Pathology: Cancer Treatment Discovery! Form Fits Function

Dr. Rebecca Wilcox
Gastrointestinal/Liver Pathology at the University of Vermont Health Network
VTeen 4-H Pathways Café


Written by Isabelle Petrucci, Teen Leader

On May 4th, the VTeen 4-H Science Pathways Café was excited to have Dr. Rebecca Wilcox, Vice Chair of Pathology Education and Director of Gastrointestinal/Liver Pathology at the University of Vermont Health Network, come in and speak to us about cancer and its various treatments. Dr. Wilcox started off by showing us pictures of a group of cells affected by cancer alongside pictures of perfectly healthy cells. She went on to point out the differences between the two, showing how cancer causes it to become redder as it has more blood vessels, there is more growth, and it is much less organized. She then showed us more pictures and allowed us to guess which one was affected by cancer and which one was not.

She then went into more depth on what exactly cancer is, talking about metastatic cancer, the spread of cancer to other parts of the body, the symptoms of cancer, and some cancer is caused. For example, Dr. Wilcox explained how cancer cells inhibit normal cell functions and take up a lot of energy, which can result in weight loss and fatigue, two possible symptoms of cancer. Lastly, she finished her presentation by talking about different methods to treat cancer, such as gene therapy, chemotherapy, and new drugs that are being made, as well as the ethics of treating cancer.



Hands on Activity

Throughout Dr. Wilcox’s presentation, she interacted with the audience quite a bit as she posed questions and worked us into her presentation. Every now and then, she would break up her presentation by posing questions such as “What is Cancer?” “Can you treat it?” and “Should it always be treated?” She then asked us to get together with our group and brainstorm answers, and finally each group would present their answers. This was particularly interesting when we talked about different ways to treat cancer as students delved deep into complex solutions, such as cutting off cancer cells from the rest of the body, introducing specific T cells into the body that would somehow only attack cancer cells.  The students named this treatment the “Chuck Norris.” Dr. Wilcox continued to delve into different ways to also stop the spread of cancer. Groups came up with very creative treatments that were fairly similar to current methods of treatment. This brainstorming activity really allowed the students to think and use the knowledge they learned to come up with solutions and apply to the real world. By doing this, Dr. Wilcox reinforced what we learned and taught us the valuable skills of brainstorming and teamwork through the hands on activity. In addition to this activity, Dr. Wilcox offered a follow up workshop at the medical center where students could come examine real organs and discuss pathophysiology of disease and preventable illnesses. This activity expanded on what was learned at the cafe, and was an amazing experience for them.


Learn more about the University of Vermont, Larner College of Medicine, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at