Glossary Explains Breast Cancer Terms
The Topeka Capital-Journal
The following glossary of terms related to breast cancer comes from "What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer," a booklet published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health.
Adjuvant therapy -- Treatment given after the primary treatment to increase the chance of a cure. May include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy or biological therapy.
Aromatase inhibitor -- A drug that prevents the formation of estraidol, a female hormone, by interfering with an aromatase enzyme. Aromatase inhibitors are used as a type of hormone therapy for postmenopausal women who have hormone-dependent breast cancer.
Aspirate -- Fluid withdrawn from a lump (often a cyst) or a nipple.
Atypical hyperplasia -- A benign (noncancerous) condition in which cells look abnormal under a microscope and are increased in number.
Axillary lymph node dissection -- Surgery to remove lymph nodes found in the armpit region. Also called axillary dissection.
Benign -- Not cancerous. Benign tumors don't spread to tissues around them or to other parts of the body.
Bilateral prophylactic mastectomy -- Surgery to remove both breasts in order to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. Also called preventative mastectomy.
Biological therapy -- Treatment to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight infections and other diseases. Also used to lessen certain side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments. Also called immunotherapy, biotherapy or biological response modifier therapy.
Biopsy -- The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope or perform other tests on the cells or tissue. When only a sample of tissue is removed, the procedure is called an incisional biopsy. When an entire lump or suspicious area is removed, the procedure is called an excisional biopsy. When a sample of tissue or fluid is removed with a needle, the procedure is called a needle biopsy, core biopsy or fine-needle aspiration.
BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 -- Genes on chromosome 17 that normally help to suppress cell growth. A person who inherits an altered version of the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian or prostate cancer.
Breast -- Glandular organ on the chest. The breast is made up of connective tissue, fat and breast tissue that contains the glands that can make milk. Also called mammary gland.
Breast reconstruction -- Surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast after a mastectomy.
Breast self-exam -- An exam by a woman of her breasts to check for lumps or other changes.
Breast-conserving surgery -- An operation to remove the breast cancer but not the breast itself. Types of breast-conserving surgeries include lumpectomy or partial mastectomy (removal of the lump), quadrantectomy (removal of one-quarter of the breast); and segmental mastectomy (removal of the cancer and some breast tissue around the tumor and the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor).
Cancer -- A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control. Cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Carcinoma in situ -- Cancer that involves only cells in the tissue in which it began and hasn't spread to nearby tissues.
Cell -- The individual unit that makes up the tissues of the body. All living things are made up of one or more cells.
Chemotherapy -- Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.
Clinical breast exam -- An exam of the breast performed by a health care provider to check for lumps or other changes.
Clinical trial -- A type of research study that uses volunteers to test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease. Also called a clinical study.
Core biopsy -- The removal of a tissue sample with a needle for examination under a microscope.
Cyst -- A sac or capsule in the body. It may be filled with fluid or other material.
Diagnostic mammogram -- X-ray of the breasts used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom of breast cancer has been found.
DNA -- Deoxyribonucleic acid, or the molecules inside cells that carry genetic information and pass it from one generation to the next.
Ductal carcinoma in situ -- A noninvasive, precancerous condition in which abnormal cells are found in the lining of the breast duct. The abnormal cells haven't spread outside the duct to other tissues in the breast. In some cases, ductal carcinoma in situ may become invasive cancer and spread to other tissues, although it isn't known at this time how to predict which lesions will become invasive. Also called intraductal carcinoma.
Estradiol -- A form of the hormone estrogen.
Estrogen -- A hormone that promotes the development and maintenance of female sex characteristics.
Excisional biopsy -- A surgical procedure in which an entire lump or suspicious area is removed for diagnosis. The tissue is then examined under a microscope.
External radiation -- Radiation therapy that uses a machine to aim high-energy rays at the cancer. Also called external-beam radiation.
Fine-needle aspiration -- The removal of tissue or fluid with a needle for examination under a microscope. Also called needle biopsy.
Gene -- A 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.
Hormone -- A chemical made by glands in the body. Hormones circulate in the bloodstream and control the actions of certain cells or organs. Some hormones can also be made in a laboratory.
Hormone receptor test -- A test to measure the amount of certain proteins, called hormone receptors, in cancer tissue. Hormones can attach to these proteins. A high level of hormone receptors may mean that hormones help the cancer grow.
Hormone therapy -- Treatment that adds, blocks or removes hormones. To slow or stop the growth of breast cancer, synthetic hormones or other drugs may be given to block the body's natural hormones. Sometimes, surgery is needed to remove the gland that makes hormones. Also called hormonal therapy, hormone treatment or endocrine therapy.
Incisional biopsy -- A surgical procedure in which a portion of a lump or suspicious area is removed for diagnosis. The tissue is then examined under a microscope.
Inflammatory breast cancer -- A type of breast cancer in which the breast looks red and swollen and feels warm. The skin of the breast may also look pitted, like the skin of an orange. The redness and warmth occur because the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin.
Invasive cancer -- Cancer that has spread beyond the layer of tissue in which it developed and is growing into surrounding, healthy tissue. Also called infiltrating cancer.
Lobular carcinoma in situ -- A condition in which abnormal cells are found in the lobules of the breast. LCIS seldom becomes invasive cancer; however, having lobular carcinoma in situ in one breast increases the risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
Local therapy -- Treatment that affects cells in the tumor and the area close to it.
Locally advanced cancer -- Cancer that has spread only to nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
Lumpectomy -- Surgery to remove the tumor and a small amount of normal tissue around it.
Lymph node -- A rounded mass of lymphatic tissue that is surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue. Lymph nodes filter lymph, the fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and carries cells that fight infections and other diseases. The nodes also store lymphocytes (white blood cells). Also called lymph gland.
Lymphedema -- A condition in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling.
Magnetic resonance imaging -- 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 show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. Also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.
Malignant -- Cancerous. Malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Mammogram -- X-ray of the breast.
Mastectomy -- Surgery to remove the breast, or as much of the breast tissue as possible.
Medical oncologist -- A doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and biological therapy. Often the main health care provider for someone with cancer.
Metastasis -- The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumor formed by cells that have spread is called a metastatic tumor or metastasis. The metastatic tumor contains cells that are like those in the original (primary) tumor.
Microcalcification -- A tiny deposit of calcium in the breast that can't be felt but can be detected on a mammogram. A cluster of these very small specks of calcium may indicate that cancer is present.
Modified radical mastectomy -- Surgery for breast cancer in which the breast, more of all of the lymph nodes under the arm and the lining over the chest muscles are removed. Sometimes, the surgeon also removes part of the chest wall muscles.
Monoclonal antibody -- A laboratory-produced substance that can locate and bind to cancer cells wherever they are in the body. Many monoclonal antibodies are used in cancer detection or therapy. Each one recognizes a different protein on certain cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies can be used alone, or they can be used to deliver drugs, toxins or radioactive material directly to the tumor.
Mutation -- Any change in the DNA of a cell. Mutations may be caused by mistakes during cell division, or they may be caused by exposure to DNA-damaging agents in the environment. Mutations can be harmful, beneficial or have no effect. If they occur in cells that make eggs or sperm, they can be inherited. If mutations occur in other types of cells, they aren't inherited. Certain mutations may lead to cancer or other diseases.
Needle-localized biopsy -- A procedure that uses very thin needles or guide wires to mark the location of an abnormal area of tissue so it can be surgically removed. An imaging device is used to place the wire in or around the abnormal area. Needle localization is used when the doctor can't feel the mass of abnormal tissue.
Partial mastectomy -- The removal of cancer, as well as some of the breast tissue around the tumor and the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor. Usually some of the lymph nodes under the arm are also taken out. Also called segmental mastectomy.
Positron emission tomography -- PET scan. A procedure in which a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein and a scanner is used to make detailed, computerized pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is used. Because cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells, the pictures can be used to find cancer cells in the body.
Precancerous -- A term used to describe a condition that may or is likely to become cancer. Also called premalignant.
Progesterone -- A female hormone.
Progestin -- Any natural or laboratory-made substance that has some or all of the biologic effects of progesterone, a female hormone.
Radiation oncologist -- A doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.
Radiation therapy -- The use of high-energy radiation from X- rays, gamma rays, neutrons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation) or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, implant radiation or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that circulates throughout the body. Also called radiotherapy.
Recurrent cancer -- Cancer that has returned after a period of time during which the cancer couldn't be detected. The cancer may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumor or another place in the body. Also called recurrence.
Risk factor -- Something that may increase the chance of developing a disease.
Screening mammogram -- X-rays of the breasts taken to check for breast cancer in the absence of signs or symptoms.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy -- Removal and examination of the sentinel node(s), the first lymph node(s) to which cancer cells are likely to spread from a primary tumor. To identify the sentinel lymph node(s), the surgeon injects a radioactive substance, blue dye or both near the tumor. The surgeon then uses a scanner to find the sentinel lymph node(s) containing the radioactive substance or looks for the lymph node(s) stained with dye. The surgeon then removes the sentinel node(s) to check for the presence of cancer cells.
Stage -- The extent of a cancer within the body. If the cancer has spread, the stage describes how far it has spread from the original site to other parts of the body.
Stereotactic biopsy -- A biopsy procedure that uses a computer and a three-dimensional scanning device to find a tumor site and guide the removal of tissue for examination under a microscope.
Systemic therapy -- Treatment using substances that travel through the bloodstream, reaching and affecting cells all over the body.
Tamoxifen -- A drug used to treat breast cancer or prevent it in women who are at high-risk of developing breast cancer. It blocks the effects of the hormone estrogen in the breast and belongs to the family of drugs called antiestrogens.
Total mastectomy -- Removal of the breast. Also called simple mastectomy.
Tumor -- An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or don't die when they should. Tumors may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Also called neoplasm.
Tumor marker -- A substance sometimes found in the blood, other body fluids or tissues. A high level of tumor marker may mean that a certain type of cancer is in the body. Also called biomarker.
Ultrasound -- A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echo patterns are shown on the screen of an ultrasound machine, forming a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. Also called ultrasonography.
Ultrasound-guided biopsy -- A biopsy procedure that uses an ultrasound imaging device to find an abnormal area of tissue and guide its removal for examination under a microscope.