Patient-Related Issues

Analogies and Patient Education

Last Updated: Nov 20, 2012

Analogies can help patients to understand difficult topics.  Some examples are given of analogies related to cancer treatment.

ermeter's Image

When communicating complex treatments and regimens to patients, I frequently use analogies to help the patient understand the treatment & the clinical Trial.  For instance, sometimes patients come from their surgeon and do not understand why they need treatment, as their surgeon, "Got it all."  I once heard an analogy about a dandelion.  If you have a dandelion in your yard, and you pluck it out - that is like surgery, if you spray weed killer on the root, that is like radiation - but even if you cannot see any more dandelions - you would still spread dandelion killer over your entire yard - to kill any seeds that may be there - like chemotherapy.

Cross Talk: Another analogy I use, is to explain cross talk within a cell.  I live in the suburb of a big metropolitan area.  There are many freeways leading to downtown, there is also much construction, or sometimes accidents.  You can get around these by simply using another surface street, or another freeway.  The path to tumor growth can do the same.

Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors:  Receptors on cells that drive cancer growth can be described as light switches.  When they are stuck in the on position - electricity continually is sent to the center of the cell to tell it to grow. TKI inhibitors, go into the basement (intracellular domain) and turn off the circuit breaker - stopping the signal.

These are just some of the analogies I use in talking with patients.  Just wondering if anyone has others that can be helpful in explaining difficult topics to patients.

Cathy Muha's Image

Hi Rose,

Great examples!  Analogies really help to illustrate a point - especially for  those individuals who benefit from a variety of educational and informational approaches.  Analogies give context to concepts that are generally hard to understand.  It's a lot like storytelling.  This new context helps the concept to stay in the person's memory for a longer period of time.  We can all remember an analogy, just like a good story, longer than we can remember facts and figures. Also, by giving patients easy analogies to "take home," patients can share these analogies with family and friends allowing for greater understanding across those close to the patient.  Here is one of my favorite analogies:

Systemic  Treatment for Metastasis:   Think of the cancer like a fire.  If a fire is contained to one part of your house, the fire is put out in that one room with very specific methods -- maybe just water, maybe some fire cessation chemicals.  Perhaps other rooms close by need to be doused with water just in case of a spread.  If the fire has definitely spread to other parts of the house, it will need more aggressive and a variety of methods that address how the fire has spread and where it has spread to.

Thanks, Rose, for getting the conversation started.  What other analogies are AccrualNet members using?  Please share them with all of us!


acrosena's Image

Rose and Cathy those are some great analogies. I also would love to hear analogies that other members maybe using.

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