I come from totally engineering background but I'm passionate learner in my free time! I would like to start learning from the fundamentals about cancer and see if I can get some insights using my (engineering) background, as I'm progressing more and more in my learning career. Just give me your opinions and a real scientific roadmap I must follow, no matter how big it is (or how much it will take!), in order to understand cancer on some very serious advanced level. It could be in form of a books (preferably), videos, forums, MOOCs,YouTube channels, scientific papers and all other resources you think are relevant as long as it is serious like learning maths.

Please put all that in what you think is a right order (from your experience), starting from very foundations. Thank you!

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    Cancer is not just one disease. I personally would start understanding one very specific type of cancer, and then built on that knowledge for other type. The WHO fact sheet gives a good overview. // By the way, welcome to the Site! Feel free to take the tour and visit Medical Sciences Meta to get more information about this site.
    – Narusan
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 18:25
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    This isn't an answerable question. It's a request for opinions, and is far too broad. It's just not a good fit for the stackexchange Q&A format.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 18:58
  • @Narusan-in-coma thanks! but I have to start somewhere so if I want to study one particular cancer type what subjects I need to understand before I dig into that? and what are prerequisites for that subject?
    – Krushe
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 15:50
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    @Krushe, your question will likely be closed because it doesn't fit the site guidelines. It is a good question in general, but not the right kind of question for this site. It could be SAVED if you change it to be more like "what education background is generally required in order to understand and study advanced topics in cancer?" That is more objective, and my answer would then fit it. I do not think you would obtain an answer to your original question as it stands now.
    – DoctorWhom
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:39
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    Given your background, look at Porta/Zapperi:"The Physics of Cancer" DOI: 10.1017/9781316271759 // The table of contents (+DoctorWhoms outline) should serve you well. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


To "understand cancer on some very serious advanced level" is a major endeavor for someone coming from outside of a biological sciences background. You might look at it that biology and chemistry are the foundation of medical sciences, where physics and math are the foundation of engineering sciences. Physics and math are of course important in medical sciences, but I might say that it's only insofar as their role in biology and chemistry.

Biomedical engineering is where the two really start to cross over. If you are considering focusing on cancer with your career, you might consider studying Biomedical engineering - but either way, I recommend you take a look at the coursework of a Biomedical engineering degree to see what you HAVE and HAVE NOT studied yourself.

If I had to break cancer into fundamentals: when a malfunction occurs in the genes (or "processing" of genes) in the cells of a tissue of an organ in an organ system of an organism, each specific malfunction can cause specific normal histological structures and physiological functions to go "wrong" in specific and complex ways that have specific and complex effects. There are specific conditions that can cause those genetic malfunctions to occur. And there are a LOT of things we still don't understand about many of those steps.

Therefore, to truly understand cancer, you need to understand many layers of material that are rooted in those below.

  • Pathology requires knowledge of histology and anatomy.
  • Pathophysiology requires knowledge of physiology - not just of the organ/system in question, but also general endocrinology (signaling pathways).
  • Physiology and histology both require cell biology, molecular biology, and genetics.
  • All of those require a solid grounding in biology and biochemistry.

As has been suggested, it may be easier to start with a specific cancer and start making a list of concepts you need to read about when you find your gaps. OR you might look at TED talks or university lectures posted online for a video on the fundamentals of cancer, and see what you understand already vs what you would need to learn.

I can only offer a single person's opinion, so take it with a grain of salt, and I am light years from being an expert in cancer. But the first time I really felt that all the concepts fully came together and sprung alive was a lecture in a pathology review course called Pathoma - and that was my second year of med school after an undergrad degree in biology. That's also when I grasped that there is SO much more to it that I will never understand without dedicating enormous time to it. He might offer a free video, I don't know, but it was the best framework I'd seen.

  • Whoa! Thank you so much for taking your time to write all of this! It is just what I was looking for, "a big picture" from perspective of someone with good experience in this field.
    – Krushe
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 19:35

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