COLL-S 105 26069 Biology of Cancer (Bender) (N&M) (3 cr.)


Although being “for thinking” sounds like a cliché (and who would claim not to be for thinking, after all), I nevertheless feel compelled to say that I really am interested in trying to help students (and myself) to get better at thinking. This course is meant to help us to do so, in the context of learning about cancer. In particular, this course is meant to help us to get better at developing, clarifying, disentangling, and analyzing thoughts about cancer as well as to get better at finding and critically analyzing evidence concerning the validity of those thoughts. This course is also meant to help students to get better at communicating. Most of the homework assignments will include writing, and most of each class period will be devoted to small- group and whole-class discussions.

I would like for us to deal with aspects of cancer that students consider to be particularly interesting and important. The starting plan, which we can modify based on students’ interests, is that we will deal with various of the following topics and questions:

The Nature of Cancers
• What is cancer?
• What distinguishes one type of cancer from another, and how different are different types from one another?
• How do cancers develop?

Cancer research
• What were major discoveries in the past, and how were they made?
• What sorts of cancer research are going on now?
• What are the prospects of there being significant progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating different types of cancer?

Risk Factors for Cancers
• What environmental and inherited risk factors are there for various cancers?
• How do I determine which possible risk factors to be most concerned about?
• How do I decide whether I might want to get genetically tested for possible predispositions to particular types of cancer?

Detections of Cancers
• What techniques are there for detecting different types of cancer?
• How sensitive and accurate is each of those techniques?

Treatments of Cancers
• What standard treatment options are there for various types of cancer?
• What experimental treatments are there?
• If I were to get some type of cancer, how would I go about deciding which treatment options might be best for me?
• How would I find out about clinical trials for new cancer treatments, and how would I decide whether and which type of trial I might want to try to participate in?

There will be no exams in this course. 70% of the course grade will be based on homework assignments (writings, usually), and 30% will be based on in-class activities (discussions, usually).