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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.

1 thought on “Communicating Cancer Messages”

  1. I am a cancer survivor, I'm 49 years old now but when I was only 26 I was dignoised
    with testicular cancer. It spread to my abdoman and then to my chest, I had to go through
    13 operations total, 4 courses of chemotherapy.
    I had to have 3 thoracic surgeries done on both sides of my back,12 to 16inch opening
    to get to the tumors. they were to close to my heart to perform a biopsy, so they had to cut
    me open.
    My question is; Has anyone ever heard of a person going through and surviving 3 thoracic surgeries and that has survived after 20 years. The 3rd surgery, they actually took my heart out
    of my chest, and the surgeries have left me in extreme pain that has not gone away at all.
    I have tried to do some research on this, but can't seem to find anything out. I would be willing to talk to any medical personal who might be interested in my particular situation and maybe I could possilby help someone else out and learn more about the affects of this surgery. Looking forward to hearing from someone. Thank you
    Jon Mahon


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