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Cancer Glossary

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

P
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Protein that normally causes damaged cells to die, which is very important to the body’s defenses against cancer. This protein is made by the TP53 tumor suppressor gene. See also gene, protein, TP53, tumor suppressor genes.
 Search  [PAA-jet]
A rare form of breast cancer that starts in the milk passages (ducts) and spreads to the skin of the nipple and areola. This affected skin may look crusted, scaly, and red, with areas of bleeding or oozing. Also known as Paget’s disease. See also areola, duct, nipple.
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A doctor, nurse, or pharmacist who is an expert in pain control.
 Search  [PAL-ee-ate]
To relieve symptoms, such as pain, nausea, or fullness. See also palliative treatment.
 Search  [PAL-ee-uh-tiv]
Treatment that relieves symptoms, such as pain or nausea, but is not expected to cure disease. Curative treatment can be used at the same time as palliative treatment, but the main purpose of palliative care is to improve the patient’s quality of life, whether or not the patient is getting other treatment.
 Search  [pal-PAY-shun]
Using the hands to examine. A palpable mass is one that can be felt.
 Search  [PAN-ko-LITE-us]
Ulcerative colitis throughout the entire colon. See also colitis, colon, ulcerative colitis.
 Search  [PAN-kree-us]
An organ that lies behind the stomach and contains 2 different types of gland cells. One type makes enzymes that are released into the intestines to help digest food. The other type makes hormones including insulin and glucagon, which help control blood sugar. See also enzyme, endocrine glands, glandular cells, intestines.
 Search  [PAN-cree-uh-TEK-tuh-me]
Surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas. See also pancreas.
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See prostatic acid phosphatase. (Not the same as Pap test, the cervical cancer screening test for women. For that, see Pap test.)
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Also called a Pap smear. A test in which cells are scraped from a woman’s cervix and looked at under a microscope to see if abnormal cells are present. Human papilloma virus (HPV) testing is often done at the same time, and a pelvic examination is usually done as well, but these are not part of the Pap test. See also cervix, human papillomavirus, pelvic examination.
 Search  [PAP-uh-LAIR-ee]
Refers to the arrangement of cells in tiny, finger-like projections when looked at under a microscope. This is a common feature of some cancers of the ovaries, uterus, thyroid gland, and other organs. See also histology, ovary, thyroid, uterus.
 Search  [PAP-uh-LO-muh]
A growth that’s not cancer (benign) and extends out from a surface, such as a wart.
 Search  [PAIR-uh-fah-LICK-yuh-ler]
Near a follicle. In cancer, the term can be used to describe the C cells in the thyroid (parafollicular cells). See also follicle, follicular.
 Search  [puh-RAL-ih-sis]
The loss of movement, feeling, and sometimes other function in part or all of the body.
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See mastectomy.
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In prostate cancer, a tool that uses the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), Gleason score, and stage that are obtained before surgery to predict the odds that the cancer has spread outside the prostate. See also Gleason score, prostate, prostate-specific antigen, staging.
 Search  [puh-TEL-uh]
The kneecap; the small, flat, movable bone that forms the front of the knee and protects the knee joint.
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See staging.
 Search  [path-AHL-uh-jist]
A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and classifying diseases in the lab by testing and looking at cells under a microscope. The pathologist determines whether a tumor is cancer, and if cancer, the exact cell type and grade. See also cancer, grade.
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Muscles attached to the front of the chest wall and upper arms. The larger one is called pectoralis major, and the smaller one is called pectoralis minor. Because these muscles are next to the breast, breast cancer may spread to them, but this rarely happens.
 Search  [pee-dee-AT-trick on-KAHL-uh-jist]
A doctor who specializes in cancers of children. See also cancer care team.
 Search  [PEE-dee-uh-TRISH-un]
A doctor who specializes in the care of children.
 Search  [PELL-vick ex-AM-in-A-shun]
An exam of a woman’s uterus and other pelvic organs. It’s used to look for abnormalities such as cancer in the reproductive organs. The doctor looks at external structures and feels (palpates) the internal organs such as the ovaries and uterus. See also cervix, ovary, pelvis, uterus.
 Search  [EX-en-ter-A-shun]
An extensive surgery that removes many of the organs in the pelvis. See also pelvis.
 Search  [PELL-vick limf node diss-ECK-shun]
Removal of lymph nodes in the pelvis. See also lymph node, pelvic nodes, pelvis.
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Also called pelvic lymph nodes; the lymph nodes to which some cancers, including prostate cancer, are most likely to spread. These nodes are often removed and checked for cancer as part of surgery to remove prostate and other cancers in the pelvis. See also lymph node, pelvic lymph node dissection, pelvis, prostate.
 Search  [PELL-vis]
The part of the skeleton that forms a ring or basin of bones below the belly (abdomen). Pelvis may also refer to the general area of the body between the hip bones, below the abdomen. The pelvis contains the bladder, most reproductive organs, and the rectum. See also bladder, rectum.
 Search  [PEE-nile IM-plant]
Artificial device placed in the penis during surgery to help a man have erections. See also erectile dysfunction.
 Search  [PEE-nis]
The male sex organ.
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Often shortened to fPSA. Also known as free-PSA ratio. A test that shows how much PSA circulates on its own (unattached to blood proteins) in the blood. The fPSA is the ratio of how much PSA circulates free compared to the total PSA level. The percentage of fPSA is lower in men who have prostate cancer than in men who do not. A low fPSA may suggest the need for a biopsy. See also biopsy, prostate, prostate-specific antigen.
 Search  [PER-fuh-RAY-shun]
A hole in the wall of a hollow organ, like the bladder or intestine, which normally doesn’t have a hole. See also bladder, intestines.
 Search  [pair-uh-CAR-dee-uhl eh-FEW-zhun]
An abnormal collection of fluid inside the sac that covers the heart (pericardium).
 Search  [PAIR-uh-NEE-ul PROS-tuh-TECK-tuh-me]
An operation in which the prostate is removed through a cut (incision) in the skin between the scrotum and anus. See also anus, perineum, prostate, scrotum.
 Search  [PAIR-uh-NEE-um]
Also called the perineal (PAIR-uh-NEE-uhl) area. The area between the anus and the scrotum or the vagina. See also anus, scrotum, vagina.
 Search  [PAIR-ee-NOO-rul]
Spread of cancer cells into areas around nerves. This is sometimes reported by pathologists looking at the prostate after it has been surgically removed, but it’s not thought to affect a man’s survival outlook (prognosis). See also pathologist, prostate.
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See hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
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All the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. These nerves are a network for gathering and sending information to and from the central nervous system. See also central nervous system, nerve, nervous system, spinal cord.
 Search  [per-IF-er-uhl zon]
The outer part; near the outer edges. In the prostate, for instance, it’s this area where most prostate cancers occur. See also prostate.
 Search  [PAIR-ih-tuh-NEE-um]
A thin membrane that lines the belly (abdomen) and covers most of its organs. The peritoneal cavity is the area enclosed by the peritoneum.
 Search  [BRAKE-ee-THER-uh-pee]
A form of low-dose rate brachytherapy in which pellets or seeds of radioactive material are put in thin needles, and placed in the area with cancer. The needles are removed and the pellets or seeds are left in place. They stop giving off low-dose radiation after a certain time (may be weeks or months). See also brachytherapy, low dose rate brachytherapy, radioactive implant.
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A thin slice of biopsy tissue that’s been prepared to be looked at under a microscope. The tissue is soaked in formaldehyde, processed in various chemicals, enclosed in a block of wax, sliced very thin, attached to microscope slides, and stained. This process usually takes 1 to 2 days. It allows a clear view of the cells in the sample so that the pathologist can see whether cancer is present. Compare with frozen section. See also biopsy, pathologist.
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See positron emission tomography.
 Search  [FAIR-ingks]
The throat; the tube that connects the mouth and nasal passages with the swallowing tube (esophagus) and windpipe (trachea). It extends from above the soft palate, behind the mouth, down to the epiglottis. See also epiglottis.
 Search  [fuh-REE-sis]
See apheresis.
 Search  [FOS-foe-die-ES-ter-ACE in-HIB-it-urs]
Also called PDE5 inhibitors. Drugs, such as sildenafil (Viagra®), vardenafil (Levitra®), and tadalafil (Cialis®), that can help men get an erection. See also impotence.
 Search  [FOE-toe-ko-ag-yu-LAY-shun or FOE-toe-uh-blay-shun]
Use of a laser beam to heat up and kill cancer cells. Most often used to relieve blockages caused by tumors rather than to cure cancers. See also ablation.
 Search  [FOE-toe-die-NAM-ick]
Also called PDT. A treatment sometimes used for cancers of the skin, swallowing tube (esophagus), or lung. A chemical is applied to the skin or injected into a vein and allowed to collect in the tumor for hours or days. A special type of laser light is then focused on the cancer. This light changes the chemical so that it can kill cancer cells with very little harm to normal cells.
 Search  [FOE-ton]
Standard type of radiation used for external beam radiation treatments. See also external beam radiation therapy.
 Search  [FILL-odes or full-OH-deez]
Also spelled phylloides (full-OY-deez). A rare breast tumor that’s usually not cancer. It grows quickly and can become quite large. These tumors are usually removed along with a margin of normal tissue. Formerly called cystosarcoma phyllodes. See also surgical margin.
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A health professional who uses exercises and other methods to restore or maintain the body’s strength, mobility, and function.
 Search  [FIZ-ee-o-LA-jick]
Pertaining to the processes of the body or its systems. May also be used to describe a particular body function or organ as normal.
 Search  [FIE-toe-KEM-ih-kul]
Substance made by plants that may produce health benefits when eaten or ingested; for example, antioxidants. See also antioxidants.
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See prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia.
 Search  [pit-TOO-it-air-ee]
Small gland below the brain which releases hormones that help control many of the other endocrine glands in the body. Also called the “master gland.” See also endocrine glands.
 Search  [pluh-SEE-bo]
An inert, inactive substance or sham/fake procedure that may be used in studies (clinical trials) to compare the effects of a given treatment with no treatment. The pill form is commonly called a “sugar pill.” Placebo can mean a treatment, injection, or even something that looks like real surgery that’s used when studying a treatment that’s not given by mouth. Placeboes are not used in studies where a proven treatment is available; instead, the new treatment is tested against the proven one. See also clinical trials.
 Search  [REE-kon-STRUCK-tiv]
A surgeon specializing in changing the way a body part looks or in rebuilding or replacing removed or injured body parts.
 Search  [PLATE-lets]
Parts of blood cells that help stop bleeding by plugging up holes in blood vessels after an injury.
 Search  [PLUR-uh]
The membranes around the lungs and lining the chest cavity.
 Search  [PLUR-uhl eh-FEW-zhun]
An abnormal build-up of fluid between the thin layers of tissue that line the lungs and the chest cavity. See also pleura, pleurodesis.
 Search  [plu-RAH-dis-sis or PLUR-o-DEE-sis]
Injection of a chemical between the layers of the chest lining (pleura) that causes them to fuse to seal off leaks. This procedure helps prevent fluid or air from building up in the pleural (PLUR-ahl) cavity, the area in the chest outside the lungs. See also pleura, pleural effusion.
 Search  [PLOY-dee]
Number of sets of chromosomes in a cell. Ploidy can sometimes help predict how quickly a cancer is likely to spread. See also aneuploid, chromosome, deoxyribonucleic acid, diploid.
 Search  [NEW-muh-NECK-tuh-me]
Surgery to remove a lung. Compare to lobectomy.
 Search  [new-MOAN-yuh]
Severe inflammation of part or all of the lungs in which the tiny air sacs are filled with fluid. It’s often caused by infection, but can also be caused by allergies, inhaling irritants, or radiation therapy. See also radiation therapy.
 Search  [PAH-lee-sy-THEME-e-uh VAIR-uh]
Often shortened to PV or PCV. A blood disease in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, although it can also make too many white blood cells and platelets. Blood clots can become a problem because of high platelet counts and “thickened” blood. Often, the spleen is enlarged. For some people, the bone marrow is displaced by fibrous tissue (myelofibrosis). See also bone marrow, platelet, red blood cells, spleen, white blood cells.
 Search  [PAH-lip]
A growth from a mucous membrane on the inner lining of an organ such as the colon, rectum, uterus, or nose. Polyps may be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). See also adenomatous polyp, colon, hyperplastic polyp, inflammatory polyp, mucous membrane, rectum, uterus.
 Search  [PAH-lup-ECK-tuh-me]
Surgery or procedure to remove a polyp. See also polyp.
 Search  [por-TAHG-ruh-fee]
An imaging test of the liver that uses computed tomography (CT) and a dye injected into the portal vein of the liver. It takes cross-sectional x-rays of the veins in the liver to look for cancer that may have spread there from the colon or rectum. See also colon, computed tomography, imaging tests, liver, rectum, x-ray.
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See surgical margin.
 Search  [PAHS-uh-trahn ee-MISH-uhn tom-AHG-ruh-fee]
Often shortened to PET scan. An imaging test in which a small amount of a radioactive substance (often glucose [sugar]) is injected into a vein, and a scanner is used to make computerized pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is taken up. Because cancer cells often take up more glucose than normal cells, the pictures can be used to find cancer cells in the body. PET scans can help find tumors or see how well a known tumor is responding to treatment. The pictures are not very detailed, but they show the whole body at once. See also imaging tests, nuclear medicine scan, radioisotope.
 Search  [post-EER-ee-uhr]
The back or near the back of an organ or the body.
 Search  [POLE-tiss]
Soft paste or thick liquid that’s usually heated, applied to a cloth, and placed over an inflamed or painful area. Herbs, leaves, or foods are commonly used for this in folk medicine and home remedies.
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Also called pre-malignant. Refers to a condition that might, but does not always, become cancer.
 Search  [PRE-dis-puh-ZISH-un]
Tendency for or susceptibility to a disease. For example, some women with close family members who had breast cancer have a predisposition for it themselves. This means they are more likely (but not necessarily destined) to develop breast cancer. Women who inherit a variant of one of the breast cancer genes such as BRCA1 or BRCA2 are also more likely to (but still might not) develop breast cancer. See also BRCA1, BRCA2, hereditary cancer syndrome.
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See pre-cancerous.
 Search  [PREH-vul-uns]
A measure of the proportion of people in a population with a particular disease at a given time. Compare to incidence.
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In cancer, the reduction of cancer risk by eliminating or reducing contact with things known to cause cancer. This may be done by changing conditions that contribute to cancer (such as obesity or lack of exercise) or by using medicines that interfere with cancer development. Sometimes lifestyle changes are a key part of prevention. For instance, quitting tobacco greatly reduces a person’s chance of getting lung and other cancers.
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The doctor a person would normally see first when a medical problem comes up. A primary care doctor could be a general practitioner, a family practice doctor, a gynecologist, a pediatrician, or an internal medicine doctor (an internist). See also cancer care team.
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Usually a general practitioner (such as a family practitioner or internist) or other health care professional with a broad range of training who often sees the patient first before referring to medical specialists. Some health insurance plans require the patient to see their primary care provider before seeing other specialists. See also primary care physician.
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The main person who cares for the patient. In the home, this is usually an unpaid family member, partner, or close friend.
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The place where cancer starts. Cancer is usually named (and treated) based on the organ in which it first starts. For example, cancer that starts in the breast is always breast cancer, even if it spreads (metastasizes) to other organs such as bones or lungs. See also metastasize, metastasis.
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Also called primary therapy. The first, and usually the most important, treatment.
 Search  [pro-JES-ter-own]
A sex hormone released from the ovaries during every menstrual cycle to prepare the womb (uterus) for pregnancy and the breasts for milk production (lactation). See also hormone, ovary.
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A lab test done on a sample (biopsy) of breast cancer cells that shows whether the cancer depends on progesterone for growth. Progesterone and estrogen receptor tests provide information to help decide whether the patient would be helped by medicines that block these hormones. See also biopsy, estrogen, estrogen receptor assay, progesterone.
 Search  [prog-NO-sis]
A prediction of the course of disease; the estimated outlook for survival.
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The spread or growth of a disease, with or without treatment.
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A hormone released from the pituitary gland that prompts the breasts to produce milk. See also hormone, pituitary.
 Search  [pro-LIH-fer-uh-tiv]
Refers to the rapid or excessive growth or multiplication of cells.
 Search  [PRO-fuh-LACK-tik]
See mastectomy.
 Search  [PROS-tuh-GLAN-din]
A substance found naturally in the body that causes blood vessels to enlarge (dilate). A man-made version can be used to produce erections if it’s injected into the base of the penis or put into the urethra as a suppository or pellet. See also urethra.
 Search  [PROS-tuh-sent]
An imaging test that uses low-level radioactive material to find prostate cancer that has spread beyond the prostate. Radioactive isotopes attached to antibodies made in a lab that stick to prostate cells are injected into the vein, and after several days the scan is done. The scan can sometimes help distinguish prostate cancer from other cancers and non-cancer disorders. It’s more often used to look for cancer in the body if the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level is still high after treatment. See also antibody, prostate, prostate-specific antigen, radioisotope.
 Search  [PROS-tate; note that there is no “r” in the second syllable]
A gland found only in men. It’s just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The prostate makes a fluid that’s part of semen. The tube that carries urine (the urethra) runs through the prostate. See also bladder, prostatic urethra, rectum, semen, urine.
 Search  [PROS-tate; note that there is no “r” in the second syllable]
Cancer that forms in tissues of the prostate (a gland in the male reproductive system found below the bladder and in front of the rectum). Almost all prostate cancers develop from the gland cells that make the prostate fluid that’s part of semen. Prostate cancer usually occurs in older men. See also glandular cells,prostate, semen.
 Search  [PROS-tuh-TECK-tuh-me]
Surgical removal of all or part of the prostate gland. See also prostate.
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Often shortened to PSA. A protein made by the prostate gland. Levels of PSA in the blood often go up in men with prostate cancer as well as other conditions. The PSA test is sometimes used to help screen for prostate cancer, and PSA levels are part of what determine the stage of a prostate cancer. The test can also be used to check the results of treatment, to look for cancer that has come back, and to help monitor advanced prostate cancer. See also prostate.
 Search  [pros-TAT-ick A-sid FOS-fuh-tace]
Often shortened to PAP. A substance made by the prostate gland which can be found on a blood test. The PAP test is not useful for prostate cancer screening because it can be elevated due to many factors, but the test is sometimes used in men who are known to have prostate cancer. (This not the same as the Pap screening test for cervical cancer; for that, see Pap test.) See also prostate, prostate-specific antigen, screening.
 Search  [pros-TAT-ick IN-trah-EP-ith-EE-lee-uhl hi-per-PLAY-zhuh]
Often shortened to PIN. A condition in which there are changes in how the prostate gland cells look under the microscope. The changes are classified as low-grade, meaning that the cells look almost normal, or high-grade, meaning that they look more abnormal. The condition is not cancer, but high-grade PIN might lead to the development of cancer in some men. See also grade, prostate.
 Search  [pros-TAT-ick yoo-REE-thruh]
The part of the urethra that runs through the prostate. See also prostate, urethra.
 Search  [pros-tuh-TIE-tus]
Inflammation of the prostate. Prostatitis is not cancer, but it can cause the prostate to swell and cause trouble passing urine. See also prostate, urine.
 Search  [pros-THEE-sis]
An artificial replacement part of the body, such as a breast prosthesis. A prosthesis might be implanted inside the body during surgery or worn outside the body.
 Search  [PRO-teen]
A large molecule made up of a chain of smaller units called amino acids. Proteins serve many vital functions inside and outside of the body’s cells.
 Search  [PRO-tuh-call]
A formal outline or plan, such as a description of what treatments a patient will get and exactly when each should be given. See also regimen.
 Search  [PRO-tahn]
A radioactive particle used in some forms of radiation therapy. See also conformal proton beam radiation therapy, radiation therapy.
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See conformal proton beam therapy.
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A group of genes that, once they are changed (mutated), can cause cells to become cancer. The mutated version of a proto-oncogene is called an oncogene. See also gene, mutation, oncogenes.
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See prostate-specific antigen.
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Often shortened to PSAD. The ratio of the blood PSA level to the size of the prostate gland. PSA levels are higher in men with larger prostate glands, and PSAD is used to help correct for this. The doctor measures the size of the prostate using transrectal ultrasound, and divides the PSA number by the prostate volume. A higher PSAD indicates a greater likelihood of cancer. See also prostate, prostate-specific antigen, transrectal ultrasound.
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Often shortened to PSADT. The length of time it takes for the PSA level in the blood to double. This is sometimes useful in determining if prostate cancer has come back (recurred) or is growing. See also prostate, prostate-specific antigen.
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Often shortened to PSAV. A measurement of how quickly the PSA level rises over a period of time. See also prostate, prostate-specific antigen.
 Search  [sy-KY-uh-trist]
A medical doctor specializing in mental health and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists can prescribe medicines and offer other types of mental health therapy.
 Search  [sy-KOLL-uh-jist]
A health professional who assesses a person’s mental and emotional status and provides counseling.
 Search  [SY-ko-SO-shul]
Related to the psychological and/or social aspects of health, disease, treatment, and/or rehabilitation.
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A gene that normally helps control cell growth. Inherited changes (mutations)in this gene cause Cowden syndrome, a rare disorder in which people are at higher risk for both non-cancer and cancer breast tumors, as well as tumors in other parts of the body. See also gene, inherited disease, mutation.
 Search  [PEW-bick]
Also called pubis or pubic arch. Arch of bone at the center base of the pelvis, where the 2 sides join in the front. See also pelvis.
 Search  [PULL-muh-nair-ee]
Having to do with the lungs.
 Search  [PULL-muh-NAHL-uh-jist]
A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of lung conditions and diseases.