MSci Genetics / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Introduction to Cancer

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL21742
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Cancer is ubiquitous in society it will touch all of us personally in some way within our lifetimes. This course will provide the background knowledge underpining cnacer sciences, basic cancer epidemiology and common environmental and genetic causes. "Introduction to Cancer" provides the foundational understanding of how cancer initiates and overcomes the natural restrictions of controlled tissue growth, including what mainstay and modern therapies are associated to these enabling characteristics. You will explore how enabling hallmarks of cancer such as genomic instability, dysreglated DNA damage mechanisms are key in driving cancer evolution. The unit wil unravel the co-opting of the complex mult-cellular arcitecture of the tumour micro-environment as it transforms a developing tumour.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
From Molecules to Cells BIOL10232 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL21742 pre-requisite is BIOL10232 From Molecules to Cells


To explain broadly, what is cancer? how does it develop? To provide the biological understanding of how cancer is caused and why it succeeds in developing in the body. To have an overview of the cellular complexity and across cell type signalling needed to enable tumour growth by exploring the enabling nature of the tumour microenvironment. Understand how the enabling characteristics and hallmarks of cancer such as DNA damage and genomic instability underpin the initiation and evolution of cancer. Knowledge of how these basic characteristics of cancer can be exploited clinically to treat, diagnose and monitor cancer.

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Understand the history of cancer tumour formation, the stepwise model of development and the role of cellular function.
  • Understand the function of oncogenes (drivers, tumour suppressors, secondary drivers) and their associated uses as biomarkers and molecular therapeutic targets.
  • Knowledge of cancer epidemiolog, common causes, and genetic predispositions.
  • Understand the role of intracellular enabling characterics such as DNA damage, cell-cycle dysregulation, and genomic instability in the initiation and evolution of cancer.
  • Cell-cycle dysregulation will be explored concentrating on the role of tumour suppressors and the therapeutic interventions available to target the process.
  • Understand the role of the complex cellular make up of a developing tumour and the signalling networks required to maintain growth an expansion. Such as angiogenesis and nutrient provision.
  • Knowledge of the clinical approaches used to exploit the basic characteristics of cancer biology, to treat, diagnose, and monitor cancer progression. Including chemotherapies, targeted personalised therapies and modern approaches to target the TME.
  • Be able to use the basic knowledge of biomarkers, role of oncogenes, and the enabling characteristics of cancer covered in the unit to interpret and describe the meaning of "real world patient or research data".


Basic cancer characteristics: Establishment of a tumour requires a few basic fundamental characteristics you will have an overview of these basic hallmarks and how each one is required to form developing tumours. You will also learn the stages associated with cancer progression, and how it disrupts the natural homeostatic balance of the body.

Cancer epidemiology and common causes: the importance of social statistics in identifying at risk groups, predispositions, and the common causes of cancer. Exploring how some of these common causes lead to mutations in well characterised oncogenes.

Oncogenes and the step wise model of cancer development: Cancer initiation is not a simple process, the development requires alterations in Oncogenes you will learn the basic roles (drivers, tumour suppressors, secondary drivers) and with examples understand the process by which they alter cell biology to initiate and drive cancer progression. Explore how these oncogenes can be used as biomarkers and therapeutic targets in the clinic.

Intracellular enabling hallmarks: To escape the intrinsic controls present in healthy tissues and to have the ability to acquire new cancer characteristics cancer cells must survive and overcome. You will learn about genomic instability, DNA damage, telomer extensions and formation of cell-cycle progression independence.

Tumour Micro-environment: Tumours are not just cancer cells, in fact they make up a minority of the cells in some solid tumours. You will learn what stromal cells are present and what pro-tumour role they play, by maintaining a stable microenvironment. You will learn how cross-talk between cancer cells and the stroma is essential in all phases of cancer progression and how this can be monitored and exploited.

Clinical exploitation of enabling cancer characteristics: With each underpinning characteristic of cancer comes an opportunity to find a therapeutic advantage; you will learn how classical chemotherapies and modern targeted therapies are used in such cases. You will also learn how biomarkers against these hallmarks are used to monitor, diagnosis and alter treatment plans for patients.

Teaching provision: You will engage via online resources and pre-recorded lecture    materials to learn the fundamentals of key areas. Live sessions will be used for summary lectures and active learning sessions to put the fundamentals into context. Some live sessions will be used to teach how data/problem driven questions can be answered using the knowledge obtained from the other learning approaches.    


Employability skills

Analytical skills
eLearning exercises develop analytical skills involved in experimental design and data interpretation. Active learning sessions that will focus on the interpretation of real-world data patient data eLearning exercises develop analytical skills involved in experimental design and data interpretation. Active learning sessions that will focus on the interpretation of real-world data patient data
Problem solving
eLearning exercises designed around the problem-solving skills required to access tumour progression and treatment plans.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 25%
Written exam 75%

1 in semester test (25%) Data driven problem based/short answer test 45mins

Written exam (75%) 1.5 hour written examination. 1 essay question chosen from 4

Feedback methods

1 formative data driven problem based/short answer test will delivered before the summative test, group feedback will be given identifying areas of shared expertise and weakness. An online discussion forum and post exam clinic will be available, as well as feedback on the written exam.

Recommended reading

Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K & Walter P (2014) Molecular Biology of the Cell (6th edition). Garland Science. Chapters 5, 17 & 20.

Weinberg, Robert A (2014) The Biology of Cancer (Second Edition) Chapters 1-2, 4-5, 7-8, 10-13.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 3
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 79

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Michael Smith Unit coordinator

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