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Graduate Fellow Shanique Young & Teacher Partner Kim Elliot

In America, 1 in 3 persons develop cancer and the disease indirectly impacts others socially, economically, and emotionally. In this lesson, students will participate in a NIH-developed role play activity where they will learn about cancer as a public health issue and understand what cancer is, general trends in cancer development and what factors and personal choices increase risk for cancer. They will also have the opportunity to learn and discuss how scientific research impacts this issue. In addition, students will identify characteristics of normal versus cancer cells through examination of normal and cancer cell models and stained slides of cells. Finally, because metastasis, the spread of cancer from a primary tumor to other areas of the body, is the cause of 90% of cancer deaths, student will learn the concepts of cells migration and metastasis. Students explore how “cellular feet” or receptor proteins called integrins are similar to their own and how these proteins impact cancer aggression through their impact on cell migration.


DURATION:  3 days (in terms of 125 minute periods)

Note: each of the three lessons can be taught without the other 2, as long as the proper background information is given to the students.


Students will be able to:

  • Define what cancer is and know that there are many types of cancer
  • Describe the initial cause of cancer (mutations) and how mutations can lead to cancer via disruption of the cell cycle
  • Explain why the incidence of cancer increases with age
  • Recognize that some people inherit predispositions to particular types of cancer
  • Explain how lifestyle choices can increase risk for cancer
  • Explain why a person’s chance of surviving cancer increases with early detection
  • Identify ways that scientific research can impact and improve cancer prevention, detection and treatment
  • Compare a normal cell versus a cancer cell and relate cellular characteristics to functions (using models and samples)
  • Explain the general concepts of cell migration and metastasis
  • Understand the general role of integrins in cell migration and metastasis 

Teacher Guide/Full Lesson Plan (word doc - pdf)

The Biology of Cancer (Science Weekly)

Day 1 - NIH Cancer Guide Activity

Day 2 - Cell Morphology Lab

Day 3 - Integration Game

Portions of this lesson plan were developed from pre-existing curricula including:

1) The NIH Cell Biology and Cancer Publication No. 99-4646,

2) The Cellular Legacy: An interdisciplinary unit of study based on the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Activity 9 - Cancer Cell Morphology lab (using Edvotek Kit #990) by BioEthics Exploration in High School and Kimberly Elliot

3) The Bioinformatics of Cancer activity by UCSD Socrates Fellow Shawn Yost