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Cancer Glossary

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

See fecal immunochemical test.
See insulin-like growth factor-1.
 Search  [ILL-ee-OSS-tuh-me]
An opening created by surgery that attaches the end of last part of the small intestine, the ileum, to the skin on the belly (abdomen) to make a new path to get rid of body waste (poop or stool). A small pouch is placed at the opening to collect the stool. Stool that leaves the body through this opening tends to be unformed or liquid. See also small intestine.
 Search  [ILL-ee-uhm]
The last part of the small intestine, which normally connects to the start of the large intestine (cecum). See also cecum, colon, ileostomy.
A method that uses computers to analyze digital pictures of the cells on a microscope slide to check the number of chromosomes and other properties of the cells. See also chromosome, ploidy.
Methods used to make pictures of internal body structures. Some imaging tests used to help detect or stage cancer are x-rays, CT scans, MRI, PET scans, and ultrasound. See also computed tomography scan, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, ultrasound.
The complex system by which the body resists infection by germs, such as bacteria or viruses, and rejects transplanted tissues or organs. The immune system may also help the body fight some cancers.
 Search  [IM-yuh-no-SY-toe-KEM-iss-tree]
Lab tests that use man-made antibodies to detect specific chemical antigens in specially prepared cells viewed under a microscope. These tests can be used to help detect and classify cancer cells. See also antibody, antigen, monoclonal antibodies.
 Search  [IM-yuh-no-HISS-toe-KEM-iss-tree]
Lab tests that use man-made antibodies to detect specific chemical antigens in cells viewed under a microscope. These tests can be used to help detect and classify cancer cells. See also antibody, antigen, monoclonal antibodies.
 Search  [IM-yuh-NAHL-uh-jee]
Study of the immune system, including how the body recognizes self and not-self, how it responds to infection and other foreign challenges, and more. Knowledge gained in this field is important to cancer treatments that activate the immune system and/or substances that behave like parts of the immune system to help fight cancer. See also immune system, immunotherapy.
 Search  [IM-yuh-no-suh-PREH-shun]
A process in which the immune system becomes weak and unable to respond the way it should; also the condition it causes. This condition may be present at birth, or it may be caused by certain infections (like HIV), cancer, or cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy and radiation). See also immune system.
 Search  [IM-yuh-no-THER-uh-pee]
Treatments that use the body’s immune system to fight cancer. This is done by boosting the patient’s own immune system or giving man-made immune system proteins. See also immune system.
Can refer to a small amount of radioactive material placed in or near a cancer. Also, can mean a natural or artificial structure (called a prosthesis) put into the body to restore the shape or function of an organ after surgery; for example, a breast implant. See also brachytherapy, prosthesis.
 Search  [IM-puh-tense]
See erectile dysfunction or ED.
See intensity-modulated radiation therapy.
 Search  [in SY-too]
In place; confined to the layer of cells where it started. See also carcinoma in situ.
 Search  [in-SIH-dens]
The number of new cases of a disease that occur over a certain amount of time (usually a year). Compare with prevalence.
 Search  [in-SIH-zhun]
Cut made during surgery.
A result that does not show for certain whether a disease or condition is present; neither positive nor negative.
 Search  [in-KON-tuh-nence]
Partial or complete loss of bladder or bowel control. See also bladder, bowels, urinary incontinence.
 Search  [IN-dij-ent]
Not having enough money to meet one’s needs.
Also called sterility. The inability to produce children, which can result from some types of cancer treatment.
See invasive ductal carcinoma.
See invasive lobular carcinoma.
Often shortened to IBD. A chronic condition (either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) in which parts of the intestine, including the colon are inflamed over a long period of time and might have ulcers in the lining. IBD increases a person’s risk of colorectal cancer. Starting colorectal cancer screening earlier and doing the tests more often is recommended for people with IBD. (Note that IBD is not the same as IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome.) See also colon, colorectal cancer screening, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis.
Also called inflammatory carcinoma or IBC. A type of invasive breast cancer with spread to lymphatic vessels in the skin covering the breast. The skin of the affected breast is red, feels warm, and may thicken to look and feel like an orange peel. See also invasive cancer, lymphatic system.
A type of polyp that commonly occurs with some type of irritation or inflammation of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis. These polyps do not seem to increase the risk of colorectal cancer, though the underlying condition can. See also colon, Crohn’s disease, polyp, ulcerative colitis.
Process in which a person receives a full explanation of a test, procedure, or treatment, including the risks, benefits, and possible alternatives, and then signs a form stating that they have received this information and that they agree to the test, procedure, or treatment.
 Search  [IN-fruh-kluh-VICK-yuh-ler]
Lymph nodes located under the collar bone (clavicle). See also clavicle, lymph node, supraclavicular.
 Search  [in-JEST]
To take in by mouth; to eat, drink, or swallow.
An illness to which a person is susceptible because of a gene passed on from his or her parents at birth. See also gene, genetic testing, hereditary cancer syndrome, mutation.
A person whose treatment requires staying in the hospital. Compare to outpatient.
 Search  [IGF-1]
Hormone-like substance thought to affect cell growth. Some studies have found that people with high blood levels of IGF-1 might be more likely to develop some types of cancer, but more research is needed.
A type of imaging test that combines detailed cross-sectional pictures of the CT scan with the ability to detect areas of high energy use in the body on the PET scan. See also computed tomography scan, positron emission tomography scan.
Often shortened to IMRT. An advanced method of conformal radiation therapy in which the beams are aimed from several directions, while the intensity (strength) of the beams is controlled by computers. This lets more radiation reach the treatment area while reducing the radiation to healthy tissues; in some cases, total radiation dose can be higher with IMRT. See also conformal radiation therapy, three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy.
 Search  [IN-ter-FEAR-ons]
Proteins produced by cells that help regulate the body’s immune system, boosting activity when a threat, like a virus, is found. Man-made versions of interferon are used to treat some types of cancer. See also immune system, immunotherapy.
 Search  [IN-ter-LOO-kins]
A group of chemical messengers (called cytokines) that can carry signals between cells. Interleukin-2 (IL-2) helps immune system cells grow and divide more quickly. A man-made version of IL-2 is sometimes used to treat some types of cancer. See also cytokine, immunotherapy.
Treatment in which a radioactive source is implanted or temporarily placed in the body. Compare with external beam radiation therapy. See also brachytherapy, implant.
 Search  [IN-ter-STIH-shul]
A type of radiation treatment in which a radioactive implant is put right into the tissue (not in a body cavity). See also brachytherapy, radiation therapy.
 Search  [IN-ter-VER-tuh-bruhl disk]
A gel-filled disc of cartilage that sits between bones of the spine (vertebrae) and allows them to move more easily. Discs also act as shock absorbers and have ligaments to hold the vertebrae together. See also vertebra, spinal cord.
 Search  [in-TEST-ins]
The part of the digestive tract from the end of the stomach to the anus. This section digests food and absorbs nutrients, then releases the nutrients and water into the bloodstream. It includes the small intestine (small bowel) and the large intestine (large bowel), which includes the colon and rectum. See also anus, colon, digestive system, gastrointestinal tract, rectum, small intestine.
 Search  [IN-truh-DUCK-tul PAP-uh-LO-muhs]
Small, finger-like, non-cancerous growths in the breast ducts that may cause a clear or bloody nipple discharge. A woman who has had several papillomas has a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. See also duct.
See carcinoma in situ.
 Search  [IM]
Injected into a muscle.
A test done with sound waves after surgery has started and the belly (abdomen) is opened up. For example, the probe can be placed on the surface of the liver to see if cancer has spread inside it. See also ultrasound.
 Search  [in-truh-THEE-kuhl]
Used to describe the fluid-filled space between the thin layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. Drugs can be injected into the fluid in this space, or a sample of the fluid can be removed for testing. See also brain, meninges, spinal cord.
 Search  [IN-truh-VEEN-us]
Often shortened to IV. A method of giving fluids and medicines using a needle or a thin tube (called a catheter) that’s put into a vein.
 Search  [IN-truh-VEEN-us PI-el-uh-GRAM]
Often shortened to IVP. A special kind of x-ray in which a liquid contrast dye is first put into the bloodstream. The dye travels to the kidneys, ureters, and bladder and helps outline these organs clearly on the x-rays. See also bladder, kidney, ureters.
Cancer that has spread beyond the layer of cells where it first began and has grown into nearby tissues. Compare to carcinoma in situ. See also malignant, metastasis.
Also called infiltrating ductal carcinoma. A cancer that starts in the milk passages (ducts) of the breast and then breaks through the duct wall, where it grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. At this point, it can spread elsewhere. It’s the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 80% of all invasive breast cancers.
Also called infiltrating lobular carcinoma. A cancer that starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules) of the breast and then breaks through the lobule walls and grows into the nearby fatty tissue. From there, it may spread elsewhere. About 1 in 10 invasive breast cancers are invasive lobular carcinomas. This type of cancer can be hard to detect by mammogram. See also mammogram.
Under study. Often used to describe drugs or treatments used in clinical trials that are not yet available to the general public. It can also refer to drugs that have been approved for one illness that are being used for another. See also clinical trials, off label.
High-energy particles or rays which can cause electrons to split off atoms. Certain types of ionizing radiation (such as x-rays) are used in medical tests to make pictures of the inside of the body. Larger doses of carefully controlled radiation are used in cancer treatment to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Exposure to ionizing radiation can also cause cancer. See also radiation, radiation dose, radiation therapy, x-ray.
See intravenous pyelogram.