History and Science of Cancer

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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.

  • What is Cancer? (Media Gallery) | Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

    We all carry cells that have the potential to become cancerous, but what is the mystery that causes some of us to develop cancer and others not? Is it environmental? Is it genetic? What is cancer exactly? These clips from the documentary Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies help to explain cancer, and the causes, the treatment and the future of cancer treatment. See the Support Materials below for background, pre-viewing questions, discussion questions, vocabulary, and additional resources.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Cell Replication and Cancerous Cells

    Students explore mitosis and learn about uncontrolled cell division, or cancer.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Women in Science - Lesson Activities | Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

    Women have played central roles in researching and treating cancer. Explore the stories of Dr. Suzanne Cole, a leading cancer doctor, Dr. Mary-Claire King, who discovered the genetic mutation that causes breast cancer, and Dr. Lori Wilson, a surgical oncologist who was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. See Support Materials below for discussion questions about palliative care, research challenges, and the struggles of being a doctor coping with her own cancer diagnosis.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Scientific Method (Media Gallery) | Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

    The history of cancer research has shown how scientists have used the basic steps of the scientific method to make new discoveries and advances in the understanding of cancer, cancer treatment and cancer cures. Watch the clips below about scientists Dr. Sidney Farber, Dr. Bernard Fisher, and Dr. Robert Weinberg, and identify and discuss the steps they took to make their discoveries. What was the problem they were trying to solve? What evidence did they have? What kind of experiments did they conduct? What conclusions did they draw from their experiments? Were they able to replicate their experiments?

    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
  • Character Development: Cancer - A New Treatment

    Students answer questions about what motivated chemical engineer Mark Davis to search for a better treatment for his wife's cancer. They then write a journal entry where they compare his motivations and goals to their own.

    Grades: 8-10,13+
  • Cell Replication

    Students explore the structure and function of cells and mitosis.

    Grades: 6-8