Cancer exhibit educates and entertains at local museum

The wide variety of presentations and activities drew both adults and children.

Betsy Graca

Scanning your face for skin damage, bracelets that change color with ultraviolet ray exposure and touching a brain tumor: All were on exhibit at the eighth-annual “Cancer and the Human Body” event.

Staged by the University’s Cancer Center, the exhibit drew hundreds of Minnesotans to the Science Museum of Minnesota on Saturday.

According to the American Cancer Society, 559,650 people died from cancer in 2007, and the all-too-familiar disease is often misunderstood.

Joann Amick attended the event to further her knowledge of the disease.

“You think you know from what you hear from the media or other people,” she said. “But we’re learning something new at every station.”

The one-day exhibit included several displays educating museum patrons on skin cancer awareness, the basics of cancer biology and University research.

Chris Pennell, associate professor and researcher, explained to elementary-aged children and their parents how the disease works.

Pennell’s presentation clarified how cancer is developed – through bad luck, lifestyle choices and old age.

Pennell used computer analogies and superheroes exposed to radioactivity to explain how patients develop cancer.

Pennell showed visitors photos of a 30- to 40-pound tumor and let children use his computer to click through slides, allowing for a more interactive discussion.

Sandra Rivera, event coordinator for the Cancer Center, said the exhibit appeals to all ages.

The Cancer Center staff hears many stories about patrons’ own experiences with cancer, she said.

One of the most popular displays was “sun protection and skin cancer awareness.”

Visitors could place their face in the “Dermascan” and see sun damage on their skin.

Nina Botto, a medical student specializing in dermatology, said people respond more to information about their own skin rather than someone else’s.

“It’s always cool when you make it personal,” she said. “The message is stronger.”

Some patrons were more reluctant than others to see damage caused by tanning booths or lack of sun screen.

While viewing one’s face in the Dermascan, an expert was looking on and telling where the most damage had been caused, spurring a new appreciation for SPF 70 sunscreen.

According to the American Cancer Society, 59,940 people were diagnosed with melanoma of the skin in 2007.

Younger children, more innocent to fears of tanning booths and sun exposure, were preoccupied with bracelets given out that change colors when exposed to UV rays.

At the museum’s demonstration station, exhibit-goers could see up-close human organs infected with cancer.

Sarah Meyers, a first-year University medical resident, said patrons are able to see firsthand how smoking, diet and drinking can damage human organs.

An oversized black lung was placed next to a healthy-looking lung to show effects of lung cancer. People could see and feel an actual brain tumor.

The station attracted an older audience while children were more drawn to the gigantic and interactive faux germs in the nearby exhibit.

“The organs are not big plastic things that are cheerful,” Meyers said. “They’re much more fragile.”

Children can see the symmetry of organs, she said, and pick out what’s different, or where the brain tumor is.

Jared Schmidt, a second-year University medical resident, said more adults have seen cancer and are interested in seeing the cancerous organs rather than being told about the effects of the disease.

The cancerous pancreas and lung examples captivated museum-goers the most, Schmidt said. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 160,390 people died of lung cancer in 2007 and 33,370 people died of pancreatic cancer.