A Cancer Glossary

A cancer diagnosis is daunting enough, but you can remove a large part of the confusion by learning some basic terms that will help you understand feedback from doctors and other care providers. Whether you are a patient searching for more information or simply someone who wants to be better informed, these terms can help you be better prepared.

Adjuvant therapy: therapy used in addition to the primary cancer treatment; for instance, chemotherapy is often an adjuvant therapy to surgery, which is used to remove cancerous tissue

Benign: harmless, a growth or tumor that is non-cancerous

Biopsy: diagnostic procedure that involves taking a sample of tissue to be analyzed and examined for cancer cells

Brachytherapy: type of cancer treatment that uses radiation

Cancer: medical term used to describe cells that grow abnormally and uncontrollably and destroy healthy cells

Cancer in situ: cancer that is localized to one part of the body

Carcinogen: a substance that causes cancer

Carcinoma: a type of cancerous tumor found in the epithelial (outer or inner) layer of many tissues

Chemotherapy: type of cancer treatment that involves the use of cancer-fighting chemicals

Clinical trial: research study performed on patients to determine the safety and effectiveness of new treatments

CT scan: diagnostic imaging test to help spot a tumor

Immune system: the part of your body that defends against harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses

Immunotherapy: type of cancer treatment that boosts the immune system’s fighting defenses to help the body destroy cancer cells

Leukemia: group of cancers that affect the blood and bone marrow

Lymphatic system: a part of the immune system made up of lymph nodes, ducts, and a fluid called lymph which works to protect the body from disease

Lymphoma: group of cancers of the blood that begin with the lymphatic system, usually categorized as either non-Hodgkin or Hodgkin lymphoma

Malignant: adjective used to describe a growth or tumor that is cancerous

Mammogram: diagnostic test for breast cancer

Melanoma: type of skin cancer

MRI: magnetic resonance imaging, a diagnostic imaging test to help identify a tumor

Metastatic (or metastasized) cancer: cancer that has spread from its point of origin to other parts of the body

Myeloma: type of cancer that starts in certain white blood cells

Oncologist: doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer patients

Neoadjuvant therapy: preliminary treatment, such as chemotherapy, given to shrink a tumor before the definitive treatment, such as surgery or radiation therapy, is given

Palliative treatment: treatment intended to provide pain relief and improved quality of life, rather than a cure

Radiation therapy: common treatment for many types of cancer that uses radioactive material to destroy cancerous cells

Remission: a situation in which cancer has retreated or disappeared

Response rate: the percentage of cancer patients whose disease, following treatment, is reduced by more than 50 percent

Sarcoma: Stype of cancer that strikes connective tissues, such as bones, fat and muscles

Staging: identifying the stage or progression of the cancer. Stages are expressed as numbers, usually from 0 to 4, with variations depending on the types of cancer being described

Stem cell: parent cell that can reproduce and create other kinds of cells, including red and white blood cells and platelets; these may be taken from the bone marrow and used as treatment

Targeted therapy: cancer treatment aimed specifically at malignant cells while trying to spare normal cells

T cells: white blood cells that can be used as a measure to indicate how well your immune system is coping with the cancer treatment

Toxicity: the extent to which a cancer treatment causes damage to normal, healthy tissues

Tumor: an abnormal growth of cells that may be malignant or benign


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