Patients & Carers
This is a selected glossary of some of the more common medical terms associated with medical oncology and cancer management, as well as treatment.*
Treatment, usually chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiotherapy, given following surgery. It is given to increase the likelihood of killing all cancerous cells.
Non-cancerous. Used to refer to tumours which grow slowly in one place and which (once treated, or removed by surgery), tend not to recur.
A procedure to remove a sample of tissue from an area of the body where cancer is suspected.
The spongy inner part of large bones where blood cells are made. Bone marrow aspiration is a procedure in which a fine needle is used to remove a small amount of bone marrow for examination.
A procedure to examine the inside of the lung.
The name given to a group of diseases that can occur in any organ of the body. All cancers involve abnormal or uncontrolled growth of the body's cells.
A substance that can cause or help to cause cancer.
The process by which normal cells are transformed into cancer cells.
A cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs. Carcinomas are the most common cancers.
Carcinoma of Unknown Primary***
A case in which cancer cells are found in the body, but the place where the cells first started growing (the origin or primary site) cannot be determined. Also called cancer of unknown primary origin and CUP.
The treatment of disease with chemicals, such as cytotoxic (cancer destroying) drugs.
CT (Computed tomography) Scan**
An imaging technique which uses a computer to assemble multiple x-ray images into a cross-section image of the head or body.
Cytotoxic Drugs or Cytotoxics
Anti-cancer drugs that kill cells, specifically cancer cells.
Identification of a disease.
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid)**
The genetic material present in our cells which carries vital information on cell growth, division and function.
A procedure which uses an endoscope, a small fibre-optic tube, to look inside the body.
The study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states and events in specified populations and the application of this study to control health problems. V.T. DeVita, T.S. Lawrence, and S. A. Rosenberg Editors, Cancer Principles & Practice, 8th Edition, Cancer Principles & Practice, Philadelphia, 2008, p.245.
Fine needle aspiration**
A procedure in which a fine needle is used to take a sample of cells from a suspicious lump under local anaesthetic.
A doctor who specialises in blood disorders.
The study of tissues. Histology reports help doctors to make a diagnosis.
Treatment of disease with hormones. Usually used in the treatment of cancers of the breast, prostate, thyroid and uterus (womb).
Chemical substances produced by the body, which circulate in the blood and help to control growth, reproduction and other functions.
The body's main defence system against infection, disease and foreign substances.
Cancer at an early stage, which has not spread to neighbouring tissues.
The loss of ability to control the muscles which control the passing of urine or faeces.
Refers to a cancer that cannot be removed by surgery, either because the cancer has spread to nearby organs or because removal might cause too much damage to normal tissue.
Given by injection into a muscle.
Given by injection or infusion into a vein.
An imaging technique involving the injection of a very weak radioactive substance, which collects in a particular organ for a short time. A special camera is then be used to look at the organ.
Using treatments such as radiotherapy and surgery which affect only a particular area of the body.
The surgical removal of a lump.
Swelling, usually in the arms or legs, which occurs because the lymph vessels are damaged or blocked, as a result of the cancer itself or cancer treatment.
Cancerous. Malignant tumours can invade and destroy surrounding tissue and have the capacity to spread.
A specialised x-ray which shows up the breast tissue and can detect breast cancer.
The surgical removal of all or part of a breast.
The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another, usually by way of the lymphatic system or bloodstream.
MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) Scan**
An imaging technique in which magnets are used to help a computer to make images of the body.
Treatment given as a first step to shrink a tumour before the main treatment, which is usually surgery, is given. Examples of neoadjuvant therapy include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy.
A health professional, who finds ways to help people live at home and be independent, despite their illness. Occupational therapists are also known as OTs.
A doctor who specialises in treating cancer. A clinical radiologist specialises in treating cancer with radiation, and a medical oncologist specialises in treating cancer with drugs.
Given by mouth.
Palliative care concentrates on improving your quality of life and that of your family. It focuses on controlling pain and other symptoms, and meeting a person's social, emotional and spiritual needs.
The branch of medicine concerned with the examination of diseased tissues.
The first malignant tumour to develop in a particular part of the body.
An assessment of the expected future course and outcome of a person's disease.
A specially made replacement for a part of the body which has been removed, such as a breast or a limb.
A healthcare professional who takes x-rays and scans (diagnostic radiographer) or gives radiotherapy (therapeutic radiographer).
A doctor who specialises in interpreting scans and x-rays.
The use of radiation in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
A doctor who specialises in the treatment of cancer with radiation.
The treatment of cancer using radiation (x-rays, gamma rays etc) to destroy cancer cells.
New tumours, or metastases, which are formed because cancer cells from the original tumour have broken off and moved to other parts of the body.
Assessment of a cancer to help plan treatment. The staging is based on four aspects: the size of the tumour; histological grade; whether there is any lymph node spread; whether there is any other spread or metastasis.
Given by injection beneath the skin
A means of administering pain-killing or chemotherapy drugs under the skin reducing the need for frequent injections.
Using treatments, such as chemotherapy, which affect the whole body.
Care of a person in the last days or weeks before they die. Terminal care puts the emphasis on making the person free of pain and as comfortable as possible.
Active and progressive disease which cannot be cured. Curative treatment is no longer appropriate, but palliative care is.
A word often used to mean treatment.
A lump or mass of cells which can be either benign or malignant. Also known as a neoplasm.
A substance in the body that usually indicates the presence of cancer.
An imaging technique which uses sound waves to create an image of internal organs.
*The medical terms and definitions provided here are not intended to replace medical information provided by licensed medical professionals. Please contact your doctor if you require medical assistance.
**Adapted from www.macmillan.org.uk/Get_Support/Cancer_types/Glossary.aspx
For additional medical terminology and dictionary resources go to:
a free US online medical dictionary provided by the National Cancer Institute.
a free US based online medical dictionary covering 26,000 medical terms.
a free European Union multilingual glossary of technical and popular medical terms in nine European languages.
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