Cancer – Medical Vocabulary
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When you are diagnosed with cancer, it can be overwhelming. You have your feelings to deal with. But you also have to deal with a whole new language of words you’ve never had to use before.
Path to improved health
The following are terms that you might hear during the diagnosis and treatment of cancer:
Adjuvant therapy: Therapy used to kill remaining cancer cells left behind after primary treatment, usually surgery. Could include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or hormone therapy.
Advance Directive: Instructions on what kind of care you would like to receive (or not receive) if you become unable to make medical decisions.
Benign: Noncancerous. Any tumor, growth or cell abnormality that is not cancerous. The growth will not spread to deeper tissues or other parts of the body.
Biological Therapy: Therapy that uses substances made from living organisms to attack cancer cells. The substances may occur naturally in the body. They also may be made in a laboratory. Some therapies affect the immune system. Others attack specific cancer cells.
Biopsy: Removal of a small portion of tissue to see whether it is cancerous.
Carcinoma In Situ (CIS): A group of abnormal cells that remain in the place where they first formed. The cells may become cancer and spread to nearby tissue.
Chemotherapy: Therapy that uses drugs to damage cancer cells and kill cancer cells.
Clinical Trials: Research studies that involve actual patients. They are designed to find better ways to manage cancer (and other medical conditions and diseases) from prevention and detection to diagnosis and treatment.
Colonoscopy: Insertion of a long, flexible, lighted tube through the rectum and into the colon. This allows the healthcare provider to check the lining of the colon for abnormalities.
Colposcopy: Procedure where a lighted, magnifying instrument (colposcope) is used to examine vaginal and cervical abnormalities.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM): Therapy used during or after cancer treatment that may help relieve the symptoms of cancer and/or standard cancer treatments. Some examples of CAM include meditation, yoga, spiritual counseling, acupuncture, acupressure and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).
Hormone therapy: Treatment that adds, removes, or blocks hormones to slow the growth of cancer cells.
Hospice Care: Hospice care is a special program for patients who are ill and dying, and their families. It is a form of palliative care.
Immunotherapy: A type of biological therapy. It stimulates or suppresses the immune system to help the body fight cancer
Invasive Cancer: Cancer that starts in one area of the body and then spreads to surrounding tissue. Also called infiltrating cancer.
Localized: Cancer that is confined to a certain area and has not spread.
Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection and disease. They are part of the lymphatic system. Clusters of nodes are found in different areas, including the neck, underarm, abdomen, and groin.
Lymphatic system: A network of tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells. These cells fight infection and disease. It includes the bone marrow, spleen, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels. Cancer can use this system to spread to other parts of the body.
Lymphoma: Cancer that begins in the cells of the immune system.
Lumpectomy: Surgery that removes abnormal or cancerous tissue and sometimes part of the surrounding healthy tissue.
Malignant: Indicates that cancer cells are present and may be able to spread to other parts of the body.
Mammogram: An X-ray taken of the breast in order to check for abnormalities.
Mastectomy: Surgical procedure that removes all or part of the breast.
Melanoma: A form of cancer that begins in melanocytes. These are cells that make the pigment melanin. It can begin in a mole on the skin or in other tissues with pigment. These include the eye or intestines.
Metastasis: The spread of cancer from one area of the body to another. Cancer cells break away from the primary tumor. They travel through the blood or lymphatic system to other areas. For example, breast cancer cells may spread to the lymph nodes, or lung cancer cells may travel to the brain.
Neoadjuvant Therapy: Treatment given to shrink a tumor before the main treatment (usually surgery) is given. Often includes chemotherapy or radiation.
Oncologist: A physician who specializes in cancer and its treatment.
Palliative Care: Therapy that focuses on improving one’s quality of life rather than curing the cancer.
Pap Smear: A test that involves the scraping and study of cells that line the cervix. Pap smears (also called pap tests) are used to detect precancerous and cancerous cells, as well as other noncancerous conditions.
Pathologist: A doctor who identifies diseases (such as cancer) by studying cells under a microscope.
Polyp: A growth of normal tissue that sticks out from the lining of an organ, such as the colon.
Precancerous: Refers to cells that have the potential to become cancerous.
Prognosis: The expected outcome of a disease and chances for recovery.
Prosthesis: An artificial replacement for a body part such as a breast or leg.
Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Test: A test that measures the amount of a substance created by the prostate gland in the blood. An elevated amount could be the result of infection, prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate.
Radiation Therapy: Uses high-energy rays or radioactive materials to damage or kill cancer cells.
Reconstructive Surgery: Operation preformed to repair skin and muscles after surgery to treat cancer has been performed. Often used to reconstruct a breast after a mastectomy.
Recurrence: The development of cancerous cells in the same area or another area of the body after cancer treatment.
Remission: When the signs and symptoms of cancer decrease or disappear, but cancer may still be in the body. Can be temporary or permanent.
Sarcoma: A cancer that develops in the tissues that support and connect the body. These include fat, muscle, and cartilage.
Stages of Cancer: A way of describing the extent of cancer in the body. It is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer, and whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
Tumor: An abnormal mass of tissue that can be benign or malignant.