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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.