February 2013 Teacher's Guide for Fighting Cancer with Lasers Table of Contents



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February 2013 Teacher's Guide for
Fighting Cancer with Lasers
Table of Contents



About the Guide 2

Student Questions 3

Answers to Student Questions 4

Anticipation Guide 5

Reading Strategies 6

Background Information 8

Connections to Chemistry Concepts 25

Possible Student Misconceptions 25

Anticipating Student Questions 26

In-Class Activities 28

Out-of-class Activities and Projects 30

References 30

Web sites for Additional Information 32

About the Guide

Teacher’s Guide editors William Bleam, Donald McKinney, Ronald Tempest, and Erica K. Jacobsen created the Teacher’s Guide article material. E-mail: bbleam@verizon.net


Susan Cooper prepared the anticipation and reading guides.
Patrice Pages, ChemMatters editor, coordinated production and prepared the Microsoft Word and PDF versions of the Teacher’s Guide. E-mail: chemmatters@acs.org

Articles from past issues of ChemMatters can be accessed from a CD that is available from the American Chemical Society for $30. The CD contains all ChemMatters issues from February 1983 to April 2008.

The ChemMatters CD includes an Index that covers all issues from February 1983 to April 2008.
The ChemMatters CD can be purchased by calling 1-800-227-5558.
Purchase information can be found online at www.acs.org/chemmatters

Student Questions


    1. What medical tool did doctors use to determine the problem causing Chris’s pain?

    2. What is the name of the type of tumor found in his thigh?

    3. Was the tumor cancerous?

    4. What two medical tools do doctors use to treat the tumor?

    5. What role does the needle play in destroying the tumor?

    6. Was the operation difficult or complicated?

    7. What is the meaning of the acronym LASER?

    8. Name three properties of laser light.

    9. Name the two processes involved in generating laser light. Explain each.

    10. Name two advantages and two disadvantages of using lasers for treating cancers.


Answers to Student Questions


  1. What medical tool did doctors use to determine the problem causing Chris’s pain?

The medical tool used by doctors to determine the origin of Chris’s pain was the computed tomography scan, or CT scan.

  1. What is the name of the type of tumor found in his thigh?

The tumor in Chris’s thigh was an osteoid osteoma.

  1. Was the tumor cancerous?

Luckily, Chris’s tumor was not cancerous; it was benign.
  1. What two medical tools do doctors use to treat the tumor?


Doctors typically use radio waves of lasers to treat tumors of this type.

  1. What role does the needle play in destroying the tumor?

Doctors insert the needle into the center of the tumor; then they insert an optic fiber into the needle. The fiber is used to direct the intense light/heat of the laser to the center of the tumor.

  1. Was the operation difficult or complicated?

Although Chris needed general anesthesia, the operation itself only took an hour, and Chris “... went home the same day and, within a short period of time, he was able to walk and resume his daily activities.” In short, the operation seemed pretty easy (although it’s still surgery and it’s still scary).

  1. What is the meaning of the acronym LASER?

The acronym LASER means “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”.

  1. Name three properties of laser light.

Laser light:

a. is focused in a narrow beam,

b. has one specific wavelength,

c. is very intense.

  1. Name the two processes involved in generating laser light. Explain each.

The two processes in generating laser light are stimulated emission and light amplification.
          1. Stimulated emission involves incoming light causing atoms within the laser to emit light on their own. These atoms are bombarded with flashes of light or electrical discharges. This causes electrons within the atoms to absorb energy and jump to higher energy states (excited states). When these electrons from excited states return to their original ground states, they release photons of light. These photons then stimulate other electrons in excited states to jump back down to their ground state, thereby emitting more photons, all of which travel in the same direction.


          2. Light amplification occurs when the photons of light travel back and forth within the laser medium reflecting off the two mirrors. As they bounce back and forth between the mirrors, they stimulate more and more excited electrons to return to their ground states, thus emitting even more photons. Eventually the light wave leaves the laser medium through the partially-coated mirror, creating the laser beam.

  1. Name two advantages and two disadvantages of using lasers for treating cancers.

Two advantages of using laser for treating tumors are:

          1. The laser can be used to repair small parts or surfaces of the body, much like a scalpel,

          2. The heat from laser light actually helps to sterilize wounds.

The disadvantages of using laser light for tumor treatment are:

  1. their high price,

  2. the bulkiness of the equipment to generate the laser beams,

  3. the need for training and precautions for medical staff using the laser.




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