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Neuro-Oncology Glossary of Terms

You may hear many words associated with oncology that you have not heard before. Please ask for an explanation for any terms you may not understand. You may hear the following common terms before, during and after your treatment.

3-Dimensional conformal radiation therapy: A procedure that uses a computer to create a 3-dimensional picture of the tumor. This allows doctors to give the highest possible dose of radiation to the tumor, while sparing the normal tissue as much as possible.

Anaplastic: A term used to describe cancer cells that divide rapidly and have little or no resemblance to normal cells.

Astrocyte: A large, star-shaped cell that holds nerve cells in place and helps them work the way they should. It is a type of glial cell.

Astrocytoma: A tumor that begins in the brain or spinal cord in small, star-shaped cells called astrocytes.

Benign: Not cancerous. Benign tumors may grow larger, but do not spread to other parts of the body.

Biopsy: 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.

Brachytherapy (BRAK-ee-THER-ah-pee): A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or near the tumor. Also called radiation brachytherapy, internal radiation therapy, and implant radiation therapy.

Brain stem: The part of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord.

Brain stem glioma (glee-OH-muh): A tumor located in the part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord (the brain stem). It may grow rapidly or slowly, depending on the grade of the tumor.

Burr hole: A small opening in the skull made with a surgical drill.

Cancer: A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control. Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Catheter: A thin flexible, hollow tube through which fluids enter or leave the body. Radioactive materials may be placed in catheters that are placed near the cancer.

Cell: The individual unit that makes up the tissues of the body. All living things are made up of one or more cells.

Cerebellum (ser-uh-BEL-um): The portion of the brain in the back of the head between the cerebrum and the brain stem. The cerebellum controls balance for walking and standing, and other complex motor function.

Cerebral hemisphere (she-REE-bral HEM-is-feer): One half of the cerebrum, the part of the brain that controls muscle functions and also controls speech, thought, emotions, reading, writing, and learning. The right hemisphere controls the muscles on the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of the body.

Cerebrospinal fluid (she-REE-broh-SPY-nul): CSF. The fluid that flows in and around the hollow spaces of the brain and spinal cord, and between two of the meninges (the thin layers of tissue that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord). Cerebrospinal fluid is made by tissue called the choroid plexus in the ventricles (hollow spaces) in the brain.

Cerebrum (she-REE-brum): The largest part of the brain. It is divided into two hemispheres, or halves, called the cerebral hemispheres. Areas within the cerebrum control muscle functions and also control speech, thought, emotions, reading, writing, and learning.

Chemotherapy: Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.

Clinical trial: A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease.

Contrast material: A dye or other substance that helps to show abnormal areas inside the body. It is given by injection into a vein, by enema, or by mouth. Contrast material may be used with x-rays, CT scans, MRI or other imaging tests.

Craniotomy (KRAY-nee-AH-toh-mee: An operation in which an opening is made in the skull.

CT (computerized tomography) 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.

Ependymoma (eh-PEN-dih-MOH-muh)): A type of brain tumor that begins in cells lining the spinal cord central canal (fluid-filled space down the center) or the ventricles (fluid-filled space down the center) or the ventricles (fluid-filled spaces of the brain). Ependymomas may also form in the choroid plexus (tissue in the ventricles that make cerebrospinal fluid).

External radiation therapy: A type of radiation therapy that uses a machine to aim high-energy rays at the cancer from outside of the body. Also called external beam radiation therapy.

Gamma ray: A type of high-energy radiation that is different from an x-ray.

Gilaial cell (GLEE-ul): Any of the cells that hold nerve cells in place and help them work the way they should.

Glioblastoma (GLEE-oh-blas-TOH-muh): A fast-growing type of central nervous system tumor that forms from glial (supportive) tissue of the brain and spinal cords and has cells that look very different from normal cells. Glioblastoma usually occurs in adults and affects the brain more often than the spinal cord. Also called GBM, glioblastoma multiforme, and grade IV astrocytoma.

Glioma (glee-OH-muh): A cancer of the brain that begins in glial cells (cells that surround and support nerve cells).

Grade: The grade of a tumor depends on how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the tumor is likely to grow and spread. Grading systems are different for each type of cancer.

Implant: A radioactive source in a small holder that is placed in the body in or near a cancer.

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy: A type of 3-dimensional radiation therapy that uses computer-generated images to show the size and shape of the tumor. Thin beams of radiation of different intensities are aimed at the tumor from many angles. This type of radiation therapy reduces the damage to healthy tissue near the tumor.

Internal radiation therapy: A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is place directly into or near a tumor. Also called brachytherapy, radiation brachytherapy, and implant radiation therapy.

Intravenous (IV): 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.

Malignant: Cancerous. Malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the biopsy.

Medical oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating cancer with chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological therapy.

Medulloblastoma: A malignant brain tumor that begins in the lower part of the brain and that can spread to the spine or to other parts of the body. Medulloblastomas are a type of primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET).

Meninges (meh0NIN-jees): The three thin layers of tissues that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord.

Meningioma (meh-NIN-jee-OH-muh): A type of slow-growing tumor that forms in the meninges (thin layers of tissue that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord). Meningiomas usually occur in adults.

Metastatic: Having to do with metastasis, which is the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): 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 CT scan or x-ray. MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones

Nerve cell: A type of cell that receives and sends messaged from the body to the brain and back to the body. The messages are sent by a weak electrical current.

Neuro-oncologist: A doctor who specialized in diagnosing and treating brain tumors and other tumors of the nervous system.

Neurologic: Having to do with nerves or the nervous system.

Neurologist: A doctor who specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the nervous system.

Neuroradiologist: A doctor trained in radiology who specialized in creating and interpreting pictures of the nervous system. The pictures are produced using forms of radiation, such as x-rays, sound waves, or other types of energy.

Neurosurgery: A doctor who specialized in surgery on the brain, spine, and other parts of the nervous systems.

Occupational therapist: A health professional trained to help people who are ill or disables learn to manage their daily activities.

Oligodendrogioma: A rare, slow-growing tumor that begins in oligodendrocytes (cells that cover and protect nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord).

Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating cancer.

Palliative care, palliation: Treatment that relieves symptoms but does not cure disease. Palliative care can help people with cancer live more comfortably.

Paralysis: Loss of ability to move all or part of the body.

Pathologist: 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.

Pituitary gland: The main endocrine gland. It produces hormones that control other glands and many body functions, especially growth.

Primitive neuroectodermal tumor: One of a group of cancers that develop from the same type of early cells, and share certain biochemical and genetic features. Some primitive neuroectodermal tumors develop in the brain and central nervous system, and others develop in sites outside of the brain such as the limbs, pelvis, and chest wall.

Proton: A small, positively charged particle of matter found in the atoms of all elements. Streams of protons generated by special equipment can be used for radiation treatment.

Proton beam radiation therapy: A type of high-energy, external radiation therapy that uses streams of proton (small, positively charged particles) that come from a special machine. Proton beam radiation is different from x-ray radiation.

Radiation oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating cancer with radiation.

Radiation therapy: Treatment with high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells. The radiation may come from outside of the body (external radiation) or from radioactive materials placed directly in the tumor (internal or implant radiation). Types of radiation include x-rays, electron beams, gamma rays, neutron beams, and proton beams. Radioactive substances include cobalt, iridium, iodine and cesium.

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.

Seizure: Convulsion; a sudden, involuntary movement of the muscles.

Shunt: In medicine, a passage that is made to allow blood or other fluid to move from one part of the body to another. For example, a surgeon may implant a tube to drain cerebrospinal fluid from the brain to the abdomen. A surgeon may also change normal blood flow by making a passage that leads from one blood vessel to another.

Side effect: A problem that occurs when treatment affects health tissues or organs. Some common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.

Social worker: A professional trained to talk with people and their families about emotional or physical needs, and to find them support services.

Speech therapist: A specialist who evaluates and treats people with communication and swallowing problems. Also called a speech pathologist.

Spinal tap: A procedure in which a thin needle called a spinal needle is put into the lower part of the spinal column to collect cerebrospinal fluid or to give drugs. Also called lumbar puncture.

Stereotactic biopsy: A biopsy procedure that uses a computer and a 3-dimensional scanning device to find a tumor site and guide the removal of tissue for examination under a microscope.

Stereotactic radiation therapy: A type of external radiation therapy that uses a special equipment to position the patient and precisely deliver radiation to a tumor. The total dose of radiation is divided into several smaller doses given over several days. Stereotactic radiation therapy is used to treat brain tumors and other brain disorders. It is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer, such as lung cancer. Also called stereotactic external beam radiation therapy and stereotaxic radiation therapy.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS): A type of external radiation therapy that uses special equipment to position the patient and precisely give a single large dose of radiation to a tumor. It is used to treat brain tumors and other brain disorders that cannot be treated by regular surgery. It is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer. Also called radiation surgery, radiosurgery, and stereotaxic radiosurgery.

Steroid drug: A type of drug used to relive swelling and inflammation. Some steroid drugs may also have antitumor effects.

Surgeon: A doctor who removes or repairs a part of the body by operating on the patient.

Surgery: A procedure to remove or repair a part of the body or to find out whether disease is present. An operation.

Tissue: A group or layer of cells that work together to perform a specific function.

Tumor: An abnormal mass of excess tissue that results from excessive cell division. Tumors perform no useful body function and may be either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Ventricle: A fluid-filled cavity in the heart or brain.

X-rays: High-energy radiation that is used in low doses to diagnose disease and in high doses to treat cancer.