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November 11, 2002

Orloff's CancerQuest website seeks to inform, educate

By Beverly Clark

A new website developed at Emory is devoted to giving cancer patients a tool to learn practical, scientific knowledge about their illness. Called CancerQuest and found at, the site is designed to teach people the biology of cancer in a clear, concise manner.

While there is a wealth of cancer news and advice on the Internet, much of it is either very technical (designed for doctors and scientists) or broad and simple, according to Gregg Orloff, senior lecturer in biology, who spearheaded the development of CancerQuest.

“I found that there is not much out there that really teaches the biology of cancer—that can explain to people what is happening to them,” Orloff said.

While not clinical in scope, CancerQuest gives a detailed yet easy-to-grasp overview of how cells work and what happens when they break down and become cancerous. The site outlines the actions and effects of various treatments—but it does not make any recommendations, Orloff said.

The website is structured like a textbook and features several animated graphics to explain concepts. A dictionary is built in, so users can quickly look up the definitions of scientific terms. All references are documented, with links to other sites for those wanting more information about a particular aspect of treatment or different type of cancer. Future plans include offering the project in several languages.

The idea for CancerQuest, which received funding through a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant, came to Orloff during his wife’s experience with breast cancer. During treatment, her oncologist recommended that she attend a support group of other breast cancer sufferers, and she brought along her husband.

“When people realized I was a biology professor,” Orloff said, “they began asking me a barrage of questions about cancer. It made me realize there was a real need for information—a hunger for it.”

In the process of creating CancerQuest, the project also became a teaching tool for students. Orloff recruited students from his classes with web-savvy skills and artistic ability to illustrate and help build the site; students in his spring course on cancer biology were required to create web presentations, which then were incorporated into the website.

Orloff said a large-print edition is now available on the site, and he is working on a Spanish-language version.