App review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2014
Oncology

Oncology

Outdated cancer treatment game is narrow in focus and light on context

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Grades
6–12
Subjects & Skills
Science, Critical Thinking, College & Career Prep

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Pros: Cancer diagnosis and treatment is the entire experience; students role-play traditional steps to identify and treat cancer.

Cons: Clunky interface and lack of depth provide only the simplest and briefest introduction to cancer treatment.

Bottom Line: After a relatively short, limited experience that feels a bit like going through the motions, students will have more questions than answers.

Teachers can use Oncology as a short activity to complement a more thorough study of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Additional materials on BrainPOP, such as lesson plans, quizzes, and printouts, can extend the lesson. The game isn't very educational on its own, however, because it lacks instruction, context, depth, and useful feedback. It also excludes discussion of many other cancer treatments. 

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In Oncology, students talk with three cancer patients to get their medical histories and try to find out what cancer risk factors they have, but no instruction is provided on what constitutes a risk factor. Students then look at CT scans and mark areas where they see cancer, being careful to avoid healthy tissue. (The game includes tools to help in the search.) Once all scans have been studied, students submit their work and get a score based on how much cancer they marked and how much healthy tissue they avoided. After talking with patients again, students begin patients' radiation therapy. Aiming radiation beams at cancerous tumors while avoiding healthy tissue can be tricky; it's virtually impossible to target all the cancer while avoiding all healthy tissue. Students then receive a final score based on how well they did.

Students who play Oncology will get a glimpse into one form of cancer treatment -- radiotherapy. They play the role of technicians who read CT scans of patients, mark cancerous tumors, and target them with radiation beams. The key is to target cancer while preserving healthy tissue, and students quickly learn how difficult it is to treat cancer effectively using this method. Little context is provided for this kind of treatment, however, and other treatment options are not discussed at all. In addition, no background information is offered about cancer, how it develops, or how it metastisizes. The game, which is quite short and not intended for deep study, also lacks constructive feedback, and students' efforts don't seem to affect patient outcomes.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Oncology is a very dry look at cancer diagnosis and treatment and patient interaction. With limited goals that don't seem to affect overall play, students likely won't want to replay the game since the experience is always the same.

Pedagogy

The game shows one method of treating cancer, but not how or why it works, or even what cancer is like. It also doesn't address other treatment methods or explain how to determine risk factors.

Support

Help screens show how tools work, but a lack of constructive feedback means students stumble through portions of the game. Many scores are shown after each task, but it isn't clear how to improve.


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