Poor choice of words

I’ve been working with molecular pathologists for more than two years now, and one piece of their terminology still throws me every time I hear it.
When told that a protein has been found to be a “poor prognostic marker”, my first reaction is always to be disappointed that we couldn’t find more compelling evidence of a correlation.
But when I say “marker of poor prognosis”, people look at me funny.
At least I’ve got prognostic and predictive markers straight (I think). I was lucky enough to attend a multi-disciplinary workshop during my first couple of months in this job, and one of the clinical presenters hastily chalked a couple of graphs onto the blackboard in order to make sure that everyone was following him. I immediately copied his scribbles into my notebook, and I’ve kept the copy to hand ever since. This seemed like as good a reason as any to create a PowerPoint version.
(The different colours represent marker status – positive or negative. Which colour is which depends on whether you’re looking at a poor unfavourable or a good favourable marker).
A picture is worth a thousand words… this visual explanation has stuck in my memory much, much better than any verbal description ever could.
Of course, you can also get prognostic predictive markers, like the estrogen receptor in breast cancer. But that’s far too confusing for a Friday, so here’s a Star Trek / Monty Python mash-up instead.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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5 Responses to Poor choice of words

  1. Anthony Fejes says:

    Argh… now I’m never going to be able to sit through a lecture on markers without the urge to run up to the front and correct someone’s grammar and draw graphs for them.

  2. Heather Etchevers says:

    Heh, heh, heh on all fronts.
    It is our duty as informed, English-speaking scientists to educate medical doctors as to how to communicate effectively to English-speaking doctors AND scientists. So I’m with you on all of the above.

  3. Cath Ennis says:

    Antony, it’s a free service I’m proud to offer.
    Heather, I work with clinicians and basic scientists, but most of the latter are MD/PhDs, so the medical terminology is deeply ingrained! At least they can all understand each other…

  4. Richard Wintle says:

    Heh. Perhaps next you could tackle sensitivity vs. specificity, with some positive predictive value and false discovery rates thrown in.
    Then explain it all to me, please, because I haven’t a clue.

  5. Cath Ennis says:

    Um, thanks, but no thanks. That’s one of my “slippery” concepts – it won’t stick in my brain, and just slithers straight out within a minute or two of entry.

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