Learning Module 2: Investigating Cancer and Clusters

Student Assignment

After reviewing the module information on cancer and reviewing information specific to the Woburn cancer cluster, answer the following questions.

  • 1. The Massachusetts Department of Health referred to the occurrence of cancer in the plaintiff's neighborhood as a "cluster". What is a cancer cluster and how does the medical community define a cluster?
  • 2. Describe the number and types of cancers that occur in humans. What is leukemia? What are some of the difficulties with detecting cancers? Can a benign tissues become malignant?
  • 3. Some of the Woburn cancer victims were treated to remission. What is remission and partial remission? Why is regular monitoring necessary to verify remission?
  • 4. The Woburn trial was broken into three phases. The second phase, if the trial would have progressed, would have required the plaintiffs to show a link between trichloroethylene and leukemia. Many experts speculated this portion of the trial would have been the most difficult to present conclusive arguments linking the environmental exposure to the chemical and leukemia. In 1986, why would establishing the connection between childhood leukemia and trichloroethylene be difficult? What has changed since 1986 and may have favored the plaintiff's argument?
  • 5. Prior to 1982, when the plaintiffs complaint was filed against Grace and Beatrice, what was the cancer survival rate for childhood leukemia? What is the current survival rate for childhood leukemia? Explain the correlation between the scientific method of investigation and the change between pre-1982 childhood leukemia survival rates and the current survival rates.
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