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PDF Files for PrintingActivity 5  - Acting on Information About Cancer

At a Glance

federal legislatorFocus: Students assume the roles of federal legislators and explore several Cell Biology and Cancer Web site resources to identify reasons to support or oppose a proposed statute that would require individuals under the age of 18 to wear protective clothing when outdoors.

Major Concepts: We can use our understanding of the science of cancer to improve personal and public health. Translating our understanding of science into public policy can raise a variety of issues, such as the degree to which society should govern the health practices of individuals. Such issues often involve a tension between the values of preserving personal and public health and preserving individual freedom and autonomy.

Objectives: After completing this activity, students will

Prerequisite Knowledge: Students should understand that cancer is a disease involving uncontrolled cell division that results from mutations in genes that regulate the cell cycle. They also should understand that the genetic damage that leads to cancer accumulates across time and that exposure to agents that damage DNA can increase an individual's risk of developing cancer.

Basic Science-Public Health Connection: This activity helps students recognize that the results of scientific research can provide support for or against statutes intended to protect personal and public health.


Approximately 1 million new cases of basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers are reported each year in the United States, and approximately 40,000 new cases of melanoma also are reported. These cancers are most common among individuals with lightly pigmented skin. Risk factors for skin cancer include excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, fair complexion, and occupational exposure to substances such as coal tar, creosote, arsenic compounds, and radium.

The relationship between excessive exposure to UV light and skin cancer suggests that many cases of skin cancer could be prevented by protecting skin as much as possible when outdoors. In this activity, students consider the reasons to support or oppose a proposed federal statute that would require all individuals under the age of 18 to wear headgear and clothing that covers 90 percent of their extremities while outside during peak hours of UV exposure. Discussing the relative merits of this statute offers students the opportunity to discover that one difficulty in developing public policy is that any single policy typically advances one set of interests over another. For example, enacting the statute about mandatory protective clothing advances the value of individual and societal health and well-being at the expense of the value of personal autonomy.

Materials and Preparation

You will need to prepare the following materials before conducting this activity:


1. Explain that in this activity, the students will act as elected federal legislators and members of a special committee. The committee will study the feasibility of enacting legislation to reduce the incidence of skin cancer among U.S. citizens.

Tip from the field test. Another way to begin the activity is to ask the students how many think they are "open-minded" and, after they have responded, to ask them what it means to be open-minded. Use probing questions to elicit the idea that being open-minded does not mean accepting all arguments or ideas as being equally valid. It does mean being willing to listen to and consider arguments and ideas that are different from one's own. After this discussion, introduce the activity as described in Step 1.

mobius stripScience plays an important role in helping legislators make decisions about laws related to personal and public health. For example, as illustrated in this activity, science provides evidence that can be used to support or oppose laws protecting people from exposure to harmful agents. Ask students to name other examples where science has helped lawmakers act in ways that protect personal and public health (for example, mandatory vaccination programs and laws regulating toxic chemical use).

2. Distribute one copy of Master 5.1, A Proposed Statute, to each student and ask students to organize into their teams to read and discuss the statute.

Initially, students may respond negatively to the statute. We recommend you not challenge this response directly, but answer with something like, "Okay, I hear your concerns. But before you decide, you should learn something about skin cancer and why this legislation has been proposed."

3. Assign equal numbers of "pro" and "con" teams to identify reasons to support or oppose the statute. Distribute one copy of Master 5.2, Getting Prepared to Support or Oppose the Statute, to each student and explain that teams will have 30 minutes to study resources that will help them answer their questions about the statute and identify the key reasons to support or oppose it.

We recommend you assign teams to pro and con positions to ensure a good balance of viewpoints during the upcoming hearing (Step 6). If students complain that they do not want to identify reasons to support a position they do not hold, explain that being able to understand and argue for positions other than their own is an important skill and will help them better understand their own position.

Students should watch the videos on the Web site under Student Activities then Acting on Information About Cancer (A Proposed Statute and The People Respond) and use resources in the Reference Database to help them develop their lists of reasons.

Give the teams 30 minutes to complete their research. Reasons that students may identify include those in Figure 18. Emphasize that wherever possible, students should offer evidence in support of their reasons. For example, the statement that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States would be strengthened by citing statistics (available in the Reference Database) about the incidence of skin cancer.

4. Direct the teams to identify their three strongest reasons in support of or against the statute and to designate a spokesperson to articulate those reasons.

Give the teams 5 minutes to complete this task.

5. Announce that the hearing is about to begin and explain that at the end of the hearing, the class will vote on whether to recommend the statute for enactment. Emphasize that students are not required to vote for the position they were assigned to research. Instead, students should listen carefully to the discussion and decide how they will vote based on the strength of the reasons that are presented.

6. Begin the hearing by inviting one team that was assigned to identify reasons in support of the statute to present its position. Then, ask a team that was assigned to oppose the statute to present its position. Follow this pattern until all teams have presented their positions, then open the floor to comments and questions raised by other students.

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