Basic mapping principles for visualizing cancer data using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Am J Prev Med. 2006 Feb;30(2 Suppl):S25-36. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2005.09.007.


Maps and other data graphics may play a role in generating ideas and hypotheses at the beginning of a project. They are useful as part of analyses for evaluating model results and then at the end of a project when researchers present their results and conclusions to varied audiences, such as their local research group, decision makers, or a concerned public. Cancer researchers are gaining skill with geographic information system (GIS) mapping as one of their many tools and are broadening the symbolization approaches they use for investigating and illustrating their data. A single map is one of many possible representations of the data, so making multiple maps is often part of a complete mapping effort. Symbol types, color choices, and data classing each affect the information revealed by a map and are best tailored to the specific characteristics of data. Related data can be examined in series with coordinated classing and can also be compared using multivariate symbols that build on the basic rules of symbol design. Informative legend wording and setting suitable map projections are also basic to skilled mapmaking.

MeSH terms

  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / mortality
  • Topography, Medical / methods*
  • United States / epidemiology