STS.049 The Long War Against Cancer

3-0-9 units
Prereq: None
Spring 2016 schedule
Lecture: Mon/Wed 12-1pm
Recitations: Wed 1pm-2pm or 2pm-3pm
Instructor: Professor Robin Wolfe Scheffler

Cancer is, in the words of one recent author, “The Emperor of All Maladies.” Few illnesses inspire more fear and concern in our society. One out of every three people living today will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lives, and virtually all of us will confront the disease among those we know. Researchers have spent decades and billions of dollars in the effort to understand cancer, yet in most cases a cure has remained stubbornly elusive.

MIT is at the forefront of new efforts to defeat cancer. This course will survey the history of our long war against cancer, from its emergence as a major public health threat in the 19th century through the promise of targeted therapies and personalized medicine in the 21st. Along the way we will see how our understanding of cancer’s causes and nature have changed, as well as how our understanding of who should fight cancer has expanded.

While this course does not primarily aim to evaluate the success or failure of anticancer efforts, it does start with the idea that many of the most significant events in the “war” on cancer have occurred far beyond cancer itself. The war against cancer has lasted for so long that its history will also provide you with the analytic tools not only to understand cancer, but how medicine, disease, science, and society interact.

You will have the opportunity to hone your communications skills in this course, which fulfills a CI-H requirement. Recitation sections will focus on developing these skills, as well as giving you an opportunity to analyze historical sources from the war on cancer.