Using comics to educate patients on cancer risks

Nothing comic about it (Courtesy of the University Health Network)

While filmmakers have been using 3D to make fiction more realistic, two radiation oncologists at UHN are using 2D to bring a dose of reality to young males.

Drs. Joyce Nyhof-Young, Research Scientist, Cancer Survivorship, PMH, and Peter Chung, Radiation Oncologist, PMH, partnered with David Brame, Ryerson professor and graphic artist, and David Kolin, UofT medical student, to create a comic book that educates readers about testicular cancer.

Dr. Nyhof-Young has interviewed many cancer patients and found that, despite the fact that testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer among men aged 15 to 34, there is very little awareness about the disease among that group.

“There is so much information directed at women, educating them about how to self-examine,” she says. “But in my research, men—especially young men—know very little about testicular cancer until they have been diagnosed with it.”

Given the demographics of typical comic book readers, a comic teaching about the importance of self-examination and the impact of testicular cancer should put the information in the hands of those that need it most.

“We [oncologists] tend to only deal with cancer when it presents,” says Dr. Chung. “Our focus is typically treatment rather than prevention. Educational material like this brings awareness to those who need it and encourages early detection.”

Based at the fictional Maple Leaf General Hospital (UHNews readers will find the façade very familiar), the story is an amalgamation of several patient stories collected by Nyhof-Young. Using the tale of a young couple going through a testicular cancer diagnosis and treatment, the comic provides a realistic look at the hardships patients may face.

Along with the comic book, the group has also created a patient education brochure explaining the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer.

“It’s important that there is diversity in patient education materials in order to ensure the information reaches patients in a variety of ways,” says Dr. Nyhof-Young.

The final version of the comic book isn’t quite ready yet—feedback from high school students, health care providers and other adults is still being incorporated.

The group has already received inquiries from as far away as the Netherlands and while they plan to distribute globally, the most important thing is that the message hits home.