Cancer terms to know


A cancer diagnosis is often shocking. Once the shock begins to wane and patients and their families start examining their treatment options, it’s easy to grow confused by the terminology physicians and their staffs use. The following are some common cancer terms, courtesy of the American Cancer Society and, to help lessen confusion and ensure cancer patients and their families are as informed as possible.

• Ablation: Ablation, or ablative therapy, is treatment that removes or destroys all or part of a cancer. Ablation may also refer to removing or stopping the function of an organ, such as when ovaries are removed to prevent them from making hormones.

• Adhesions: Scar tissues that form after surgery or injury. If this scar tissue tightens, it can bind together organs that would normally be separate.

• Alopecia: Hair loss that, in instances where cancer is present and being treated, can result from chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments.

• Bilateral: When cancer is bilateral, it is present on both sides of the body. This term may be used to describe the presence of breast cancer in both breasts.

• Biopsy: The removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer is present.

• Bone marrow: Soft tissue found in the center of large bones where blood cells are formed.

• Cancer cell: A cancer cell is one that divides and reproduces abnormally and is capable of spreading throughout the body.

• Carcinogen: Any substance that causes cancer or helps it to grow. Tobacco smoke is loaded with carcinogens.

• Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the lining layer of organs. The ACS notes that 80% of all cancers are carcinomas.

Chemotherapy: A form of cancer treatment that employs drugs to kill cancer cells.

• Five-year survival rate: The percentage of people with a particular cancer who are alive five years or longer after diagnosis. Five-year survival rates generally improve the earlier the cancer is detected.

• Hemoglobin: The part of a red blood cell that carries oxygen and is often measured in complete blood count. That count can get very low in people who have cancer.

• In situ: In situ refers to cancer that has not spread from its point of origin to nearby tissue.

• Invasive cancer: Contrary to cancer described as in situ, cancer described as invasive has spread outside the layer of tissue in which it started and can potentially spread to other parts of the body.

• K-ras: A gene that can mutate into a cancer accelerator and allow colorectal cancer to grow.

• Lobules: The milk-producing glands in a woman’s breasts.

• Metastasize: The spread of cancer cells to one or more sites elsewhere in the body, often via the lymph system or bloodstream.

• Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating patients with cancer. There are various types of oncologists, including surgical oncologists and pediatric oncologists.

• Precancerous: Cells described as precancerous have the potential to become cancerous.

• Sarcoma: Cancer that develops in the tissues that support and connect the body, including fat and muscle.

• Stage: A way to describe cancer that may refer to its location, where it has spread and whether or not it is affecting the function of other organs in the body.


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