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Cancer Glossary

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Browse the glossary by selecting a letter or by entering a cancer-related term:

A
 Search  [AB-duh-men]
The part of the body between the chest and the pelvis. It contains the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and other organs. The abdomen is lined by a membrane called the peritoneum.
 Search  [ab-DAH-muh-no-PAIR-uh-NEE-uhl re-SEK-shun]
Often shortened to AP resection or APR. A type of surgery to remove the anus, rectum, and part of the colon. Two cuts are made, one in the belly (abdomen), and the other around the anus. A permanent colostomy is needed after this surgery. See also abdomen, anus, colon, colostomy, rectum.
 Search  [ab-LATE]
To remove an organ or body tissue or destroy its function. See also ablation.
 Search  [ab-LAY-shun]
Also called ablative therapy (ab-LAY-tive). Treatment to remove or destroy all or part of a cancer. It can also mean removing or stopping the function of an organ. For example, removing the ovaries or testicles or taking medicines that cause them to stop making their hormones would be called ablation. Besides surgery and drug treatment, other ways of ablating body tissues and tumors include using extreme heat, freezing, and chemicals.
 Search  [AB-ses]
A collection of pus in tissues, organs, or other parts of the body; usually a sign of infection.
 Search  [ak-TIN-ick KAIR-uh-TOE-sis]
Also called solar keratosis; the plural is keratoses (KAIR-uh-TOE-seez). A thick, rough, or scaly patch of skin that can develop after years of sun exposure. They are not cancer, but over time a few will develop into squamous cell cancer (a type of skin cancer). Doctors can remove them or destroy them with cold, lasers, chemicals, or creams. See also squamous cell carcinoma.
 Search  [AK-tiv ser-VAY-lents]
See expectant management.
 Search  [AD-no-KAR-suh-NO-muh or AD-uh-no-KAR-suh-NO-muh]
Cancer that starts in the glandular cells that line certain organs and make and release substances into the body, such as mucus, digestive juices, or other fluids. Examples include the ducts or lobules of the breast and the gland cells of the prostate. See also glandular cells, prostate.
 Search  [ad-NO-muh or AD-uh-NO-muh]
A growth or tumor that starts in glandular tissue and is not cancer. See also adenomatous polyp, glands, glandular cells.
 Search  [ad-NO-muh-tus or AD-uh-NO-muh-tus PAH-lip]
A non-cancerous growth of abnormal glandular cells on the inner lining of an organ such as the colon. These can become cancer, so they are usually removed. For example, 3 types of adenomatous polyps that can grow in the colon are tubular, villous, and tuberovillous adenomas. In each type, the cells are arranged differently, but there’s some overlap so that an adenoma can have both tubular and villous features. See also colon, glandular cells, hyperplastic polyp, inflammatory polyp, polyp, tubular adenoma, tubulovillous adenoma, villous adenoma.
 Search 
(AD-uh-NAH-puh-thee): Also called lymphadenopathy (limf-AD-uh-NAH-puh-thee); swollen or large lymph nodes; can also mean disease of the lymph nodes. See also lymph node.
 Search  [AD-uh-NO-sis]
A disease or abnormal change in a gland. For instance, in breast adenosis the lobules are larger contain more glands than usual, but there’s no cancer. See also glands, glandular cells, lobule.
 Search  [ad-HEE-zhunz]
Bands of scar tissue that form after surgery or injury that bind together organs or tissues that are normally separate. This can sometimes cause problems, for instance, if it leads to partial or total blockage of the intestine.
 Search  [AD-juh-vunt]
Treatment used in addition to the main treatment. It usually refers to hormone therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other treatments given after surgery to increase the chances of curing the disease or keeping it in check.
 Search  [uh-DREE-nul]
Glands at the top of each kidney (everyone normally has 2). Their main function is to make hormones that help the body respond to stress and control metabolism (processing food for energy), fluid balance, and blood pressure. They also make small amounts of progesterone (a female hormone), as well as androgens (male hormones), which the body can convert into estrogen (another female hormone).
 Search 
Legal documents that tell the doctor and family what future medical care a person wants if the person later becomes unable to make decisions for him or herself. This may include whether to start or when to stop life-sustaining treatments. Another type of advance directive lets you choose a person to make decisions for you if you become unable to do it for yourself. See also durable power of attorney for health care, living will.
 Search 
A general term describing cancer that has spread from where it started (the primary site) to other parts of the body. When the cancer has spread only to the nearby areas, it’s called locally advanced cancer. If it has spread to distant parts of the body, it’s called metastatic cancer. See also metastasis, metastasize.
 Search 
American Joint Committee on Cancer staging system (also called the TNM system), which is used to describe the amount and spread of many types of cancer, typically with the number 0 (zero) and Roman numerals from I through IV. See also staging.
 Search  [al-EEL]
Any one of the different forms of a gene or group of genes that occupy a specific location on a given chromosome. See also chromosome, gene.
 Search  [AL-o-jen-NEE-ick or AL-o-jen-NAY-ick]
A type of stem cell transplant that uses blood stem cells from a donor whose tissue type closely matches the patient’s to replace blood-forming cells that have been destroyed by disease or cancer treatment. The cells can be from a related donor or an unrelated donor. Compare to autologous stem cell transplant. See also bone marrow transplant, hematopoietic stem cell transplant, stem cells.
 Search  [AL-o-PEE-shuh]
Hair loss, which can include body hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes as well as scalp hair. This often happens with chemotherapy treatment or radiation therapy. In most cases, the hair grows back after treatment ends.
 Search  [AL-fuh]
A drug that relaxes smooth muscle tissue. Alpha blockers are sometimes used to help men who have trouble passing urine because of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or other causes. See also benign prostatic hyperplasia, urine.
 Search 
An unproven therapy that’s used instead of standard medical treatment. Some alternative therapies are known to cause harmful or even life-threatening side effects. With others, the main danger is that the patient may lose the chance to benefit from standard treatment. The American Cancer Society recommends that patients thinking about using any alternative or complementary therapy discuss it first with a member of their health care team to be sure that they know all their options. See also complementary therapy.
 Search  [al-VEE-o-lie]
Tiny air sacs in the lungs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.
 Search  [AM-byou-luh-TOR-ee]
Walking or able to walk. Ambulatory care centers work with outpatients, that is, people who are not staying in a hospital. Short procedures or treatments are often done in such centers.
 Search  [AM-stir-dam cry-TEER-ee-uh]
A set of conditions common in people with hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome. Only about half of people who meet all of these criteria actually have HNPCC, but people who meet the criteria may want to consider genetic testing. Compare to Bethesda criteria. See also hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer, genetic counseling, genetic testing.
 Search  [A-nul]
Having to do with the anus. See also anus.
 Search  [AN-uh-log]
A man-made version of a naturally occurring substance. See also luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analogs.
 Search  [uh-NAS-tuh-MO-sis]
The site where 2 structures are surgically joined together, such as the bladder and the urethra after the prostate has been removed, or the 2 ends of bowel put back together after a section has been removed.
 Search  [AN-druh-jen ab-LAY-shun]
See androgen blockade, androgen deprivation therapy.
 Search 
Use of drugs to disrupt the actions of androgens or male hormones. See also androgens, androgen deprivation therapy, combined hormone therapy, hormone therapy.
 Search 
Often shortened to ADT. Treatment to reduce levels of androgens (male hormones) in the body or prevent them from reaching cancer cells. For example, since androgens stimulate prostate cancer to grow, ADT often makes prostate cancers shrink or grow more slowly. See also anti-androgens, chemical castration, hormone therapy, luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone antagonists, luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonists, orchiectomy, testosterone.
 Search 
A term used to describe prostate cells that are stimulated by male hormones to grow and multiply, and are suppressed by drugs that stop or disrupt the action of male hormones. Androgen-dependent cells may be normal or cancer. See also androgen-independent.
 Search 
A term for prostate cancer that no longer responds to any type of hormone therapy; also known as hormone-refractory. Compare to castrate-resistant. See also androgen-dependent, hormone therapy.
 Search  [AN-druh-jens]
Hormones found in men and women but with much higher levels in men; commonly called male sex hormones. The major androgen is testosterone. See also hormone therapy, testosterone.
 Search  [AN-neck-DOE-tul]
Related to an individual or personal report, or a description from one or more patients. Anecdotal evidence is not considered as reliable as evidence from well-designed clinical trials or other types of studies.
 Search  [uh-NEE-me-uh]
Low red blood cell count.
 Search  [AN-es-THEE-zhuh]
The loss of feeling or sensation as a result of drugs or gases. General anesthesia causes loss of consciousness (puts you into a deep sleep so you don’t feel pain). Local or regional anesthesia numbs only a certain area.
 Search  [AN-es-THEE-zee-AHL-uh-jist]
A doctor who specializes in giving drugs or other agents that prevent or relieve pain, especially during surgery.
 Search  [AN-you-PLOID]
Cells with either more or less than the normal number of chromosome pairs. Most human cells normally have 23 pairs of chromosomes. Compare to diploid. See also chromosome, ploidy.
 Search  [AN-jee-o-JEN-uh-sis]
The formation of new blood vessels. Some cancer treatments work by blocking angiogenesis, which helps keep blood from reaching (“feeding”) the tumor. See also anti-angiogenesis agent.
 Search  [AN-jee-AH-gruh-fee]
A test in which a contrast dye is injected directly into a blood vessel that goes to the area that is being studied. A series of x-rays are then taken to show doctors the blood vessels in the area. This test can be used to look at the blood vessels around a tumor.
 Search  [AN-jee-o-sar-KO-muh]
A type of cancer that starts from cells that line blood vessels or lymph vessels.
 Search  [AN-uh-REK-see-uh]
Loss of appetite, which may be caused by either the cancer itself or treatments such as chemotherapy.
 Search  [an-TEER-ee-yer]
At or near the front.
 Search  [AN-tee-AN-druh-jen or AN-tie-AN-druh-jen]
A drug that blocks the body’s ability to use male hormones (androgens). Anti-androgens are used along with orchiectomy (a type of surgery) or LHRH analogs (drugs) as part of hormone therapy to help treat prostate cancer. See also androgens, androgen deprivation therapy, hormone therapy, luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analogs, orchiectomy.
 Search  [AN-tee-AN-jee-o-JEN-uh-sis or AN-tie-AN-jee-o-JEN-uh-sis]
A drug that keeps new blood vessels from forming, limiting the blood supply to a tumor. See also angiogenesis.
 Search  [AN-tee-by-AH-tick or AN-tie-by-AH-tick]
A drug used to kill germs (micro-organisms) that cause disease. Antibiotics may be made naturally by living organisms or they may be created in the lab. Since some cancer treatments can reduce the body’s ability to fight infection, antibiotics may be used to treat or prevent these infections.
 Search  [AN-tih-BAH-dee or AN-tee-BAH-dee]
A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood to help defend the body against foreign agents, such as bacteria. These agents contain certain substances called antigens. Each antibody works against one certain antigen. See also antigen, immune system.
 Search  [AN-tee-ih-MEH-tik or AN-tie-ih-MEH-tik]
A drug that prevents or relieves nausea and vomiting.
 Search  [AN-tee-ES-tro-jen or AN-tie-ES-tro-jen]
A substance that blocks the effects of estrogen on cancer cells. These types of drugs are used to treat breast cancers that depend on estrogen for growth and can be used to help prevent breast cancer. See also estrogen, hormone therapy, selective estrogen receptor modulator.
 Search  [AN-tuh-jen]
A substance that can cause the body’s immune system to respond by making antibodies. For example, the immune system responds to antigens that are part of bacteria and viruses to help people resist infections. Certain cancer cells have antigens that can be found by lab tests. Knowledge of these antigens can be used to help diagnose, monitor, and even treat some cancers. See also antibody, immune system.
 Search  [AN-tee-muh-TAB-o-lites or AN-tie-muh-TAB-o-lites]
A substance that interferes with the body’s chemical processes, such as those that create DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and other chemicals needed for cell growth and reproduction. In treating cancer, antimetabolite drugs disrupt DNA production, which in turn prevents cell division and tumor growth. See also deoxyribonucleic acid.
 Search  [AN-tee-OX-uh-dunts or AN-tie-OX-uh-dunts]
A compound that holds back chemical reactions with oxygen (oxidation). Some vitamins, such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene are antioxidants. Antioxidants that are found in foods might reduce the risk of some cancers. But taking certain antioxidants as supplements has been linked to higher cancer risk in some people.
 Search  [A-nus]
The end of the digestive tract, through which waste passes out of the body. See also digestive system.
 Search 
A gene that slows the growth of cells in the body. People who have a change (mutation) in this gene can develop hundreds of polyps in the colon, due to diseases known as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Gardner syndrome. See also familial adenomatous polyposis, Gardner syndrome, gene, hereditary cancer syndrome, mutation, polyp.
 Search  [A-fur-REE-sis]
May also be called pheresis (fur-REE-sis). A procedure in which blood is taken out of the body (through a catheter in a vein), part of the blood is removed, and the rest of the blood is put back into the body. May be called plasmapheresis if plasma is removed, leukapheresis if white blood cells are removed, or plateletpheresis when platelets are removed.
 Search  [a-PLAY-zee-uh or a-PLAY-zhuh]
Defective development or absence of an organ, cell, or tissue.
 Search  [a-PLAS-tick]
Having to do with aplasia. See aplasia, aplastic anemia.
 Search  [a-PLAS-tick uh-NEE-me-uh]
A condition in which the bone marrow doesn’t make enough blood cells, resulting in low red blood cell counts (anemia), and often low white blood cells counts (leukopenia) and low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia) as well. See also anemia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia.
 Search  [A-pop-TOE-sis]
Programmed cell death. Apoptosis is controlled by genes that cause cells to die at certain times, for example, when DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is damaged. This type of cell death is a normal process in the body and is different from the process of cell death by decay. Some drugs used to treat cancer cause apoptosis. See also deoxyribonucleic acid.
 Search  [ah-REE-uh-luh or air-ee-O-luh]
The dark area of skin that surrounds the nipple of the breast.
 Search  [uh-ROE-muh-tase]
Drugs that lower estrogen levels by blocking aromatase, the enzyme that converts androgens into estrogen. These drugs are used to treat hormone-sensitive breast cancer in women after menopause. They’re also being tested to see if they can reduce breast cancer risk in women after menopause. See also androgens, chemoprevention, enzyme, estrogen, hormone therapy, menopause.
 Search  [SFINK-ter]
An inflatable cuff implanted to squeeze the urethra or anus shut and help a person control their urine or poop (stool). See also anus, incontinence, sphincter, urethra, urine.
 Search  [as-SEND-ing KO-lun]
The first of the 4 sections of the colon. The ascending colon begins at the end of the small intestine and extends upward on the right side of the abdomen to connect with the transverse colon. See also abdomen, colon, transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon.
 Search  [ah-SITE-eez]
Abnormal build-up of fluid in the belly (abdomen).
 Search  [ASP-er-A-shun]
To draw out or remove liquid, gas, or tissue fragments through a needle using suction. Also, the accidental breathing in of food or fluid into the lungs. See also fine needle aspiration biopsy.
 Search 
One of the staging systems for colorectal cancer. In this system, the letters A through D are used for the different stages. See also staging, colorectal cancer.
 Search  [A-simp-tuh-MAT-ik]
Not having any symptoms of a disease. Many cancers can develop and grow without causing symptoms at first. Screening tests such as mammograms and colonoscopies help find some early cancers before symptoms start, when the chances for cure are usually highest. See also screening.
 Search  [a-TAX-ee-yuh tel-AN-jee-eck-TAY-zhuh]
Also called A-T. A rare, inherited condition that affects the nervous system, immune system, and other body systems and results in an increased risk of certain types of cancer, especially leukemias and lymphomas. A-T is caused by having changes in both copies of the ATM gene. See also ATM gene, gene, mutation.
 Search 
A gene that normally slows the growth of cells in the body and helps repair damage inside cells. If a person has changes (mutations) in both copies of this gene, it causes a disease called ataxia-telangiectasia. If only one copy of the gene is mutated, the person may have a higher risk of breast and some other types of cancer. See also ataxia-telangiectasia, mutation.
 Search  [a-TIP-ee-yuh]
Not normal; atypical. Often refers to how cancer or pre-cancer cells look under a microscope. See also atypical, hyperplasia.
 Search  [a-TIP-uh-kul]
Not usual; abnormal. See also atypia.
 Search  [a-TIP-uh-kul small uh-SEE-nar pruh-LIH-fuh-RAY-shun]
Often shortened to ASAP or sometimes just atypia; a suspicious finding on a prostate biopsy pathology report in which the prostate cells look like they might be cancerous, but there are too few of them to be sure. If ASAP is found, there’s a high chance that there’s cancer in the prostate, so many doctors advise having another biopsy done within a few months. See also atypia, biopsy, prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia.
 Search  [aw-TAHL-uh-gus]
Use of the patient’s own blood or tissue in a medical procedure; for example, using a woman’s own tissue to rebuild a breast shape is called autologous tissue construction.
 Search  [aw-TAHL-uh-gus]
A type of stem cell transplant that uses blood stem cells that are taken either from the patient’s bone marrow or bloodstream and are frozen, stored, and given back to the patient later. Compare to allogeneic stem cell transplant. See also bone marrow, hematopoietic stem cell transplant, stem cells.
 Search  [ax-ILL-uh]
The armpit.
 Search  [AX-ill-air-ee di-SEK-shun]
Also called axillary lymph node dissection; removal of the lymph nodes in the armpit (these are the axillary nodes). They are looked at under a microscope to see if they contain cancer. See also axilla, lymph node, lymph node biopsy.