Glossary of Terms
ABDOMEN: The area of the body that contains the pancreas, stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, and other organs.
ABDOMINAL X-RAY: An x-ray of the organs inside the abdomen. An x-ray is a type of radiation that can pass through the body and onto film, making pictures of areas inside the body. X-rays may be used to help diagnose disease.
ABNORMAL: Not normal. An abnormal lesion or growth may be cancerous, premalignant (likely to become cancer), or benign.
ABSCESS: An enclosed collection of pus in tissues, organs, or confined spaces in the body. An abscess is a sign of infection and is usually swollen and inflamed.
ACUTE: Symptoms or signs that begin and worsen quickly; not chronic.
ANTIBODY: A type of protein made by plasma cells (a type of white blood cell) in response to an antigen (foreign substance).
BENIGN TUMOR: A non-cancerous growth that does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
BIOPSY: The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. Types of biopsies include: (1) incisional biopsy, in which only a sample of tissue is removed; (2) excisional biopsy, in which an entire lump or suspicious area is removed; and (3) needle biopsy, in which a sample of tissue or fluid is removed through a needle. When a wide needle is used, the procedure is called a core biopsy. When a thin needle is used, the procedure is called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.
BLOOD COUNT: Examination of a blood specimen to determine the number of white and red blood cells and platelets.
BONE MARROW: The soft, sponge-like tissue in the center of most bones. It produces white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT: The replacement of a patient's bone marrow with a healthy bone marrow taken either from another individual (allogeneic) or from the patient him/herself (autologous).
CARCINOGEN: Any substance that causes cancer.
CHEMOTHERAPY: Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.
CLINICAL TRIAL (OR CLINICAL STUDY): A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in patients. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease.
COMBINATION CHEMOTHERAPY: Treatment with the use of two or more chemicals to achieve the most effective results.
CT SCAN (OR CAT SCAN): Computed 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.
CYST: An abnormal, sac-like structure that contains liquid or semisolid material. A cyst may be benign or malignant.
DIAGNOSIS: The process of identifying a disease by the signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings.
FINE NEEDLE ASPIRATE: An aspiration of cells using a small gauge needle in order to obtain cells for microscopic examination.
GAMMA KNIFE: A form of radiation therapy limited to the brain in which several columns of radiation are used to concentrate a high dose of radiation at a small tumor lesion. Genes - Biologic units in the nuclei of cells, containing hereditary information.
IMMUNITY: The body's ability to fight infections and disease.
IMMUNOTHERAPY: Treatment that involves use of biological response modifiers to strengthen the body's immune system.
LEUKEMIA: Cancer of the blood-forming tissues (bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen) characterized by overproduction of abnormal, immature, white blood cells.
LUMPECTOMY: Removal of a lump (tumor) and, when possible, a small margin of surrounding tissue. Lumpectomy combined with radiation therapy is an alternative to mastectomy for breast cancer.
LYMPH: A clear fluid circulating throughout the body (in the lymphatic system), containing immune white blood cells and antibodies.
LYMPHEDEMA: A common chronic, debilitating condition in which excess fluid called lymph collects in tissues and causes swelling (or edema) in them.
LYMPHOMA: A cancer of the lymph glands or lymphatic system.
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 produces 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.
MALIGNANT: Cancerous. Malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
MAMMOGRAM: An x-ray of the breast.
MAMMOGRAPHY: The use of x-rays to create a picture of the breast.
MASTECTOMY: Surgical removal of the breast. A simple mastectomy is removal of breast tissue. A modified mastectomy is removal of the breast, and a small amount of chest muscle. A radical mastectomy (rarely performed) is removal of breast tissue, and major muscle groups of the chest. All are typically performed with a dissection of the lymph nodes under the armpit.
NEOPLASM: An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Neoplasms may be benign (not cancerous), or malignant (cancerous). Also called tumor.
NODULE: A small, solid lump that can be detected by touch.
ONCOLOGY: The study of cancer.
PALLIATIVE TREATMENT: Therapy that relieves symptoms such as pain, but does not alter the course of a disease.
PATHOLOGY: The study of disease through microscopic examination of body tissues and organs. Any tumor suspected of being cancerous must be diagnosed by a pathologist (a physician specializing in pathology).
PET SCAN: Positron Emission Tomography. A form of nuclear medicine scanning in which non-metabolized substances are used to detect cancer anywhere in the body because of minor differences in cancer tissue compared to normal tissue.
PRECANCEROUS: A term describing abnormal change in cells, indicating potential for development of cancer.
PRIMARY TUMOR: The original site of a person's cancer.
PROGNOSIS: A prediction of the course of a disease; the expected outcome.
RADIATION THERAPY: The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
RELAPSE: The reappearance of cancer after a disease-free period.
REMISSION: Complete or partial disappearance of signs and symptoms of disease in response to treatment. The period in which a disease is under control. Remission does not necessarily indicate cure.
RISK FACTOR: Anything that increases the chance of getting a disease. For example, cigarette smoking is the major risk factor for lung cancer.
SARCOMA: A form of cancer that arises in the supportive tissues, such as bone, cartilage, fat, and muscle.
SCREENING: Checking for disease when there are no symptoms.
SECONDARY TUMOR: A tumor that develops as a result of metastasis, or spreading beyond the original cancer.
SIDE EFFECTS: The after effects of treatment, i.e., hair loss is a possible side effect of chemotherapy.
STEM CELL: A mononuclear cell obtained from the bone marrow of peripheral blood that has the ability to regenerate all of the normal blood cells including red blood cells that carry oxygen, white blood cells, which fight infection, and platelets that help in blood clotting.
SYSTEMIC: Affecting the entire body, not just one area.
TISSUE: A collection of similarly specialized cells.
TUMOR: An abnormal overgrowth of cells, abnormal tissue swelling or a mass that may be either benign or malignant.
TUMOR MARKER: A substance that can be measured in the blood or urine as an indicator of the presence of cancer, often before the cancer itself is obvious by physical examination or symptoms. They are currently useful to follow the course of treatment in certain diseases and in certain instances may facilitate making an earlier diagnosis of cancer.
TUMOR REGISTRY: A computerized database of information on all patients diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a reportable disease in the State of California, and a tumor registry facilitates the collection of data to determine outcome from cancer treatment.
ULTRASOUND: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) 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.
VIRUS: A microorganism that can infect cells and cause disease.
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.