Gynecologic Oncology Program

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.

Abdomen (AB-doh-men): The area of the body that contains the pancreas, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and other organs.

Acupuncture (AK-yoo-PUNK-chur): The technique of inserting thin needles through the skin at specific points on the body to control pain and other symptoms. It is a type of complementary and alternative medicine.

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.

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.

Ascites (ah-SYE-teez): Abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen that may cause swelling. In late-stage cancer, tumor cells may be found in the fluid in the abdomen. Ascites also occurs in patients with liver disease.

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.

Barium enema: A procedure in which thick liquid containing barium is put into the rectum and colon. Barium is a silver-white metallic compound that helps to show the image of the lower gastrointestinal tract on an x-ray.

Benign (beh-NINE): Not cancerous. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body.

Biological therapy (by-oh-LAH-jih-kul THAYRuh-pee): Treatment to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer, infections, and other diseases. Also used to lessen side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments. Also called immunotherapy, biotherapy, or biological response

modifier (BRM) therapy.

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.

Blood vessel: A tube through which the blood circulates in the body. Blood vessels include a network of arteries, arterioles, capillaries, venules, and veins.

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 and internal radiation therapy.

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.

CA-125: A substance that may be found in high amounts in the blood of patients with certain types of cancer, including ovarian cancer. CA-125 levels may also help monitor how well cancer treatments are working or if cancer has come back. Also called cancer antigen 125.

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


Carcinoma In Situ (KAR-sih-NOH-muh in SY-too): A group of abnormal cells that remain in the place where they first formed. They have not spread. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Also called Stage 0 disease.

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

Cervix (SER-vix): The lower, narrow end of the uterus that forms a canal between the uterus and vagina.

Cervical Cancer (SER-vih-kul KAN-ser): Cancer that forms in tissues of the cervix (organ connecting the uterus and vagina). It is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms, but can be found with regular Pap smears (procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and looked at under a


Chemotherapy (KEE-moh-THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.

Clinical Trial (KLIH-nih-kul TRY-ul): 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 research study.

Colorectal Cancer (KOH-loh-REK-tul KAN-ser): Cancer that develops in the colon (the longest part of the large intestine) and/or the rectum (the last several inches of the large intestine before the anus).

Contrast Material: A dye or other substance that helps 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.

Colposcope (KOL-poh-SKOPE): A lighted magnifying instrument used to examine the vagina and cervix.

Complete Hysterectomy (kum-PLEET HIS-teh-REK-toh-mee): Surgery to remove the entire uterus, including the cervix. Also called total hysterectomy.

Cone Biopsy (BY-op-see): Surgery to remove a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix and cervical canal. Cone biopsy may be used to diagnose or treat a cervical condition. Also called conization.

Cyst (sist): A sac or capsule in the body. It may be filled with fluid or other material.

Endocervical Curettage (en-do-SER-vih-kul kyoo-reh-TAHZH): A procedure in which the mucous membrane of the cervical canal is scraped using a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette.

Corpus: The body of the uterus.

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.

Curette (kyoo-RET): A spoon-shaped instrument with a sharp edge

Endometrial (EN-doh-MEE-tree-ul): Having to do with the endometrium (the layer of tissue that lines the uterus).

Endometriosis (EN-doh-MEE-tree-OH-sis): A benign condition in which tissue that looks like endometrial tissue grows in abnormal places in the abdomen.

Endometrium (en-doh-MEE-tree-um): The layer of tissue that lines the uterus.

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.

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 of the body. Also called external-beam radiation therapy.

Fallopian Tube (fuh-LOH-pee-in): A slender tube through which eggs pass from an ovary to the uterus. In the female reproductive tract, there is one ovary and one fallopian tube on each side of the uterus.

Fibroid (FY-broyd): A benign smooth-muscle tumor, usually in the uterus or gastrointestinal tract. Also called leiomyoma.

Fundus: The larger part of a hollow organ that is farthest away from the organ's opening. The bladder, gallbladder, stomach, uterus, eye, and cavity of the middle ear all have a fundus.

Gene: The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA. Most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.

Genetic Counselor: A specially trained health professional concerned about the genetic risk of disease. This type of professional considers an individual's family and personal medical history. Counseling may lead to genetic testing.

Genetic Testing: Analyzing DNA to look for a genetic alteration that may indicate an increased risk for developing a specific disease or disorder.

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.

Gynecologic Oncologist (GY-neh-kuh-LAH-jik on-KAH-loh-jist): A doctor who specializes in treating cancers of the female reproductive organs.

Gynecologist (GY-neh-KAH-loh-jist): A doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the female reproductive organs.

Hormone Receptor (HOR-mone reh-SEP-ter): A cell protein that binds a specific hormone. The hormone receptor may be on the surface of the cell or inside the cell. Many changes take place in a cell after a hormone binds to its receptor.

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.

HPV: A type of virus that can cause abnormal tissue growth (for example, warts) and other changes to cells. Infection for a long time with certain types of HPV can cause cervical cancer. HPV may also play a role in some other types of cancer, such as anal, vaginal, vulva, penile, oropharyngeal, and squamous cell skin cancers. Also called human papillomavirus (HYOO-mun PA-pih-LOH-muh-VY-rus).

HPV vaccine (vak-SEEN): A vaccine used to prevent genital warts, anal cancer, cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). It is also used to prevent lesions that are caused by those viruses and that can lead to anal, cervical, vaginal, or vulvar cancer. Also called human papillomavirus vaccine.

Hyperplasia (HY-per-PLAY-zhuh): An abnormal increase in the number of normal cells in an organ or tissue.

Hysterectomy (HIS-teh-REK-toh-mee): Surgery to remove the uterus and, sometimes, the cervix. When the uterus and the cervix are removed, it is called a total hysterectomy. When only the uterus is removed, it is called a partial hysterectomy.

Incision (in-SIH-zhun): A cut made in the body to perform surgery.

Internal Radiation Therapy (in-TER-nul RAY-dee-AYshun 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 brachytherapy, implant radiation therapy, and radiation brachytherapy.

Intestine (in-TES-tin): The long, tube-shaped organ in the abdomen that completes the process of digestion. The intestine has two parts, the small intestine and the large intestine. Also called the bowel.

Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (IN-truh-PAYR-ih-toh-NEE-ul kee-moh-THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment in which anticancer drugs are put directly into the abdominal cavity through a thin tube.

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 Cervical Cancer (in-VAY-siv SER-vih-kul KAN-ser): Cancer that has spread from the surface of the cervix to tissue deeper in the cervix or to other parts of the body.

Laparoscope (LA-puh-ruh-SKOPE): A thin, tube-like instrument used to look at tissues and organs inside the abdomen. A laparoscope has a light and a lens for viewing and may have a tool to remove tissue.

Laparoscopic Surgery (LA-puh-ruh-SKAH-pik SERjuh-ree): Surgery done with the aid of a laparoscope. A

laparoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to

remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease. Also called laparoscopic-assisted


Laparotomy (lap-uh-RAH-toh-mee): A surgical incision made in the wall of the abdomen.

LEEP: A technique that uses electric current passed through a thin wire loop to remove abnormal tissue. Also called loop electrosurgical excision procedure (ee-LEK-troh-SER-jih-kul ek-SIH-zhun proh-SEE-jer) and loop excision.

Local Therapy: 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.

Lymph Node (limf node): 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 extra lymph fluid builds up in tissues and causes swelling. It may occur in an arm or leg if lymph vessels are blocked, damaged, or removed by surgery.

Lymphatic System (lim-FAT-ik SIS-tem): The tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that fight infections and other diseases. This system includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels (a network of thin tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells). Lymphatic vessels branch, like blood vessels, into all the tissues of the body.

Lynch Syndrome: An inherited disorder in which affected individuals have a higher-than-normal chance of developing colorectal cancer and certain other types of cancer, often before the age of 50. Also called hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer and HNPCC.

Malignant (muh-LIG-nunt): Cancerous. Malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Medical Oncologist (MEH-dih-kul on-KAH-loh-jist): A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy, and targeted 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 producing hormones 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 PEER-ee-od): 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.

Metastatic (meh-tuh-STA-tik): Having to do with metastasis, which is the spread of cancer from the primary site (place where it started) to other places in the body.

Monoclonal Antibody (MAH-noh-KLOH-nul AN-tih-BAH-dee): A laboratory-produced substance that can locate and bind to cancer cells wherever they are in the body. Many monoclonal antibodies are used in cancer detection or therapy; each one recognizes a different protein on certain cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies can be used alone, or they can be used to deliver drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to a tumor.

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.

Myometrium (my-oh-MEE-tree-um): The muscular outer layer of the uterus.

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.

Omentum (oh-MEN-tum): A fold of the peritoneum (the thin tissue that lines the abdomen) that surrounds the stomach and other organs in the abdomen.

Oncology Nurse (on-KAH-loh-jee): A nurse who specializes in treating and caring for people who have cancer.

Organ: A part of the body that performs a specific function. For example, the heart is an organ.

Ovarian Cancer (oh-VAYR-ee-un): Cancer that forms in tissues of the ovary. Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas (cancer that begins in the tissue that covers the ovary) or malignant germ cell tumors (cancer that begins in egg cells).

Ovarian Epithelial Cancer (oh-VAYR-ee-un ep-ih- THEE-lee-ul): Cancer that begins in the tissue that covers the ovary.

Ovarian Germ Cell Tumor (oh-VAYR-ee-un): An abnormal mass of tissue that forms in germ (egg) cells in the ovary. These tumors usually occur in teenage girls or young women, usually affect just one ovary, and can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). The most common ovarian germ cell tumor is called dysgerminoma.

Ovary (OH-vuh-ree): One of a pair of female reproductive organs in which the ova, or eggs, are formed. The ovaries are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus.

Pap test: A procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix for examination under a microscope. It is used to detect cancer and changes that may lead to cancer. A Pap test can also show conditions, such as infection or inflammation that are not cancer. Also called Pap smear and Papanicolaou test.

Pathologist (puh-THAH-loh-jist): A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.

Pelvic Exam (PEL-vik): A physical exam in which the health care professional will feel for lumps or changes in the shape of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum. The health care professional will also use a speculum to open the vagina to look at the cervix and take samples for a Pap test.

Pelvic Wall: The muscles and ligaments that line the part of the body between the hips.

Pelvis (PEL-vus): The lower part of the abdomen, located between the hip bones.

Polyp (PAH-lip): A growth that protrudes from a mucous membrane.

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.

Prophylactic Oophorectomy (proh-fih-LAK-tik oh-ohfor-EK-toh-mee): Surgery intended to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by removing the ovaries before disease develops.

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.

Radical Trachelectomy (RA-dih-kul TRAY-kee-LEK-toh-mee): Surgery to remove the cervix (the end of the uterus that forms a canal between the uterus and the vagina), the upper part of the vagina, and certain pelvic lymph nodes.

Radioactive (RAY-dee-oh-AK-tiv): Giving off radiation.

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.

Reproductive System (REE-proh-DUK-tiv SIS-tem): The organs involved in producing offspring. In women, this system includes the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus, the cervix, and the vagina. In men, it includes the prostate, the testes, and the penis.

Risk Factor: Something that increases the chance of developing a disease. Some examples of risk factors for cancer are age, a family history of certain cancers, use of tobacco products, being exposed to radiation or certain chemicals, infection with certain viruses or bacteria, and certain genetic changes.

Salpingo-Oophorectomy (sal-PIN-goh oh-oh-for-EKtoh-mee): Surgical removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Sarcoma (sar-KOH-muh): A cancer of the bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue.

Screening: Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Since screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease. Examples of cancer screening tests are the mammogram (breast), colonoscopy (colon), and Pap test and HPV test (cervix). Screening can also include checking for a person's risk of developing an inherited disease by doing a genetic test.

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: 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.

Systemic Chemotherapy (sis-TEH-mik kee-moh-THAYR-uh-pee): Treatment with anticancer drugs that travel through the blood to cells all over the body.

Tissue (TISH-oo): A group or layer of cells that work together to perform a specific function.

Transvaginal Ultrasound (tranz-VA-jih-nul UL-truh-SOWND): A procedure used to examine the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and bladder. An instrument is inserted into the vagina that causes sound waves to bounce off organs inside the pelvis. These sound waves create echoes that are sent to a computer, which creates a picture called a sonogram. Also called transvaginal sonography and TVS.

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.

Uterine Cancer (YOO-teh-rin KAN-ser): Cancer that forms in tissues of the uterus (the small, hollow, pear shaped organ in a woman's pelvis in which a fetus develops). Two types of uterine cancer are endometrial cancer (cancer that begins in cells lining the uterus) and uterine sarcoma (a rare cancer that begins in muscle or other tissues in the uterus).

Uterus (YOO-ter-us): The small, hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman's pelvis. This is the organ in which a fetus develops. Also called womb.

Vagina (vuh-JY-nuh): The muscular canal extending from the uterus to the exterior of the body. Also called birth canal.

Virus (VY-rus): In medicine, a very simple microorganism that infects cells and may cause disease. Because viruses can multiply only inside infected cells, they are not considered to be alive.

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.

Additional terms and definitions can be found at the National Cancer Institute website at: