Glossary of Terms
Adjuvant therapy (A-joo-vant THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment given after the primary treatment to increase the chances of a cure. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or biological therapy.
Anastrozole (an-AS-troh-zohl): An anticancer drug that is used to decrease estrogen production and suppress the growth of tumors that need estrogen to grow. It belongs to the family of drugs called aromatase inhibitors.
Anesthesia (A-nes-THEE-zhuh): A loss of feeling or awareness caused by drugs or other substances. Anesthesia keeps patients from feeling pain during surgery or other procedures.
Areola (a-REE-o-la): The area of dark-colored skin on the breast that surrounds the nipple.
Aromatase inhibitor (uh-ROH-muh-tayz in-HIH-bih-ter): A drug that prevents the formation of estradiol, a female hormone, by interfering with an aromatase enzyme. Aromatase inhibitors are used as a type of hormone therapy for postmenopausal women who have hormone-dependent breast cancer.
Atypical hyperplasia (AY-TIP-ih-kul HY-per-PLAY-zhuh): A benign (not cancer) condition in which cells look abnormal under a microscope and are increased in number.
Axilla (ak-SIL-a): The underarm or armpit.
Axillary lymph node (AK-sih-LAYR-ee limf): A lymph node in the armpit region that drains lymph from the breast and nearby areas.
Benign (beh-NINE): Not cancer. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body.
Biopsy (BY-op-see): The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope or perform other tests on the cells or tissue. There are many different types of biopsy procedures. The most common types include: (1) incisional biopsy, in which only a sample of tissue is removed; (2) excisional biopsy, in which an entire lump or suspicious area is removed; and (3) needle biopsy, in which a sample of tissue or fluid is removed with a needle. When a wide needle is used the procedure is called a core biopsy. When a thin needle is used, the procedure is called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.
Bone scan: A technique to create images of bones on a computer screen or on film. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into a blood vessel and travels through the bloodstream; it collects in the ones and is detected by a scanner.
Brachytherapy (BRAY-kee-THAYR-uh-pee): A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or near a tumor. Also called implant radiation therapy, internal radiation therapy, and radiation brachytherapy.
BRCA1: A gene on chromosome 17 that normally helps to suppress cell growth. A person who inherits certain mutations (changes) in a BRCA1 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate, and other types of cancer.
BRCA2: A gene on chromosome 13 that normally helps to suppress cell growth. A person who inherits certain mutations (changes) in a BRCA2 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, prostate, and other types of cancer.
Breast-conserving surgery (SER-juh-ree): An operation to remove the breast cancer but not the breast itself. Types of breast-conserving surgery include lumpectomy (removal of the lump), quadrantectomy (removal of one quarter, or quadrant, of the breast), and segmental mastectomy (removal of the cancer as well as some of the breast tissue around the tumor and the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor). Also called breast-sparing surgery.
Breast-sparing surgery (SER-juh-ree): An operation to remove the breast cancer but not the breast itself. Types of breast-conserving surgery include lumpectomy (removal of the lump), quadrantectomy (removal of one quarter, or quadrant, of the breast), and segmental mastectomy (removal of the cancer as well as some of the breast tissue around the tumor and the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor). Also called breast-conserving surgery.
Calcium (KAL-see-um): A mineral needed for healthy teeth, bones, and other body tissues. A deposit of calcium in body tissues, such as breast tissue, may be a sign of disease.
Cancer (KAN-ser): A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.
Carcinoma (KAR-sih-NOH-muh): Cancer that begins in the skin or in the tissues that line or cover internal organs.
Cell: The individual unit that makes up the tissues of the body. All living things are made up of one or more cells.
Chemotherapy (KEE-moh-THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.
Chromosome (KROH-muh-some): Part of a cell that contains genetic information. Except for sperm and eggs, all human cells contain 46 chromosomes.
Clinical breast exam: A physical exam of the breast performed by a health care provider to check for lumps or other changes. Also called CBE.
Clinical trial: A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease. Also called clinical study.
Contrast material: A dye or other substance that helps show abnormal areas inside the body. It is given by injection into a view, by enema, or by mouth. Contrast material may be used with x-rays, CT scans, MRI, or other imaging tests.
Core biopsy (BY-op-see): The removal of a tissue sample with a wide needle for examination under a microscope. Also called core needle biopsy.
CT scan: A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body taken from different angles. The pictures are created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. Also called CAT scan, computed tomography scan, computerized axial tomography scan, and computerized tomography.
Cyst (sist): A sac or capsule in the body. It may be filled with fluid or other material.
DES: A synthetic form of the hormone estrogen that was prescribed to pregnant women between about 1940 and 1971 because it was thought to prevent miscarriages. DES may increase the risk of uterine, ovarian, or breast cancer in women who took it. It also has been linked to carcinoma of the vagina or cervix in daughters exposed to DES before birth. Also called diethylstilbestrol.
Diagnostic mammogram (MAM-o-gram): X-ray of the breasts used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of breast cancer has been found.
Digestive tract (dy-JES-tiv): The organs through which food and liquids pass when they are swallowed, digested, and eliminated. These organs are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, and rectum and anus.
Duct (duct): In medicine, a tube or vessel of the body through which fluids pass.
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DUK-tal KAR-sih-NOH-muh in SYE-too): A noninvasive condition in which abnormal cells are found in the lining of a breast duct. The abnormal cells have not spread outside the duct to other tissues in the breast. In some cases, ductal carcinoma in situ may become invasive cancer and spread to other tissues, although it is not known at this time how to predict which lesions will become invasive. Also called DCIS and intraductal carcinoma.
Estradiol (es-truh-DY-ol): A form of the hormone estrogen.
Estrogen (ES-truh-jin): A type of hormone made by the body that helps develop and maintain female sex characteristics and the growth of long bones. Estrogens can also be made in the laboratory. They may be used as a type of birth control and to treat symptoms of menopause, menstrual disorders, osteoporosis, and other conditions.
Excisional biopsy (ek-SIH-zhun-al BY-op-see): A surgical procedure in which an entire lump or suspicious area is removed for diagnosis. The tissue is then examined under a microscope.
Exemestane (EK-seh- MEH-stayn): A drug used to treat advanced breast cancer and to prevent recurrent breast cancer in postmenopausal women who have already been treated with tamoxifen. It is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer. Exemestane causes a decrease in the amount of estrogen made by the body. It is a type of aromatase inhibitor. Also called Aromasin.
External radiation therapy (RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee): A type of radiation therapy that uses a machine to aim high-energy rays at the cancer from outside the body. Also called external-beam radiation therapy.
Fibrous: Containing or resembling fibers.
Fine-needle aspiration biopsy (as-per-AY-shun BY-op-see): The removal of tissue or fluid with a tin needle for examination under a microscope. Also called FNA biopsy.
Gene: The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.
Genome (JEE-nome): The complete genetic material of an organism.
Gland: An organ that makes one or more substances, such as hormones, digestive juices, sweat, tears, saliva, or milk.
Goserelin (go-SAIR-uh-lin): A drug that belongs to the family of drugs called gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs. Goserelin is used to block hormone production in the ovaries or testicles.
HER2/neu: A protein involved in normal cell growth. It is found on some types of cancer cells, including breast and ovarian. Cancer cells removed from the body may be tested for the presence of HER2/neu to help decide the best type of treatment. Also called c-erB-2, human EGF receptor 2, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2.
Hodgkin lymphoma (HOJ-kin lim-FOH-muh): A cancer of the immune system that is marked by the presence of a type of cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell. Also called Hodgkin disease.
Hormone receptor test (HOR-mone reh-SEP-ter): A test to measure the amount of certain proteins, called hormone receptors, in cancer tissue. Hormones can attach to these proteins. A high level of hormone receptors may mean that hormones help the cancer grow.
Hormone therapy (HOR-mone THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment that adds, blocks, or removes hormones. For certain conditions (such as diabetes or menopause), hormones are given to adjust low hormone levels. To slow or stop the growth of certain cancers (such as prostate and breast cancer) synthetic hormones or other drugs may be given to block the body's natural hormones. Sometimes surgery is needed to remove the gland that makes a certain hormone. Also called endocrine therapy, hormonal therapy, and hormone treatment.
Implant radiation therapy (RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee): A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or a near a tumor. Also called brachytherapy, internal radiation therapy, and radiation brachytherapy.
Incisional biopsy (in-SIH-zhun-al BY-op-see): A surgical procedure in which a portion of al ump or suspicious area is removed for diagnosis. The tissue is then examined under a microscope to check for signs of disease.
Inflammatory breast cancer (in-FLA-muh-TOR-ee): A type of breast cancer in which the breast looks red and swollen and feels warm. The skin of the breast may also show the pitted appearance called peau d-orange (like the skin of an orange). The redness and warmth occur because the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin.
Internal radiation therapy (in-TER-nul RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee): A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or a near a tumor. Also called brachytherapy, implant radiation therapy, and radiation brachytherapy.
Intravenous (IN-truh-VEE-nus): Into or within a vein. Intravenous usually refers to a way of giving a drug or other substance through a needle or tube inserted into a vein. Also called IV.
Invasive breast cancer (in-VAY-siv KAN-ser): Cancer that has spread from where it started in the breast into surrounding, healthy tissue. Most invasive breast cancers start in the ducts (tubes that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple). Invasive breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Also called infiltrating breast cancer.
Lapatinib (luh-PA-tih-nib): A drug used with another anticancer drug to treat breast cancer that is HER2 positive and has advanced or metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) after treatment with other drugs. Lapatinib is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer. Also called TYKERB.
Letrozole (LET-ruh-zole): A drug used to treat advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Letrozole causes a decrease in the amount of estrogen made by the body. It is a type of aromatase inhibitor. Also called Femara.
Leukemia (loo-KEE-mee-uh): Cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow and causes large numbers of blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream.
Leuprolide (LOO-pro-lide): A drug that blocks the body from making testosterone (a male hormone) and estradiol (a female hormone). It may stop the growth of cancer cells that need the hormone to grow. It is a type of gonadotropin-releasing hormone analog.
LH-RH agonist: A drug that inhibits the secretion of sex hormones. In men, LH-RH agonist causes testosterone levels to fall. In women, LH-RH agonist causes the levels of estrogen and other sex hormones to fall. Also called luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonist.
Lobe: A portion of an organ, such as the liver, lung, breast, thyroid, or brain.
Lobular carcinoma in situ (LAH-byuh-ler KAR-sih-NOH-muh in SY-too): A condition in which abnormal cells are found in the lobules of the breast. Lobular carcinoma in situ seldom becomes invasive cancer; however, having it in one breast increases the risk of developing breast cancer in either breast. Also called LCIS.
Lobule (LOB-yule): A small lobe or a subdivision of a lobe.
Local therapy (THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment that affects cells in the tumor and the area close to it.
Locally advanced cancer: Cancer that has spread from where it started to nearby tissue or lymph nodes.
Lumpectomy (lum-PEK-toh-mee): Surgery to remove abnormal tissue or cancer from the breast and a small amount of normal tissue around it. It is a type of breast-sparing surgery.
Lymph node (limf): A rounded mass of lymphatic tissue that is surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue. Lymph nodes filter lymph (lymphatic fluid), and they store lymphocytes (white blood cells). They are located along lymphatic vessels. Also called lymph gland.
Lymph vessel (limf): A thin tube that carries lymph (lymphatic fluid) and white blood cells through the lymphatic system. Also called lymphatic vessel.
Lymphedema (LIM-fuh-DEE-muh): A condition in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling. It may occur in the arm or leg after lymph vessels or lymph nodes in the underarm or groin are removed or treated with radiation.
Malignant (muh-LIG-nunt): Cancerous. Malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Mammogram (MAM-o-gram): An x-ray of the breast.
Mastectomy (ma-STEK-toh-mee): Surgery to remove the breast (or as much of the breast tissue as possible).
Medical oncologist (MEH-dih-kul on-KAH-loh-jist): A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapy. A medical oncologist often is the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists.
Menopausal hormone therapy (MEH-nuh-PAW-zul HOR-mone THAYR-uh-pee): Hormones (estrogen, progesterone, or both) given to women after menopause to replace the hormones no longer produced by the ovaries. Also called hormone replacement therapy and HRT.
Menopause (MEH-nuh-PAWZ): The time of life when a woman's ovaries stop working and menstrual periods stop. Natural menopause usually occurs around age 50. A woman is said to be in menopause when she hasn't had a period for 12 months in a row. Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, vaginal dryness, trouble concentrating, and infertility.
Menstrual period (MEN-stroo-al): The periodic discharge of blood and tissue from the uterus. From puberty until menopause, menstruation occurs about every 28 days, but does not occur during pregnancy.
Metastasis (meh-TAS-tuh-sis): The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumor formed by cells that have spread is called a "metastatic tumor" or a "metastasis." The metastatic tumor contains cells that are like those in the original (primary) tumor. The plural form of metastasis is metastases (meh-TAS-tuh-SEEZ).
Metastatic (meh-tuh-STA-tik): Having to do with metastasis, which is the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.
Microcalcification (MY-kroh-KAL-sih-fih-KAYshun): A tiny deposit of calcium in the breast that cannot be felt but can be detected on a mammogram. A cluster of these very small specks of calcium may indicate that cancer is present.
Modified radical mastectomy (RA-dih-kul ma-STEK-toh-mee): Surgery for breast cancer in which the breast, most or all of the lymph nodes under the arm, and the lining over the chest muscles are removed. Sometimes the surgeon also removes part of the chest wall muscles.
MRI: A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. MRI makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or x-ray. MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones. Also called magnetic resonance imaging, NMRI, and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.
Neoadjuvant therapy (NEE-oh-A-joo-vant THAYRuh-pee): Treatment given as a first step to shrink a tumor before the main treatment, which is usually surgery, is given. Examples of neoadjuvant therapy include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy. It is a type of induction therapy.
Oncology nurse (on-KAH-loh-jee): A nurse who specializes in treating and caring for people who have cancer.
Ovarian cancer (oh-VAYR-ee-un KAN-ser): Cancer that forms in tissues of the ovary (one of a pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed).
Ovary (OH-vuh-ree): One of a pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed. The ovaries are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus.
Partial mastectomy (ma-STEK-toh-mee): The removal of cancer as well as some of the breast tissue around the tumor and the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor. Usually some of the lymph nodes under the arm are also taken out. Also called segmental mastectomy.
Pathologist (puh-THAH-loh-jist): A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.
Physical therapist: A health professional who teaches exercises and physical activities that help condition muscles and restore strength and movement.
Plastic surgeon (SER-jun): A surgeon who specializes in reducing scarring or disfigurement that may occur as a result of accidents, birth defects, or treatment for diseases.
Plastic surgery (SER-juh-ree): An operation that restores or improves the appearance of body structures.
Precancerous (pre-KAN-ser-us): A term used to describe a condition that may (or is likely to) become cancer. Also called premalignant.
Progesterone (proh-JES-tuh-RONE): A type of hormone made by the body that plays a role in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Progesterone can also be made in the laboratory. It may be used as a type of birth control and to treat menstrual disorders, infertility, symptoms of menopause, and other conditions.
Prosthesis (pros-THEE-sis): A device, such as an artificial leg, that replaces a part of the body.
Radiation oncologist (RAY-dee-AY-shun on-KAHloh-jist): A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.
Radiation therapy (RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uhpee): The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Also called irradiation and radiotherapy.
Radioactive (RAY-dee-oh-AK-tiv): Giving off radiation.
Reconstructive surgeon (REE-kun-STRUK-tiv SERjun): A doctor who can surgically reshape or rebuild (reconstruct) a part of the body, such as a woman's breast after surgery for breast cancer.
Recurrent cancer (ree-KER-ent KAN-ser): Cancer that has recurred (come back), usually after a period of time during which the cancer could not be detected. The cancer may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumor or to another place in the body. Also called recurrence.
Registered dietitian (dy-eh-TIH-shun): A health professional with special training in the use of diet and nutrition to keep the body healthy. A registered dietitian may help the medical team improve the nutritional health of a patient.
Risk factor: Something that may increase the chance of developing a disease. Some examples of risk factors for cancer include age, a family history of certain cancers, use of tobacco products, certain eating habits, obesity, lack of exercise, exposure to radiation or other cancer-causing agents, and certain genetic changes.
Screening mammogram (MAM-o-gram): X-rays of the breasts taken to check for breast cancer in the absence of signs or symptoms.
Segmental mastectomy (seg-MEN-tul ma-STEK-tohmee): The removal of cancer as well as some of the breast tissue around the tumor and the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor. Usually some of the lymph nodes under the arm are also taken out. Also called partial mastectomy.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: Removal and examination of the sentinel node(s) (the first lymph node[s] to which cancer cells are likely to spread from a primary tumor). To identify the sentinel lymph node(s), the surgeon injects a radioactive substance, blue dye, or both near the tumor. The surgeon then uses a scanner to find the sentinel lymph node(s) containing the radioactive substance or looks for the lymph node(s) stained with dye. The surgeon then removes the sentinel node(s) to check for the presence of cancer cells.
Side effect: A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.
Supportive care: Care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. The goal of supportive care is to prevent or treat as early as possible the symptoms of a disease, side effects caused by treatment of a disease, and psychological, social, and spiritual problems related to a disease or its treatment. Also called comfort care, palliative care, and symptom management.
Surgeon (SER-jun): A doctor who removes or repairs a part of the body by operating on the patient.
Surgery (SER-juh-ree): A procedure to remove or repair a part of the body or to find out whether disease is present. An operation.
Surgical biopsy (SER-jih-kul BY-op-see): The removal of tissue by a surgeon for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope.
Systemic therapy (sis-TEH-mik THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment using substances that travel through the bloodstream, reaching and affecting cells all over the body.
Tamoxifen (tuh-MOK-sih-FEN): A drug used to treat certain types of breast cancer in women and men. It is also used to prevent breast cancer in women who have had ductal carcinoma in situ (abnormal cells in the ducts of the breast) and in women who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer. It blocks the effects of the hormone estrogen in the breast.
Targeted therapy (TAR-geh-ted THAYR-uh-pee): A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances, such as monoclonal antibodies, to identify and attack specific cancer cells. Targeted therapy may have fewer side effects than other types of cancer treatments.
Tissue (TISH-oo): A group or layer of cells that work together to perform a specific function.
Total mastectomy (ma-STEK-toh-mee): Removal of the breast. Also called simple mastectomy.
Trastuzumab (tras-TOO-zuh-mab): A monoclonal antibody that binds to HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2), and can kill HER2-positive cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies are made in the laboratory and can locate and bind to substances in the body, including cancer cells. Trastuzumab is used to treat breast cancer that is HER2-positive and has spread after treatment with other drugs. It is also used with other anticancer drugs to treat HER2-positive breast cancer after surgery. Also called Herceptin.
Tumor (TOO-mer): An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumors may be benign (not cancer), or malignant (cancer). Also called neoplasm.
Ultrasound (UL-truh-SOWND): A procedure in which high-energy sound waves are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echo patterns are shown on the screen of an ultrasound machine, forming a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. Also called ultrasonography.
X-ray: A type of high-energy radiation. In low doses, x-rays are used to diagnose diseases by making pictures of the inside of the body. In high doses, x-rays are used to treat cancer.