Communicating Cancer Messages

I'm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this week attending the annual meeting of Cancer Center public affairs, marketing and development professionals.  There are more than 200 of us gathering to discuss best practices in our fields, including communicating cancer messages to the media and general public.

I'm giving a talk to professionals who are new to the cancer center world and need a primer on discussing cancer care and research with our audiences.  For the presentation, I've listed my top 10 "cancer analogies" because we can convey complicated, scientific topics best by relating them to real-world experiences.   Let us know about analogies you use to talk about cancer!

Top 10 Cancer Analogies

1.  Telomeres, the end-caps on chromosomes that protect cells from cancer and other aging-related diseases, are like the ends of shoelaces; they fray and wear down over time.

2. Distinguishing cancer cells from normal cells is like distinguish between two identical twins.

3. An oncogene acts like a brake on runaway cell growth.

4. Genome Sequencing – "Think of a sweater," says Sarah Wheelan, co-director of the Johns Hopkins genome sequencing center. "Imagine if you could unravel the sweater thread by thread, put it in a dryer, and have it come out whole again," she says.  "That's what this technology does for us.  It allows us to unravel the human genome and gives us back something that makes sense."

5. Why do we look at all genes versus just one gene? Each individual gene is not always the best lead to solve a crime.  If you probe into all the genes, you may find some surprising things. --- Kenneth Kinzler, Ph.D., professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins.

6. Epigenetic alterations are like punctuation marks on DNA; they control how the DNA is read.

7. A gene promoter is the ignition switch that revs up gene activity.

8. Cancer Stem Cell therapy - dandelion theory: Chemotherapy is like chopping off the stalk of a dandelion; unless you remove the root, it's likely to come back.

9. Cancer treatment is like raking leaves; those last few are so hard to get.

10. The sheer size of data from the Human Genome Project is like reading through 3,000 volumes of War & Peace.

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