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Cancer Glossary

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

 Search  [LIMF-uh-sites]
Also called B cells. White blood cells that help make antibodies. See also antibody, immune system, white blood cells.
 Search  [BEAR-ee-um EN-uh-muh]
A type of x-ray test where barium sulfate, a chalky liquid, is put in through the rectum to enlarge and partly fill the large intestine (colon). When the colon is about half-full of barium, air is often pushed in to make the colon expand further. This allows good x-ray films to be taken. This procedure may also be called a double contrast barium enema, air-contrast barium enema, or a lower GI series. See also barium sulfate, colon, x-ray.
 Search  [BEAR-ee-um SUL-fate]
A substance made into a chalky liquid that’s used to outline the inside of the digestive tract for x-rays. It can be taken by mouth, as part of an upper gastrointestinal (GI) series, or put into the rectum as a barium enema (as part of a lower GI series). See also barium enema, gastrointestinal tract, x-ray.
 Search  [BAY-sul or BAY-zul sell CAR-sin-O-ma]
Also called basal cell cancer; the most common type of skin cancer. It begins in the lowest layer of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin), called the basal cell layer. It usually develops on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck. Basal cell cancer grows slowly and is not likely to spread to distant parts of the body.
Also called pure science; a type of research that provides the knowledge and background required for later research into human health problems (known as applied science). In cancer research, basic science is often done in the lab in fields like biochemistry, cell biology, or genetics. It’s not aimed directly at treating a specific cancer, but it may be used later as part of the basis for a treatment.
Research looking at what motivates people to act the way they do. The results of such research can be used to help encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyles and follow life-saving screening and treatment guidelines.
 Search  [be-NINE]
Not cancer; not malignant. Compare with malignant.
 Search  [be-NINE pros-TAT-tick HI-per-PLAY-zhuh]
Often shortened to BPH. Non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate. This sometimes makes it harder for a man to empty his bladder – causing trouble starting and stopping urine flow, weak flow of urine, and dribbling. See also bladder, prostate, urine.
 Search  [be-NINE TOO-mer]
An abnormal growth that’s not cancer, so it does not invade into nearby tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Some benign tumors can still cause health problems. See also tumor.
 Search  [BAY-tuh KAIR-uh-TEEN]
A form of vitamin A that’s found mainly in yellow and orange vegetables and fruits. It functions as an antioxidant. See also antioxidants.
A set of conditions used to determine if someone with colorectal cancer might have hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), and therefore might want to consider genetic testing for it. Most people who have these criteria do not actually have HNPCC. Compare to Amsterdam criteria. See also hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer, genetic testing.
 Search  [by-LAT-er-ul]
On both right and left sides of the body; for example, bilateral breast cancer is cancer in both breasts. Compare to unilateral.
Fluid made by the liver and stored in the gall bladder; it enters the small intestine to help digest fats. See also bile ducts, biliary, gallbladder.
The small tubes through which bile flows from the liver and gallbladder into the small intestine. The largest of these, known as the common bile duct, is joined by a duct carrying fluid from the pancreas as it nears the intestine. See also bile, gallbladder, biliary, liver, pancreas.
 Search  [BIL-ee-air-ee]
Having to do with the liver, gallbladder and/or bile or the bile ducts. See also bile, bile ducts, gallbladder, liver.
 Search  [BY-o-LA-jick re-SPONS MOD-uh-FIE-urs]
Substances made in the body, such as interferons and interleukins, that boost the body’s immune system. Man-made versions of these substances can be used to treat some cancers or other diseases. This type of treatment is sometimes called biologic therapy. See also immunotherapy.
 Search  [BY-o-MAR-kers]
See tumor markers.
 Search  [BY-op-see]
The removal of a piece of body tissue to see if cancer cells are present. There are several kinds of biopsies. In some, a thin, hollow needle is used to remove fluid or cells from a tumor. Other biopsies are done using surgery. See also core needle biopsy, fine needle aspiration biopsy, sextant biopsy, surgical biopsy.
 Search  [BY-op-see]
An instrument used to take core biopsy samples, often used for prostate biopsies. See also biopsy, core needle biopsy.
 Search  [bis-FAHS-fun-ATES]
Drugs that slow down the action of bone-eating cells called osteoclasts, which helps slow the spread of cancer in the bones. Bisphosphonate drugs also used to help treat osteoporosis (bone thinning) and some other conditions.
 Search  [BLAD-uhr]
A hollow organ in the pelvis with flexible, muscular walls. The bladder stores urine made by the kidneys until it leaves the body during urination. See also kidney, urine.
See complete blood count.
The soft, spongy tissue in the hollow middle of certain bones of the body. This is where new blood cells are made. See also platelets, red blood cells, white blood cells.
 Search  [ASP-er-A-shun and BY-op-see]
A procedure in which a thin, hollow needle is put into the center of a bone, usually the hip or breast bone, to take out a small amount of bone marrow so that it can be looked at under a microscope. See also bone marrow.
A treatment that replaces blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow with new stem cells that come from the bone marrow of either the patient (autologous) or a donor (allogeneic). Bone marrow transplants (BMTs) were the first type of stem cell transplant used, but they are now done less often than in the past. See also allogeneic stem cell transplant, autologous stem cell transplant, bone marrow, umbilical cord blood transplant, hematopoietic stem cell transplant, stem cells.
An imaging test that looks for abnormal areas in the bones, which might be caused by cancer. For this test, a small amount of radioactive contrast material (radioisotope) is put into a vein. This material settles in abnormal areas of the bones. The radioactive substance can then be seen in pictures as it collects in the problem areas (called “hot spots”). See also imaging tests, radioisotope.
Also called a skeletal survey. A set of x-rays of all the major bones of the body; it may be done when looking for cancer that has spread to the bones.
The intestines, from the end of the stomach to the anus. The small bowel (small intestine) goes from the bottom of the stomach to the large bowel. The large bowel (large intestine) goes from there to the anus, and includes the colon and rectum. See also anus, colon, gastrointestinal tract, intestines, rectum.
See benign prostatic hyperplasia.
 Search  [BRAY-kee-THAIR-uh-pee]
Internal radiation treatment that’s given by putting a radioactive source right into the tumor or close to it. There are 2 main types of brachytherapy. In intracavitary treatment, the source is placed into a space near the cancer. In interstitial treatment the source is placed directly into the tissues. Brachytherapy is sometimes used along with external beam radiation therapy. See also high-dose rate brachytherapy, low-dose rate brachytherapy, external beam radiation therapy, ionizing radiation.
Enclosed in the skull or the bones of the head (cranium) and connected to the spinal cord, the brain is the main center for regulating and coordinating body activities and functions. It’s the seat of thought, feeling, memory, speech, vision, hearing, movement, and much more. Different parts of the brain control different functions in the body. See also cranium, spinal cord.
An imaging test used to find anything that isn’t normal in the brain, including a brain tumor or cancer that has spread to the brain from other places in the body. This is usually a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan, which are most often done in an outpatient setting. These tests are painless, except for the needle stick if a contrast material (“dye”) is put into a vein. See also computed tomography scan, magnetic resonance imaging, outpatient.
A gene which, when damaged (mutated), puts a person at higher risk of developing breast, ovarian, and some other types of cancer, compared to people who do not have the mutation. See also gene, mutation.
A gene which, when damaged (mutated), puts a person at higher risk of developing breast, ovarian, and some other types of cancer when compared to people who do not have the mutation. See also gene, mutation.
A tool used to help health professionals estimate a person’s risk of having a mutation in a BRCA gene based on family history (who else in the family has had cancer).
Surgery to increase the size of the breast. See also breast implant, mammoplasty.
Cancer that starts in the breast. The most common types of breast cancer are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma, medullary carcinoma, and Paget disease of the nipple (see definitions under these headings). Lobular carcinoma in situ is sometimes listed as a non-invasive type of cancer, even though it’s not a true cancer or pre-cancer.
Surgery to remove breast cancer and a small margin of normal tissue around the cancer without removing any other part of the breast. The lymph nodes under the arm may be removed, and radiation therapy is often given after the surgery. This method is also called lumpectomy, segmental excision, limited breast surgery, or tylectomy. See also lumpectomy, mastectomy.
A sac used to increase breast size or restore the shape of a breast after surgical removal of the breast (mastectomy). The sac is filled with silicone gel (a synthetic material) or sterile saltwater (saline). See also mastectomy, prosthesis.
Surgery that rebuilds the shape of the breast after surgical removal of the breast (mastectomy). A breast implant or the woman’s own tissue may be used. If desired, the nipple and areola might also be re-created. Reconstruction might be done at the time of mastectomy or later, depending on the treatment plan and a woman’s wishes. See also implant, mastectomy, prosthesis.
Often shortened to BSE. A way to check your own breasts for lumps or other changes. Breast self exam is no longer recommended for breast cancer screening.
A health care professional who has a dedicated interest in breast health. While he or she may have specialized knowledge in this area, medical licensing boards do not certify a specialty in breast care.
 Search  [BRONG-key-ol]
One of the smaller subdivisions or branches of the bronchi. See also bronchus.
 Search  [brong-KIE-tiss]
Inflammation of the main breathing tubes (the bronchi).
 Search  [brong-KAH-skuh-pee]
An exam in which a doctor looks at the inner lining of the bronchi and smaller airways in the lungs using a thin, flexible, lighted tube that goes down the throat. This instrument is called a bronchoscope. See also bronchus.
 Search  [BRONG-kuss]
Either of the 2 main air passages that split off from the windpipe (trachea) and enter the lungs. The plural of this word is bronchi (BRONG-ki). The bronchi provide a passage for air to move in and out of the lungs. See also bronchiole, trachea.