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Information for Patients

Patient and Family Education

Glossary of Cancer Terms

Below are some common cancer terms and their meanings. For a more comprehensive list, see the National Cancer Institute's Dictionary of Cancer Terms.

djuvant chemotherapy: chemotherapy treatment that enhances the effectiveness of the patient’s primary cancer treatment (surgery or radiation therapy)

antibody: a substance, probably produced by lymphocytes and other special cells, which helps defend the body against infections due to viruses, bacteria, and other foreign organisms

antigen: any substance capable of stimulating an immune response

benign: not cancerous

biopsy: the removal and examination of tissue, cells, or fluids from the body

bone marrow: spongy material that fills the inner spaces of the bones and production site of many blood elements such as red blood cells

bone marrow transplant: a procedure in which bone marrow from one person is transplanted into another person whose bone marrow is damaged or diseased

brachytherapy: a type of radiation therapy in which radioactive materials are placed in direct contact with the tissue being treated

cancer: uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells which expands by destroying normal cells and spreads throughout the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body

carcinoma: a malignant tumor originating in the epithelial cells (cells of the surface of tissues)

chemotherapy: the use of chemical agents in the treatment and control of cancer

clinical trial: research conducted with patients to evaluate new treatments

computed tomography (CT): radiography in which a three dimensional image of a body structure is constructed by a computer

5-year relative survival rate: includes persons who are living 5 years after diagnosis; used to monitor progress in early detection and treatment of cancer

hematology: the study and treatment of the blood and blood tissues

Hodgkin’s disease: disease that is characterized by progressive enlargement of the lymph nodes, spleen and liver. Most often occurring in males, its strikes individuals between the ages of 15-35.

immune system: the bodily system that protects the body from foreign substances, cells and tissues.

immunosuppression: suppression of natural immune responses caused by drugs, irradiation, and other cancer fighting agents

immunotherapy: treatment of a disease by stimulating the body’s natural immune responses

laparoscopy: surgical procedure that enables visual examination of the abdomen by means of a long, slender optical instrument.

leukemia: disease of the blood and blood forming organs characterized by an abnormal increase in the number of leukocytes (white blood cells)

lymph nodes: organs that supply lymphocytes (white blood cells) to the bloodstream and filter out bacteria and foreign substances.

lymphoma: malignant tumor of the lymphatic tissue

magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): technique used to view the internal structures of the body

malignant: cancerous

mammogram: photograph of the breasts made by X rays

melanoma: a tumor of high malignancy that starts in a black mole and metastasizes rapidly and widely

metastasis: spread of cancer from one part of the body to another

non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: cancer of the lymph tissues that is not Hodgkin’s disease

photodynamic therapy: cancer treatment that destroys cancer cells by using the interaction of laser light and a chemical that makes cells more sensitive to light.

radiation therapy: the treatment of disease by means of X rays or radioactive substances

remission: a state or period during which the symptoms of a disease decrease or disappear

resection: the surgical removal of part of an organ or structure

sarcoma: cancerous growth of the soft tissues stem cell: an unspecialized cell that gives rise to other cells

tumor: malignant or benign, abnormal growth of tissue

X-ray: low dose radiation used to develop images of the internal parts of the body

Source: Webster’s Medical Desk Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc, 1986.

This page was last updated on: October 27, 2009.