David explores
                                                             some of the 
                                                             most common 
                                                             methods for
                                                             treating cancer


Is cancer curable?


The effectiveness of any kind of cancer treatment depends on a number of factors including the type of cancer, or malignancy, the location of the disease and the extent that the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

Most cancers are usually treated with a combination approach. The main cancer treatments include surgery to remove the cancerous cells, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Surgery and radiotherapy are local treatments. Both are used early in the treatment of cancer or in combination later with other treatments. They work best when the cancer cells have not spread too much within the body. Surgery may even be used after the cancer has advanced to relieve some of the symptoms and reduce the mass of malignant cells. Radiotherapy uses X-rays and radium to kill cancer cells. Accelerator and betatron machines beam these rays at the patients.

Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are called systemic treatments because they can act on cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy uses a variety of anti-cancer drugs that keep the malignant cells from multiplying. Effective treatments involve finding the best combination of drugs to treat the patient. Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, involves different types of treatments that rely on manipulating a patient's immune system. A relatively new approach to cancer treatment, immunotherapy procedures increase the body's natural ability to destroy malignant cells.

Prevention and early diagnosis, however, will probably continue to be the most effective ways to control cancer. There are a few strategies you can use to lower your risk of cancer. Eat a diet low in fat and high in fruit and grains, refrain from tobacco products and avoid too much exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Things to Talk About

In the "Newton's Apple" segment there are several people who have or have had various forms of cancer. Some people may not know exactly how to treat someone who has cancer, especially at school. Talk about how you would want to be treated if you were diagnosed with cancer or some other illness. Would you want to talk about your illness and share your feelings with your friends?

Chemotherapy--Treatment of a disease by use of a chemical compound that will affect the particular pathogen involved, either by causing its destruction or by preventing its multiplication.

Malignant--Describes an abnormal growth which can often spread to other areas and may eventually cause death, e.g. a cancer.

Tumor--A lump in the body, without inflammation, it is caused by an abnormal growth of cells. It may be due to the presence of an infectious organism or it may occur spontaneously. In the latter case it can be benign or malignant.

Benign--Describes an abnormal growth which does not spread.

Cancer--The growth of abnormal cells in epithelial , or in connective tissue. The growth increases with time and eventually may cause death.


Additional Sources of Information

Activity Page

Grow! Stop Growing!

With just the right combination you can control the growth of a foreign substance.

Main Activity

You can simulate how cancer develops by growing molds and then finding ways to control their growth like cancer researchers do when they develop new treatments for cancer.


1. Separate the jars into two groups of five each. One set will be used for the control group of samples which will not receive any special treatment. The other group will be used for the experimental group. Label each group's jars as "control" or "experimental".

2. Put a piece of each of the five foods into the five control jars and then into the five experimental jars. Label each jar with the name of the food that is in it.

3. Make sure the experimental group of foods are kept under the same conditions as the control group both before and during the activity. Treat the food in each of the five experimental jars with ten drops of penicillium. The jars should be left open.

4. Observe what happens to the food over a period of several weeks. Check the jars each day for changes and record your observations. What effects does the penicillium have on the mold growth on each food?

5. Analyze both the experimental and control groups. Prepare a report summarizing your findings.


1. How does your experiment with growing mold compare to how scientists try and control cancer growth? What medications can be used for controlling cancer growth?

2. What type of foods contain molds that are not harmful? Are other moldy foods harmful and cancer-producing?

4. What types of experimental conditions are necessary to find cancer cures?

5. What branches of science are involved in the search for cancer cures?

Find out how a patient's state of mind has an effect on the progress of the disease and the success of the treatment. Contact your local hospital to see if you can visit an oncology ward. Learn about support groups and activities for people with cancer. What is the purpose of these programs? Are they part of the medical treatments of cancer?

Discover how the study of genetics and the discovery of DNA made significant contributions to the early detection of cancer and helped to develop treatments for malignant cells. What other diseases and treatment have been discovered as a result of these scientific advances?

Conduct a classroom panel discussion of different points of view concerning effective and ineffective cancer treatments. Find out if other countries have different cancer treatments than the United States. Why might U.S. physicians choose not to use these other treatments?

Invite an oncologist or cancer specialist from your community to come to your class for a discussion of cancer treatments. Find out which kind of cells are affected by chemotherapy. When might radiotherapy be chosen as a treatment? Learn how early detection of cancer is important to successful treatment. Ask the doctor about steps you can take to prevent cancer.

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Newton's Apple is a production of KTCA Twin Cities Public Television. Made possible by a grant from 3M.

Educational materials developed with the National Science Teachers Association.

PBS Online - Minnesota Online - Welcome to Newton's Apple - Teacher's Guides Index