Glossary of Cancer Terms
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Achalasia: In this disease, the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus does not open to release food into the stomach. Food collects in the esophagus instead of moving into the stomach.
Glossary of Cancer Terms
Adenocarcinoma: A cancer affecting the cells lining the walls of many different organs in the body.
Aflatoxins: Cancer-causing substances made by a fungus that can contaminate peanuts, wheat, soybeans, groundnuts, corn and rice.
Anemia: Too few red blood cells in the bloodstream, resulting in insufficient oxygen to tissues and organs.
Angiography: A diagnostic technique in which a dye is injected into an artery and then x-rays are taken. The dye outlines the blood vessels on the pictures, showing which ones supply blood to the cancer.
Autologous bone marrow transplant: A treatment for lymphoma. In this approach, the patient's own bone marrow is used as the source of blood-forming stem cells. It is taken out and stored (frozen) before treatment.
Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG): A vaccine for tuberculosis
Barium enema: The use of barium introduced into the intestinal tract by an enema to allow x-ray examination of the large bowel.
Barium swallow: A diagnostic technique to "see" a tumor in the digestive system. A series of x-rays is taken after the patient swallows liquid barium. Barium coats the surface of the digestive tract and helps create a good picture.
Barrett's esophagus: Barrett's esophagus is a complication of chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD refers to the reflux of acidic fluid from the stomach into the esophagus (the swallowing tube), and is classically associated with heartburn.
Basal cell carcinoma: The most common form of skin cancer. It grows slowly and usually spreads to other areas of the body. It is detected easily and can be cured when treated quickly.
Benign tumor: An abnormal growth that is not cancerous and does not spread to other areas.
Bile: A greenish-yellow fluid secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder
Bile duct: A duct that carries bile from the liver and gallbladder to the first part of the small intestine.
Biopsy: A biopsy involves taking a tissue sample to see if it contains cancer cells. It is the only way to tell for certain if a growth is cancer. There are several different types of biopsies.
Bladder: A hollow organ in the lower abdomen that stores urine from the kidneys.
Bone marrow: The soft, fatty substance filling the cavities of bones. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow.
Bone marrow transplantation: A patient's leukemia-producing bone marrow is destroyed with high doses of drugs and radiation and is then replaced by healthy bone marrow. The healthy bone marrow may come from a donor, or it may be marrow that has been removed from the patient and stored before the high-dose treatment. If the patient's own bone marrow is used, it may first be treated outside the body to remove leukemia cells.
Bone scan: A study of the body skeleton. A radioactive agent is injected and a scan reads the distribution of radioactivity.
Brachytherapy: This treatment involves temporary or permanent placement of radiation in direct contact with the body.
BRCA1: A tumor-suppressing gene. Even if one copy of it is damaged, cancer can develop.
BRCA2: A tumor-suppressing gene. Even if one copy of it is damaged, cancer can develop.
Bronchoscopy: Using a tubular, illuminated instrument, the doctor views the inside of the bronchi.
Cancer cell: A cell that divides and reproduces uncontrollably.
Carcinogen: Any substances that initiates or promotes the development of cancer.
Carcinoma: Cancer that develops in tissues covering or lining organs, such as the skin, uterus, lungs or breasts.
Carcinoma in situ (CIS): Cancer "in one place". A CIS has not spread to other parts of the body. Some will go away by themselves. Others can be cured by stripping or cutting away the cell's lining. Some are destroyed by laser beam. If CIS is not treated, it can spread.
Cervix: The lower part of the uterus that connects the body of the uterus to the vagina, or birth canal.
Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs can be given either orally or intravenously. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they spread throughout the body.
Chlamydia: The most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection.
Cirrhosis: Liver disease.
Colon: Part of the large intestine that extends from the end of the small intestine to the rectum.
Colonoscopy: An examination involving the use of a long, lighted tube to "see" the inside of the colon.
Colposcopy: In this test, the doctor looks at the cervix through an instrument called a colposcope.
Computerized tomography (CT) scans: A diagnostic technique in which a doctor takes several x-rays from different angles and combines them to get a detailed picture.
Crohn's disease: A chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines. It primarily causes ulcerations (breaks in the lining) of the small and large intestines, but can affect the digestive system anywhere from the mouth to the anus.
Cryosurgery: Doctors freeze and kill cancer cells with liquid nitrogen. After the dead tissue thaws, blistering and crusting may occur. The wound may take several weeks to heal and will leave a scar. The treated area may have less color after treatment.
Cystoscopy: The doctor looks at the inside of the bladder using a thin, lighted tube.
Diaphragm: The thin muscle that separates the breast from the abdomen.
DES (diethylstilbestrol): A synthetic estrogen, originally prescribed to prevent miscarriages, that causes malformations of the reproductive organs in some who are exposed during fetal development.
Digital rectal exam: A procedure in which a physician inserts a finger into the rectum to examine this area (as well as the prostate gland in men) for signs of cancer.
Dilation & curettage (D&C): The cervix is dilated, and growths are removed from the wall of the endometrium.
Dysphagia: Trouble with swallowing.
Dysplasia: Abnormal growth or development in organs or cells
Endometrial biopsy: A procedure by which a sample is taken of the endometrial lining of the uterus.
Endometrium: The inner mucous membrane that forms the uterine wall.
Endoscopy: A flexible tube with a light and video camera on the end allows the doctor to "see" into the esophagus and the stomach.
Endoscopic ultrasound: An endoscope with an attached small ultrasound probe shows how far the cancer has grown.
Epidermis: The outer nonsensitive and nonvascular layer of the skin.
Epithelial carcinoma: Cancer on the outer layer of skin.
Erythrocytes (red blood cells): The blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and take carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.
Esophagus: A muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach.
Estrogen: A female hormone secreted by the ovaries, which is essential for menstruation, reproduction and development of secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts.
Excisional biopsy: Removing the entire tumor.
Exfoliative cytology: This technique, similar to a Pap smear, involves scraping a suspicious lesion and smearing the collected tissue onto a slide. The sample is stained with a dye so the cells can be seen under the microscope.
External beam radiation: Radiation therapy where the high-energy x-rays are delivered in a carefully focused beam from a machine outside the body.
Fallopian tubes: Either of the pair of tubes that carry the eggs from the ovary to the uterus.
Fecal occult blood test: A test to check for hidden blood in the feces.
Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: A thin needle removes fluid or small pieces of tissue from an area where cancer is suspected. The sample is then examined under a microscope.
Gallbladder: A membranous muscular sac in which bile from the liver is stored.
Germ cell tumors: Tumors that starts in the germ cells.
Grade: Refers to how abnormal the cell looks under a microscope and how quickly it is likely to group and spread.
Gynecologist: A physician who specializes medicine that deals with the diseases and routine physical care of the
reproductive system of women.
Helicobacter pylori: The bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers.
Hepatitis: A disease or condition (as hepatitis A or hepatitis B) marked by inflammation of the liver.
Hormone replacement therapy: A therapy used during menopause where a doctor prescribes hormones to replace those being lost. It can ease the symptoms of menopause and protect against osteoporosis.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV): A group of more than 100 types of viruses that cause warts. Certain types cause cervical cancer. The virus is passed from one person to another during sex. Condoms do not protect against HPV.
Hypopharynx: The laryngeal part of the pharynx extending from the hyoid bone to the lower margin of the cricoid cartilage.
Hysteroscopy: A test in which a gynecologist views the uterus through a thin, lighted tube.
Immunotherapy: A treatment that stimulates the body's own defense mechanisms to fight disease, such as cancer.
Impotence: An abnormal physical or psychological state of a male characterized by failure to have or maintain an erection.
Incisional biopsy: Removing only a portion of a tumor.
Incontinence: Inability of the body to control urination.
Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT): A technique used to treat cancer. The patient is immobilized with a plastic net-like mask to assure no movement. The IMRT machine delivers 100-200 doses of radiation over 15 minutes. The machine moves to a certain position and deliver 15-30 shaped fields. It then moves to another position. These fields are shaped automatically in the treatment head of the machine; therefore, the cancer and lymph nodes are "painted" with dose.
Intravenous urography (intravenous pyelogram -- IVP) : A special dye is injected into the bloodstream. X-rays taken afterwards can help identify a cancer or show kidney damage caused by the tumor.
Intravenously: Administered by entering a vein.
Intravesical: Placing treatment directly into the affected area.
Invasive cancer: Cancer that spreads
Jaundice: A yellowish pigmentation of the skin, tissues, and certain body fluids caused by deposits of bile pigments or excessive breakdown of red blood cells.
Kidneys: Two large, bean-shaped organs responsible for filtering the body's waste.
Laparoscopy: A diagnostic technique where a thin, lighted tube is used to look at organs. The tube is put in place through a small incision in the front of the abdomen or in one's side.
Larynx: The upper part of the respiratory passage of air-breathing vertebrates, called also voice box.
Leukocytes (white blood cells): The blood cells that help the body fight infection and other diseases.
Liver: A large organ located in the upper abdomen. The liver cleanses the blood and aids in digestion by secreting bile.
Lower GI (gastrointestinal): A series of x-rays of the rectum, colon and lower section of the small intestine taken after the patient has a barium enema. Barium is a white, chalky substance that coats the organs so they will show up on the x-ray. Also called a barium enema or a barium enema x-ray.
Lymph: A clear fluid circulating throughout the body (in the lymphatic system) that contains white blood cells and antibodies.
Lymph gland (also called lymph node): Glands that produce lymph. Normally, they filter impurities in the body.
Lymphatic tissue: Includes the lymph nodes and related organs that are part of the body's immune and blood-forming systems.
Lymphocytes: The main cell type of the immune system.
Lymphoma: A cancerous tumor of lymphoid tissue.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Like a CT scan, an MRI displays a cross-sectional picture of the body. The MRI uses radio waves and strong magnetic fields instead of x-rays and take longer -- often up to an hour.
Mammogram: An image of the breast produced by a low-dose x-ray. Tumors, even ones too small to be felt, will show up on a mammogram.
Melanin: The pigment the gives the tan or brown color to skin and helps protect deeper skin layers from the sun's harmful effects.
Melanocyte cells: Found in the skin's top layer, the epidermis, these cells produce the pigment called melanin.
Menopause: The time when a women stops menstruating, usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 50
Menstruation: Discharge of blood, secretions, and tissue debris from the uterus that recurs in nonpregnant women about once a month.
Metastasis: The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.
Nodule: A small, solid mass
Nuclear bone scans: In this test, a radioactive chemical is injected into a vein and collects in the bones where the cancer has spread.
Oral cavity: The mouth, including the lips, the inside lining of the lips and cheeks (buccal mucosa), the teeth, the gums, the front two-thirds of the tongue, the floor of the mouth below the tongue, the bony roof of the mouth (hard palate), and the area behind the wisdom teeth (retromolar trigone).
Oropharynx: Begins where the oral cavity stops. It includes the base of the tongue (back third of the tongue), the soft palate, the tonsils and tonsillar pillars, and the back of the throat.
Ovaries: A pair of female reproductive organs that produce eggs.
Ovulate: The discharge of a mature egg from the ovary.
Pancreas: A tongue-shaped glandular organ lying below and behind the stomach. It secretes the hormones insulin and glucagons in addition to pancreatic enzymes involved in the digestion of fats and proteins in the small intestines.
Pancreatectomy: Surgical removal of all or part of the pancreas.
Pap test: A simple microscopic examination of cells to detect cervical cancer at an early stage.
Pelvic exam: A manual, internal examination of the female reproductive organs, through the vagina and rectum.
Peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSCT): The patient is hooked up to a machine. Small amounts of blood are slowly drawn into the machine. The machine takes out the blood-forming stem cells, and the rest of the blood is returned to the patient. The collected stem cells are then frozen and stored until they are returned to the patient after the high-dose chemotherapy.
Peritoneum: The large membrane that lines the abdomen.
Plasmapheresis: A process for obtaining blood plasma without depleting the donor or patient of other blood constituents (such as red blood cells) by separating out the plasma from the whole blood and returning the rest to the donor's or patient's circulatory system.
Platelet: A substance necessary for blood clotting that is found in the blood.
Polyps: A nodular growth of tissue developing in the lining of a cavity, such as the colon, nose, or vocal cords. They may be cancerous or noncancerous.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A diagnostic technique that involves injecting a radioactive agent into the bloodstream. Cancer cells absorb large amounts of the agent. A special camera finds these deposits and turns them into pictures.
Proctoscopy: Using a thin, lighted tube, the doctor looks at the rectum.
Progesterone: A female steroid sex hormone secreted by the corpus luteum to prepare the endometrium for implantation and later by the placenta during pregnancy to prevent rejection of the developing embryo or fetus.
Prognosis: A prediction of the course of the disease; the chance of recovery.
Prostate: A gland located at the base of the bladder in males.
Psoriasis: A chronic skin disease characterized by red patches covered with white scales.
Pruritus: Localized or generalized itching due to irritation of sensory nerve endings.
Radiation: Energy radiated in the form of waves or particles.
Radiation therapy: Shrinking or killing the cancer cells with high-energy rays. The radiation may come from outside the body (external radiation) or from radioactive materials placed directly in the tumor (internal or implant radiation).
Radiofrequency (RF) ablation: This minimally invasive procedure involves inserting a probe into the area affected by cancer. The probe includes tines resembling those of an umbrella. The tines open and attack the cancer.
Rectum: The last five to six inches of the colon leading to the anus.
Risk factor: Anything that increases a person's chances of developing a disease.
Sarcoma: A form of cancer that starts in the supportive tissue, such as bone, cartilage, fat or muscle.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: Used in diagnosing skin cancer and breast cancer, a surgeon injects a radioactive substance into the area in question. Within an hour, lymph nodes are checked for radioactivity to find which one is the first to drain fluid. The lesion is then injected with a blue dye that will travel to the node where the cancer would first drain. When this first "sentinel" lymph node is located, it is removed and examined under a microscope. If cancer cells are found, the remaining the lymph nodes in the area are removed. If the sentinel node does not contain cancer cells, further lymph node surgery might not be needed.
Sigmoidoscopy: The doctor checks inside the rectum and lower (sigmoid) colon with a lighted tube.
Spleen: A highly vascular ductless abdominal organ that resembles a gland but is associated with the circulatory system. It plays a role in the final destruction of red blood cells, filtration and storage of blood, and production of lymphocytes.
Squamous cells: Flat, scale-like cells that form lining.
Squamous cell carcinoma: A skin cancer that usually involves red, scaly patches or nodules on the lips, face, or tips of ears. It can also involve the cervix and lungs and can spread to other parts of the body if untreated.
Stage: Extent of the cancer's growth and spread.
Stereotactic radiosurgery: A pinpoint-fine radiation laser is used to attack the cancer. Because the laser is so fine, doctors can avoid "hitting" surrounding, healthy tissue. Doctors, therefore, are able to use higher doses of radiation without worrying about the long-term side effects it may have on adjacent tissue. This is particular important for cancers in the head and neck area and for pediatric patients.
Superficial: Of, relating to, or located near the surface.
Tamoxifen: A hormonal drug used for breast cancer treatment and breast cancer risk reduction.
Testes (Testicles): The two male sex organs suspended in a pouch, called the scrotum, below the penis.
Testosterone: A male hormone produced primarily by the testes that is responsible for inducing and maintaining male secondary sex characteristics.
Thoracentesis: A procedure that involves removing fluid from the chest cavity using a hollow bore needle.
Thoracotomy: A surgical procedure where an incision is made opening the chest cavity.
Thrombocytes (platelets): The blood cells that help form blood clots to control bleeding.
Thyroid: A butterfly-shaped endocrine gland in the neck. It secretes the hormone thyroxine, which controls the rate of metabolism.
Thyroidectomy: Surgical removal of thyroid gland tissue.
Thyroxine tablets: A synthetic hormone to replace the hormone made by the thyroid gland that helps regulate growth and control metabolism in the body.
Tissue: A collection of cells usually of a particular kind that form structural materials, such as connective tissue, epithelium, muscle tissue, and nerve tissue.
Tuberculosis (TB): A chronic, airborne disease caused by the tubercle bacillus. It affects the lungs but may spread to other areas (such as the kidney or spinal column) from local lesions or by way of the lymph or blood vessels, It is characterized by fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
Tumor: An abnormal mass of tissue resulting for excessive cell division. Tumors perform no useful function. They can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Tumor ablation: Removing a tumor
Tylosis: In this rare, inherited disease, extra skin grows on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
Ulcerative colitis: Chronic inflammation of the large intestine (colon).
Ultrasound: During this painless procedure, sound waves produce an image. A wand (transducer) is rubbed over the skin.
Upper endoscopy: A thin, flexible, lighted tube is placed down the patient's throat. The doctor can see the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine. If anything looks not normal, tissue samples can be removed.
Upper gastrointestinal (GI) exam: People drink liquid barium that coats the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine. Several x-rays are taken. After drinking the liquid, the person swallows a thin tube that pumps air into the stomach. This makes the barium coating very thin so that even small abnormalities will show up.
Urethra: The canal that carries off the urine from the bladder. In males, it also serves as a genital duct.
Urine cytology: Urine or cells "washed" from the bladder are examined to see if cancer cells (or pre-cancer cells) are present.
Uterus: A female organ used for containing and nourishing babies during development previous to birth. Also called the womb.
Ventricles: A chamber of the heart that receives blood from the atrium and from which blood is forced into the arteries.