Using “The Avengers” to explain how cancer treatments work.

I could use an Avengers’ character to illustrate each type of cancer treatment.

I was super excited about this idea.

1. Immune checkpoint inhibitors, a la Bruce Banner and The Hulk

The immune checkpoint inhibitors are a class of drug that have been game-changers for cancer treatment.

What is an immune checkpoint? you might ask.

In brief, some cancer cells have found a way to evade our bodies’ immune system by “putting the brakes” on the immune cells, our bodies’ natural defenders.

In my talk, I compared this unwanted side effect to The Hulk.

The drug indiscriminately can go after normal cells, not just the bad cancer cells. If that happens, we calm the overactive immune system (The Hulk) back down with immunosuppressant medications.

2. Targeted therapies, a la Hawkeye

The term “targeted therapies” encompasses any medication used in cancer treatment that targets a specific protein or receptor in the cancer cell.

Some examples of targeted therapy:

I hope the Hawkeye analogy will help you realize that you don’t have to be the biggest Avenger (cancer drug) to be lethal (to cancer cells).

Targeted therapy is powerful therapy!

3. “Old-school” chemotherapies, a la Captain America

Despite the advent of immunotherapies and the advances of targeted therapies, there are still many cancers that we treat with “chemotherapy.”

As oncologists, when we use the term chemotherapy, we mean any drug that causes direct damage to cancer cells.

As opposed to targeted therapies, general chemotherapy drugs damage cancer cells by damaging a broader cellular mechanism, usually by targeting the DNA or proteins that affect the cell division cycle.

Some common chemotherapy drugs that still have an active role in cancer treatment today:

Support cancer research! It’s our key to get there!

if you are a patient in search of more information see also this post on adjuvant chemotherapy, and my patient resources page.

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