Biology course explores cancer and erases myths

Chelsea Cody

This fall, Biology 285, the ‘Biology of Cancer’ lecture series will be open to both students and the public in an attempt to further cancer prevention within the community and as a means to interest students in the field of cancer research.

CSUN Biology Professor, Steven Oppenheimer has taught the curriculum since its initiation in 1977. The course not only provides answers and insight but also general education credit for both biology and non-science majors. Oppenheimer believes opening the course to students outside of the biology department and to the larger community will help to lessen the misconceptions about the disease.

‘Understanding reduces fear and helps you do what is best to help prevent, diagnose and treat cancer’, said Oppenheimer. ‘This course will help attendees understand what cancer is all about.’

The class takes on popular but flawed views about the disease in an attempt to create a broader awareness and to dispel myths about cancer, such as the belief that cancer is primarily a disease affecting older individuals or that cancer is a direct result of one’s environment and not genetics.

The course features lectures by Oppenheimer and a number of distinguished cancer experts, including doctors, researchers and specialists. The discussions focus on providing students with a comprehensive knowledge of many different aspects of cancer. Topics covered in the course include types of cancer, diagnosis, treatments, causes and prevention, as well as cancer quackery. Two of the guest-lecturers are alumni of the course. Doctor Richard Gaynes discusses cancer epidemiology and pathology and Alexander Tishbi addresses the dangers of Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that causes lung cancer. Both lecturers took the class as students in the past.

Oppenheimer, an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, specializes in the molecular causes of cancer. He emphasizes the importance of student and community involvement in both the success of his teaching and research at the University, as well as in the overall treatment and prevention of cancer. As a result, Oppenheimer facilitates numerous research opportunities for his undergraduate students.

‘We have published about 300 papers, articles, and books with approximately 700 student co-authors,’ said Oppenheimer. ‘As long as students want to do research, we should give them the opportunity. I would hope that students taking the [‘Biology of Cancer’] class might develop an interest in the field. New generations of cancer experts are needed to help eventually rid us of this major disease.’

Regardless of their reasons for enrolling in ‘Biology of Cancer’, students have generally felt that the course made a significant impact in both their academic and personal lives.

‘Taking the ‘Biology of Cancer’ course was a wonderful experience for me. In fact, now as a Ph.D. student, I do