History and Science of Cancer

Expand/Collapse History & Culture


Explore the history, research, and science behind cancer. Guide your students through these collections of classroom resources aimed at teaching how cancerous cells form, how cancer has been treated throughout the ages, and how the disease has impacted our culture.

  • 70 Years After Nuclear Test, New Mexico Town Fights for Compensation

    Listen to residents of a New Mexico town talk about their concerns over exposure to nuclear radiation with this video and educational resources from PBS NewsHour from July 28, 2015.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Mary-Claire King | Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

    In the 1970s, Mary Claire King began investigating genetic links of cancer in families, and discovered the genetic mutation that causes breast cancer, proving that certain types of breast cancers are genetic diseases.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Scientific Proof | Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

    It wasn't until the 1940s that scientists were finally able to prove the health hazards of smoking.
    Grades: 6-12
  • NOVA: Cracking Your Genetic Code | Should We Screen for Cancer Genes?

    This video excerpt from NOVA examines the dilemma some people face when they are deciding whether to undergo genetic testing. Journalist Catherine Elton describes her decision to refuse a test for BRCA1, a mutation that signals an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers, despite the history of disease in her family. The video also explains that genetic testing results can help some individuals improve their wellness, prevent the onset of diseases they are at risk for, or lessen the harmfulness of diseases they do contract.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The First Attempt to Treat Cancer with X Rays by Doctor Chicotot, 1907

    Chicotot, Georges (fl.1889-1907); French. Medium: oil on canvas. Date: 1907. Provenance: Musee de l'Assistance Publique, Hopitaux de Paris, France / Giraudon. Photographic Rights The Bridgeman Art Library.
    Grades: 3-12
  • A Family Disease

    Explore the challenges and questions faced by women who have a strong family history of breast cancer, and who now have the option of being genetically tested for a disease that has no cure. From the NOVA special Cracking the Code of Life.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Radon Radiation

    Radon is not the most feared radioactive material, but perhaps it should be. Odorless, colorless, and potentially deadly, radon is blamed for thousands of cancer deaths in the United States each year. As this video segment adapted from FRONTLINE points out, the health risks it poses may be greater than those of any other source of radiation.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Tobacco, Advertising, and Cancer - Media Literacy Activities | Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

    Media can be a powerful force in shaping perceptions about products and our own consumption habits. During the early to mid 20th Century, cigarette advertising was pervasive and the use of it was high. In the 1970s, a wave of anti-smoking advertising was released which ultimately changed the public’s perception and use of tobacco. The media encouraged people to smoke and when scientists proved that smoking was harmful the media in turn encouraged people to stop. In viewing these three clips from Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, students will understand how media can influence the habits and attitudes of an audience.

    Grades: 6-12