The Finnish Cancer Institute was created in 1987 following the Finnish Cancer Society’s statement on the urgent need to increase the efficiency of cancer research so that the research opportunities of top researchers would be secured. The aim was to cooperate with all major parties involved in cancer research and funding in Finland. On the basis of the initiative, the Cancer Society of Finland, the Cancer Foundation Finland and the Cancer Research Foundation Finland established the Foundation for the Finnish Cancer Institute and co-financed its activities with the Ministry of Education. The purpose of the Finnish Cancer Institute was defined as ‘to intensify, coordinate and support scientific research on cancer in Finland’.

Initially, the Finnish Cancer Institute awarded grants but nowadays it offers only researcher positions, meaning that the researchers are hired by the Institute. Over the years, the Finnish Cancer Institute has offered employment to 60 researchers. The Finnish Cancer Institute has also organized international symposia since its inception.

In 2009, the Finnish Cancer Institute acted as the initiator of the establishment of the National Cancer Center Finland (FICAN). In addition, since 2018 it has promoted Finland’s development as a pioneer in cancer treatment through the Model Country for Individual Cancer Treatment initiative. The Finnish Cancer Institute’s expertise is both medically and socially significant and nationwide.

Liisa Elovainio (1987–1990), Risto Sankila (1990–1998) and Tuula Helander (1998–2021) have worked as Secretary General. From the beginning, the Board of Trustees has consisted of nine members. In addition to the Board of Trustees, a key component of the Institute is the Scientific Advisory Board, whose members represent a wide range of different areas of cancer research. The Supervisory Board of the Finnish Cancer Institute functioned until 1993, when a change in the rules replaced the Board with an Advisory Board without a quorum.