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Cancer terms

Use the list below of common words related to cancer to better understand your cancer diagnosis and treatment

a

Abnormal

Not normal. Describes a state, condition, or behavior that is unusual or different from what is considered normal.

b

Benign

Not cancerous. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body. Also called nonmalignant.

Biomarker

A biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. A biomarker may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition.

Biopsy

The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist.

Brachytherapy

A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or near a tumor.

c

Cancer

A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems.

Cell

In biology, the smallest unit that can live on its own and that makes up all living organisms and the tissues of the body.

Chemotherapy

Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.

Clinical trial

A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease. Also called clinical study.

CT scan

A procedure that uses a computer linked to an x-ray machine to make a series of pictures of the areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create 3-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs.

d

Diagnosis

The process of identifying a disease, condition, or injury from its signs and symptoms.

e

Efficacy

Effectiveness. In medicine, the ability of an intervention (for example, a drug or surgery) to produce the desired beneficial effect.

g

Gene

The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.

i

Imaging

In medicine, a process that makes pictures of areas inside the body. Imaging uses methods such as x-rays (high-energy radiation), ultrasound (high-energy sound waves), and radio waves.

Immune system

A complex network of cells, tissues, organs, and the substances they make that helps the body fight infections and other diseases.

Immunotherapy

A type of therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection, and other diseases.

Injection

Use of a syringe and needle to push fluids or drugs into the body; often called a “shot.”

Intravenous (IV)

Into or within a vein. Intravenous usually refers to a way of giving a drug or other substance through a needle or tube inserted into a vein. Also called IV.

l

Laparoscopic surgery

Surgery done with the aid of a laparoscope. A laparoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.

Lymph node

A small bean-shaped structure that is part of the body’s immune system. Lymph nodes filter substances that travel through the lymphatic fluid, and they contain lymphocytes (white blood cells) that help the body fight infection and disease.

m

Malignant

Cancerous. Malignant cells can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Mass

In medicine, a lump in the body. It may be caused by the abnormal growth of cells, a cyst, hormonal changes, or an immune reaction. A mass may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

MRI

A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue.

p

Palliative care

Care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat as early as possible the symptoms of a disease, side effects caused by treatment of a disease, and psychological, social, and spiritual problems related to a disease or its treatment.

Protein

A molecule made up of amino acids. Proteins are needed for the body to function properly.

r

Radiation therapy

The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.

s

Side effect

A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some common side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, hair loss, and mouth sores.

Stage

The extent of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer, and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body.

Stem cell transplant

A procedure in which a patient receives healthy stem cells (blood-forming cells) to replace their own stem cells that have been destroyed by treatment with radiation or high doses of chemotherapy.

Surgery

A procedure to remove or repair a part of the body or to find out whether disease is present. An operation.

Symptom

A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests.

t

Targeted therapy

A type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells with less harm to normal cells.

Tumor

An abnormal mass of tissue that forms when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumors may be benign (not cancer), or malignant (cancer).

u

Ultrasound

A procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to look at tissues and organs inside the body.

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