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Yvette's Brave Battle


Tonya Laakko Train
Biology Department
Elon University


This case is based on the true story of a woman with choriocarcinoma, a rare type of rapidly dividing and metastatic cancer derived from cells of the placenta. The case begins with Yvette being admitted to a hospital due to neurological irregularities. Blood tests indicate that she is pregnant, but an ultrasound shows that she is not. Ultimately she learns that she has cancer that has metastasized to her liver, lungs, and brain. Since the cancer cells are derived from placental cells, they produce human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG), the hormone detected in traditional pregnancy tests. The case follows Yvette through chemotherapeutic and radiation treatments. Students learn about tumor formation and metastases as well as cancer treatment and the side-effects of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Originally designed for use in undergraduate biology, biochemistry, or pre-health courses to teach students about cancer cell biology, this case could also be used to introduce more advanced topics on cell cycle or endocrinology in upper-level courses with junior and senior science or pre-health students.

  • Identify relevant observations and use those observations to devise hypotheses.
  • Generate questions to gather more data towards devising a reasonable hypothesis and incorporate new information to revise hypotheses.
  • Compare and contrast cancer cells from their normal precursor cell types.
  • Comprehend the process of metastasis, the basic mechanism of traditional chemotherapeutics and radiation treatment.
  • Relate the mechanism of traditional chemotherapeutics to common side-effects of the drugs.
  • Compare and contrast radiation to chemotherapy.
  • Use risk benefit analysis to choose the appropriate treatment.
  • Discriminate between remission and cure.
  • Devise potential techniques for monitoring the presence of choriocarcinoma by applying information provided in the case.
  • Devise a rationale to explain why cancer cells can become resistant to treatment over time.
Keywords: Cancer; chemotherapy; radiation therapy; molar pregnancy; choriocarcinoma; cell biology; endocrinology; metastasis; human chorionic gonadotropin
Topical Area: Scientific method
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Directed, Discussion, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Cell Biology   Molecular Biology   Biology (General)   Biochemistry   Medicinal Chemistry   Medicine (General)   Neuroscience   Analytical Chemistry  
Date Posted: 11/4/2013
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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