Liver, Bile Duct and Pancreas Tumor Program

Glossary of Terms

AFP – Alpha-fetoprotein, a biomarker often associated with progression of liver cancer as well as some other cancers.

Albumin – A serum protein that is mostly produced by the liver. Decreases in albumin levels can be an indication of advanced liver disease.

ALT – Alanine amino-transferase, an enzyme found in high concentrations in the liver. Elevated ALT can be an indication of toxic hepatitis. The AST/ALT ratio is sometimes used in the differential diagnosis of liver disease (see AST below).

Artery – Any blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the body.

AST – Aspartate amino-transferase, an enzyme found in high concentrations in the liver. ALT (see above) elevated along with AST is an indication of viral hepatitis or drug-induced liver damage. AST elevation in the absence of a change in ALT is an indication of active cirrhosis of the liver or metastatic tumor to the liver, among other possibilities.

Bilirubin – The major pigment of bile and is removed from the blood by the liver. Serum bilirubin levels rise when the liver is unable to conjugate and excrete it. Rises in serum bilirubin levels are an indication of liver disease.

Biopsy – Tissue samples may be obtained in other ways beside laparoscopy. One method, called fine-needle aspiration or needle biopsy, involves inserting a thin needle into the liver during an X-ray or ultrasound procedure, and taking samples of cells.

CAT Scan (CT Scan) – A sectional view of the body constructed by computed tomography.

Catheter – Flexible tube used to deliver or withdraw fluids from the body.

Chemoembolization – Chemotherapy is injected directly into the liver and the blood supply of the tumor.

Chemotherapy – Treatment using anticancer drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells.

Cholangiocarcinoma – Cancer of the bile ducts.

Cirrhosis – A disease in which normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue.

Clinical Trial – A research study to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a new medical treatment, drug, or device.

Fluoroscopy – An x-ray procedure that takes continuous pictures to evaluate moving structures within the body.

Hepatic Artery Infusion (HAI) Chemotherapy – Allows a continuous supply of anticancer drugs to be delivered directly to liver tumors through the major artery or vein of that organ.

Hepatitis A – An acute, usually benign, hepatitis caused by a single-stranded RNA virus that does not persist in the blood serum and is transmitted especially in food and water contaminated with infected fecal matter.

Hepatitis B – A sometimes fatal hepatitis caused by a double-stranded DNA virus that tends to persist in the blood serum and is transmitted especially by contact with infected blood (as by transfusion or by sharing contaminated needles in illicit intravenous drug use) or by contact with other infected bodily fluids (as semen).

Hepatitis C – Caused by a single-stranded RNA virus that tends to persist in the blood serum and is usually transmitted by infected blood (as by injection of an illicit drug, blood transfusion, or exposure to blood or blood products) and that accounts for most cases of non-A, non-B hepatitis.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) – Primary liver cancer that originates from liver cells. This most often occurs in people who have chronic liver disease and cirrhosis

Laparoscopy – An examination of the abdominal cavity using a scope. Laparoscopy is generally performed under anesthesia. A small incision is made, usually in the navel, through which the scope is passed into the abdomen. This procedure gives doctors the ability to more closely examine and/or repair abnormalities.

Metastatic Liver Tumors – Cancers that have spread to the liver from another primary site, such as the breast, colon, lung, stomach, or pancreas.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – Provides very clear images of the body. Its advantage over CT is that MRI can provide sectional views of the body in different planes

P.E.T Scan – Positron emission tomography (P.E.T.) is one of the most advanced tests that allows physicians to determine if a cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It also allows for earlier and more accurate diagnoses for cancer patients

Portal Vein Thrombosis (PVT) – A blockage, by a blood clot, of the portal vein, which brings blood to the liver.

Radioactive Microspheres – A newer form of liver directed therapy is selective intra-arterial radioactive sphere treatment (SIRS). It is a similar principle to Chemoembolization, but in the case of SIRS, yttrium-90 is incorporated into glass or resin microspheres that are administered through selective catheterization of the hepatic arterial supply to the liver tumor.

Radiofrequency Ablation – A minimally invasive procedure where a needle electrode is placed in the tumor and a heated radiofrequency current is passed into the tumor. This can be done with radiologic imaging laparoscopically or with an open operation, depending upon the size and location of the tumor.

Radiation Therapy – A form of cancer treatment using high levels of radiation to kill cancer cells or prevent their growth.

Ultrasound – Uses sound waves to look at the structures inside the body, including the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys and the vessels important to the liver.

Yttrium-90 – A radioactive isotope that emits energy in the form of beta radiation as it decays to stable Zirconium-90.