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Before I became a medical science translator, the only two methods of treating cancer that I had heard of were radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Fast forward a few years, and, over that time, I had a first-class seat as cancer treatment advanced, thanks to my work translating documents about studies and trials on new drugs to slow, stabilize, or get rid of cancer. So, below is a description of a few of those treatments, for my own understanding and for anyone else who wants a short rundown on anticancer drugs.
First, it is helpful to know that different cancers require different treatments because they are all quite unique (this is partly why they can be difficult to treat).
Next, the different drug types that I translate about frequently:
EGFR inhibitors block the activity of a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (you guessed it, that’s what EGFR stands for). If you are translating about them you will also see terms such as signaling pathways, receptor tyrosine kinases (note the kinase is plural, not the receptor), and NSCLC, i.e. non-small cell lung cancer. Here's a link to a detailed, scientific article from 2018 about their use in the systemic management of NSCLC. Be warned, it gets quite nerdy!
As for PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors, they block the activity of PD-1 and PD-L1 immune checkpoint proteins, which are present on the surface of immune cells called T-cells, or T-lymphocytes. I don’t need to list common terms associated with these drugs, since you just read several in the drug description.
Monoclonal antibodies are engineered in laboratories to attack certain antigens, specifically the ones found on cancer cells. Then, once attached to them, these antibodies destroy the antigens. When used to treat cancer, this is called targeted therapy. Here's a link for an easy-to-follow explanation of how they work published online by the National Cancer Institute.
Angiogenesis inhibitors are a new type of drug that I was faced with today. These drugs prevent angiogenesis. Enough said, right....? Well, what is angiogenesis? It’s the formation of new blood vessels. When this drugs does its job, it stops an already-present tumor from growing. Read more here from Johns Hopkins Medicine.
On a final note, if you are translating about these drugs and cancer treatment in general, it is important to start a glossary, so that you don’t mix up the abbreviations and names when describing their functions. I know my glossary has grown exponentially from translating about this subject alone.
Oh, and shoutout to the scientists working hard year after year to battle this devastating disease in its various forms.
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Working for myself as a freelance translator has been a key factor to my becoming a responsible adult.
When I left home at 18, I just wanted to show I could hold down a job, pay my bills, and take care of my own needs. I never dreamt I’d be responsible enough to operate a one-woman business. Yet, here I stand!
My 20s were about impulsive living. I chose to live an artist’s life and move across the country to a city where I knew no one and take any work that I could find. It was great! I had colorful experiences and minimal responsibility. I simply followed the schedule managers set for me - coffee shops and restaurants and theaters - and occasionally asked for a weekend off two weeks in advance.
By 30, though, I realized I needed steady and long-term work. That was when I got my masters and honed my French skills. After that, I taught French, while I studied translation at Bellevue College. Then, when I started translating, I dove into it like any other job, only this time I created my own schedule and took work when it was available.
It only recently occurred to me that this career gave me a lot of responsibility!
If you’re thinking of being a translator, or even a freelancer in general, know that only you will make it work, no one else will do it for you. You must have determination, drive, and a good head on your shoulders. It will be worth it and will even make you a better person capable of inspiring others.
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I am a translator, and I work weekends.
When I first started my business, I took work any day of the week, while I gained experience and built a reputation. In fact, at that time, it came naturally because a decade of being a barista in various coffee shops had accustomed me to it.
After a year or two as a weekend translator, I thought, “Hey, there must be something to this Monday through Friday business. I’ll give it a try.” I found that it made me look forward to two days in a row off, and that planning to spend time with friends was much easier. The downside was that I was missing out on quality jobs over the weekend.
You see, translation agencies will churn out a large number of projects on Thursday or Friday with Monday deadlines. (I imagine this is because project managers and anyone else at the translation agency like to have the weekend off, too.)
Well, I decided to make an exception once. A favorite client contacted me with a job I couldn’t refuse. So, I worked Friday through Sunday, being sure to relax in the evenings like any weekend, then I took Monday off and got my chores and errands done that day.
It turns out the schedule wasn’t so bad. The next thing I knew, I had slipped back into the routine of accepting work over the weekend and spacing my days out across the week.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, as a freelance translator, it’s best to work whatever schedule suits you and your needs. There’s no pressure to work Monday through Friday 9 to 5 just because that’s the loudest drum society marches to. Remember, thousands of people work overnight, Sundays, even holidays and four 12-hour shifts/week. There is no one calendar to follow.
When you choose to be a freelancer, you’re also choosing to schedule your own life without a boss telling you where to be and when. You learn to recognize and set boundaries appropriately. I like to remind myself of that when I start to doubt my freelancer life. I know what works best for me.
So, yes, I am a translator, and I work weekends.
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When I first started translating medical science documents, I realized I was fluent in French and English, but still had to learn the language of medical science. Over time, it turned out that I would learn more than medical terminology. See, clinical trials also incorporate statistical analysis, economics, ethics, and other subjects.
At this time, I do generally see the same terms day in and day out, but new ones come to my attention regularly, too.
Today, the term was non-inferiority margin (marge de non infériorité). My first instinct was to translate this word-for-word, but a little voice told me that would be too easy. Upon further research, it is quite commonly used with its counterpart the non-inferiority trial.
This article explains the purpose of such a trial (and that it is different from a superiority trial), “As the name suggests, the aim is to show that the new treatment is not inferior to the existing one – that is, it is either equally effective or better. If this can be established, the new treatment can be considered as a replacement for the existing treatment, especially if it has other advantages (e.g. cost, safety) which make it preferable.”
Thus, the trial uses a margin, or pre-specified amount, to which the test drug and control are compared. If the effect of the test drug is not inferior to the effect of the control by that margin, then the test drug can replace the standard-of-care treatment.
The FDA and EMA go into great detail as to how to design and conduct non-inferiority trials and, of course, how to choose and apply the margin.
This scientific article explains more generally, and in terms this translator can grasp, that “the margin should be defined based on the historical evidence of the active comparator (the latter is often the well‐established standard treatment of the disease), which can be performed by different approaches.”
As a translator, I do not need to go into further detail (statistics make my brain vibrate). So, I will close by saying that it is always best to research new terms and ensure you are using the correct translation.
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First, the English options I considered were: divalproex sodium (Depakote), sodium valproate, and valproic acid. My research told me that these are all valproates. So far, so good, I thought.
Next, I looked back at the French drug name alongside these options, looking for clues in the language. Do you see how divalproate de sodium includes the sodium of both divalproex sodium and sodium valproate, and the DI- of divalproex sodium, and, finally, the valproate found in sodium valproate and valproic acid. That’s where the confusion was lurking!
Next up, in my research, I found the following from the Epilepsy Foundation (great resource by the way!).
“Valproic acid dissociates to the valproate ion in the gastrointestinal tract, so its effects are virtually identical to those of other forms of valproate. These include oral divalproex sodium (Depakote or Depakote ER in the United States) and sodium valproate (Epilim in the UK and Australia), as well as an injectable solution of valproate sodium (Depacon). The divalproex sodium (Depakote) products, which are slower to dissolve, are promoted as less apt to cause stomach upset.”
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I have noticed that scientific journal articles in French often use the verb retenir as a way of saying a certain diagnosis was made. This typically comes after the article has described the patient’s symptoms and history, the test results, etc. that were factored in to reach the diagnosis. Then, the authors write something like this:
Le diagnostic de XX était retenu…
How can one express the full meaning when translating this simple sentence?
Let’s look at some options. First, the most obvious, one-to-one translations:
Here are two more examples using diagnosis as a verb:
So, let’s consider an alternative for retenir:
“The diagnosis of XX was adopted.”
This captures retenir’s spirit of keeping or holding onto something. It also fits into the typical flow of a scientific article as mentioned earlier, implying that this diagnosis was made after a series of clues were examined.
That being said, would every translator agree that this is the most appropriate translation? NO WAY. We’re like writers in that sense, each with a unique perspective. What is important is that I am confident in my process and reasoning, showing that adopted is certainly an appropriate option.