Making the Science of Cancer Understandable to a Broad Audience 

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My course presents the progress that has been made in cancer research, the current state of that research, and what advances may be possible in the future.

—David Sadava, PhD

An educator and scientist for over 30 years, David Sadava, PhD, became interested in the science of cancer while on sabbatical from Claremont Colleges, where he was teaching courses in molecular biology and biotechnology, and went to the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, California, to study the mechanisms involved in the development of cancer.

“I found interesting scientific problems in the study of cancer, and I thought I could continue doing research on cancer and use what I learned to teach my courses, so it opened a new door for me. I’m still teaching science, but it’s within the context of cancer,” said Dr. Sadava, now Adjunct Professor of Cancer Cell Biology at City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, California, and the Pritzker Family Foundation Professor of Biology, Emeritus, at the Claremont Colleges. In addition to writing and teaching, Dr. Sadava is currently researching drug resistance in lung cancer.

Dr. Sadava’s transition to studying and teaching the science of cancer led to the development of a series of video lectures called “What Science Knows About Cancer” (available at, aimed at a lay audience. The ASCO Post talked with Dr. Sadava about how he is using the lectures to help cancer patients learn about their disease and become more proactive in their care, as well as educate the general public on science and cancer.

Rationale for the Series

Why did you feel it was necessary to create the lecture series “What Science Knows About Cancer?”

Once the word got out that I was using cancer to teach science to my students, people with cancer would come up to me and say, “My doctor didn’t explain why I have to take this chemotherapy” or “Do you know where I can get a second opinion?” They wanted to understand, in general, how chemotherapy works and the side effects, what it means if a tumor becomes drug-resistant, and where they could find clinical trials. So I put all that information in the lecture series.

The course does not try to second-guess what the patients’ oncologists are doing. It is meant to be informative and fill in the gaps in the public’s understanding of science, especially the science of cancer.

Content Accessibility

The course is taught at college level. How well is the information understood by people without a science background or college education?

The course material is appropriate for most people. I find that most of the families coping with cancer that I help, and friends who are not physicians or scientists, understand the material without a problem.

The course is divided into 24 lectures at a half-hour each, to make the information they are seeking easier to find and more palatable. For example, people can view lectures on cancer growth and development, tumor staging and grading, the difference between a case-control and cohort study, and the different types of therapy, including chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.

I also bring the audience into cancer research laboratories to show how investigators approach the problems they are researching and the progress being made.

Goals of the Series

What do you hope to accomplish with this course?

When I was approached to do this series I leapt at the opportunity, because I am both an educator and a scientist and I think there is a huge gap in the public’s knowledge about the science of cancer. My course presents the progress that has been made in cancer research, the current state of that research, and what advances may be possible in the future.

I’m doing this because I believe in public education, and this is my way of making a contribution to that effort. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Sadava receives royalties from The Great Courses.