Cancer Atlas, Second Edition

Designed by Language Dept.

Jenn Cash and Tanya Quick, Owners and Creative Directors
Lizania Cruz, Lead Designer
Leah Koransky, Designer 
Angela Choi, Designer

Published by The American Cancer Society
in partnership with the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the Union for International Cancer Control

Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, Editor, American Cancer Society
Dr. Paolo Vineis, Editor, Imperial College London
Dr. Freddie Bray, Editor, International Agency for Research on Cancer
Lindsey Torre, Editor, International Agency for Research on Cancer
John M. Daniel, Managing Editor, American Cancer Society
Kimberly D. Miller, Contributing Editor, American Cancer Society


The American Cancer society enlisted Language Dept. to reimagine and design The Cancer Atlas, Second Edition. The task was to synthesize and visualize content authored by more than 60 medical and subject matter experts from six continents into a compelling, engaging, and digestible compendium of current research findings on cancer. The data featured in the book highlight the complex nature of the global cancer landscape, but also point to strategies that governments can use to reduce their cancer burden. The Cancer Atlas is a powerful tool to help reduce the burden of cancer worldwide by carefully examining all aspects of the cancer equation. It allows policy makers, researchers, and academics to fully assess differences in risk, burden and prevention.


A team of 6 designers worked 1400 hours over 9 months; the budget was generous for a project of this type, but we billed at a non-profit rate of 50%. Photography was primarily stock, used as graphic illustration. All maps and illustrations were created in-house.


Visual research began with looking at macro images of cells and cancers. Shapes within tissue and cellular structures became inspiration for visualizing data and grappling with questions of scale. It was also important to take stock of current popular infographics and create a unique visual language that respects the seriousness of the topic while inviting reading and discovery without erring on the side or propaganda or fear-mongering.


With the number of global cancer cases expected to increase by more than 50 percent by 2030, researchers around the globe collaborated to create a new tool for global leaders to determine what actions they must take to better control cancer. This Atlas was designed with its wide-reaching audience in mind. It needed to be accessible to audiences from policy makes to patients; it needed to be portable as chapters and as discreet graphics. The 136-page book is comprised of nearly 100 insets and 44 choropleth-coded maps illustrating global data. Single spreads can serve as infographic topic-driven posters; individual graphic insets can be parsed out as digital assets into presentations and social media. A consistent visual system and underlying grid provides structure for the varied print content and help it translate into a responsive web application as well.

The visual voice was inspired by academic quarterly publications; sophisticated but digestible, with a color palette inspired by tissue and cell photography. Circles are used as a consistent throughline, to represent the cellular and global levels that cancer strikes. The cover design sets up the vast scale of the issues, balancing a single cancer cell atop the globe. The stark blackness of the cover is repeated in section dividers that also use photographs as chart-like elements. Visual hierarchy of each page allows skimming and browsing, while details invite careful reading. The left column is used as a brief summary of the chapter; numbered indicators in the body copy point readers to the insets for the deeper story. All insets are designed to stand alone with digital translation in mind, to support companion site, as well as sharing via social media.


“We know more about burden of cancer — and how to reduce it — than we do about any other noncommunicable disease. Information is a powerful tool in the hands of passionate, dedicated individuals. However, making sense of the mountains of available data can be a challenge.” —John Seffrin, Chief Executive Officer, American Cancer Society

The literal challenge of the project was the sheer quantity of data housed neatly, but impenetrably, within endless text documents and spreadsheet. Each chapter needed to be distilled into digestible and engaging graphic insets. Each map needed to be programmed and plotted efficiently and accurately. Since the research is as current as possible, chapters were designed as new data sets became available; a complete manuscript did not exist until over half of the book was already designed. It was critical to design and then trust a visual system from the start even though all the parts were yet unknown. The design needed to balance the complexity of the information with simplicity in execution. It embraced the question, “How many stories can be told using the single graphic element of a circle?”

One of the key goals was portability. Not only were graphic insets needed as portable digital assets, but the entire Atlas would be translated into six other languages. The underlying grid system needed to create structure and allow for language expansion at a digital-friendly scale.


The Cancer Atlas is celebrated around the globe as a tool for global health. Launched to date at three separate international health conferences in Australia, Ivory Coast, and Argentina, it will ultimately be available in six languages including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian.

“…visually-stunning chapter pages that organize the information in a highly accessible and discoverable way.”
—Press release by The American Cancer Society, Melbourne, Australia, December 5, 2014

Demand supports both need and success. In addition to the translated edition, the ACS is going into a second printing of the English edition. There were over 30K visits from 139 countries to the companion site in the first 30 days after launch. Most importantly, though, other organizations are using the Atlas to generate their own materials to push for action on cancer control. Media reporting on new developments in population-level cancer uses Atlas data in their stories, and the ACS gets steady requests to use figures. While hard to quantify the long-term impact, the Atlas is being used as the client had hoped.

“We at the Society believe this critical publication will be an essential and accessible resource for everyone involved in the cancer fight—from advocates and agencies to policymakers and patients, and everyone in between… Information is a powerful tool in the hands of passionate, dedicated individuals, and this book provides an unparalleled resource to arm and inform everyone committed to this fight.”
—John Seffrin, Chief Executive Officer, American Cancer Society

“The Atlas informs in a very clear and concise way the challenges faced in dealing with cancer around the world. It is a valuable addition to the toolkit of the advocate, the library of the oncologist, the knowledge of the patient, the resource base of the journalist, the database of government officials and scientists.”
—Cary Adams, CEO, Union for International Cancer Control

“The second edition of The Cancer Atlas serves as an outstanding reference both in content and form, providing a reliable foundation for action across the full spectrum of cancer control measures… I am convinced The Cancer Atlas will provide its greatest value, in its superb presentation of reliable information in an accessible, useable format for decision-makers, advocates, patients and the general public
—Christopher Wild, Director, International Agency for Research on Cancer

Additional Information

The webby-nominated companion site by Atlantic Media:

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