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Johns Hopkins University

Introduction to the Biology of Cancer

Johns Hopkins University via Coursera


Over 500,000 people in the United States and over 8 million people worldwide are dying every year from cancer. As people live longer, the incidence of cancer is rising worldwide and the disease is expected to strike over 20 million people annually by 2030. This open course is designed for people who would like to develop an understanding of cancer and how it is prevented, diagnosed, and treated.

The course introduces the molecular biology of cancer (oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes) as well as the biologic hallmarks of cancer. The course also describes the risk factors for the major cancers worldwide, including lung cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, and stomach cancer. We explain how cancer is staged, the major ways cancer is found by imaging, and how the major cancers are treated.

In addition to the core materials, this course includes two Honors lessons devoted to cancers of the liver and prostate.

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

- Identify the major types of cancer worldwide. (Lecture 1)
- Describe how genes contribute to the risk and growth of cancer. (Lecture 2)
- List and describe the ten cellular hallmarks of cancer. (Lecture 3)
- Define metastasis, and identify the major steps in the metastatic process. (Lecture 4)
- Describe the role of imaging in the screening, diagnosis, staging, and treatments of cancer. (Lecture 5)
- Explain how cancer is treated. (Lecture 6)

We hope that this course gives you a basic understanding of cancer biology and treatment. The course is not designed for patients seeking treatment guidance – but it can help you understand how cancer develops and provides a framework for understanding cancer diagnosis and treatment.


  • Incidence and Etiology of Cancer
    • In this first week, we'll get a high-level introduction to the basics of cancer biology as well as incidence and common types of cancer.
  • Genetics of Cancer
    • Now, we'll turn our attention to the genetics of cancer, variation and mutation, two-hit hypothesis, and genomic instability.
  • Ten Cellular Hallmarks of Cancer
    • All cancers share ten cellular hallmarks. This week, you'll learn to identify these hallmarks in order to distinguish a normal cell from a cancerous cell.
  • Metastasis: The Real Killer
    • The lethal agent of cancer is metastasis. This week, we'll take a good look at this deadly event, TNM staging, the metastatic process, and an ecological paradigm.
  • Imaging in Oncology
    • This week, we'll examine imaging as a tool for diagnosis, staging, and treatment of cancer.
  • Treatment
    • In this final week, we'll examine the variety of treatment options available to doctors and patients as well as the features of clinical trials and how they are used to improve the treatment arsenal.

Taught by

Kenneth J. Pienta


4.3 rating, based on 9 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 7240 ratings

Start your review of Introduction to the Biology of Cancer

  • There are many courses that raise your opinion of an institution. This is to be expected; think about why a university might offer an online class for free. But to my surprise, my opinion of Johns Hopkins went down - way down - as a result of comp…
  • It is a good overview of the Biology of Cancer. I took it for general interest and to educate myself about different types of cancers and how those are identified and treated. I would not call this the best course available on MOOCs. Still, it ga…
  • This course is an excellent introduction to and/or review of fundamental concepts involving cancer biology and hallmarks. For casual learners, the material will provide a thorough implicit explanation on why a generic and all-encompassing "cure for cancer" is nothing more than a clickbait headline (at least as far as the current trend are concerned). For researchers and/or clinical practitioners, the material will reinforce their theoretical understanding of cancers. One part of this course that piqued my interest is the ecological paradigm as an explanation for the metastatic process.
  • Profile image for DR. MOAZZEM HOSSAIN Khan
    would you give free certificate after completing course.sometimes many institute demand fees for certificate

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous
    I was interested to study introduction of biology of cancer courses for free, so, please kindly do the needful
  • Profile image for Huiyuan Li
    Huiyuan Li
  • Renny Jelsma

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