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Glossary of Terms

At NHO, we strive to have clear communication with all of our patients. Please use the guide below to help you understand some of the terminologies that might be used during your time receiving treatment at our clinic. If you ever have questions, please don't hesitate to call or ask a member of your care team.

Abdomen: The middle part of the body between the chest and the hips. It contains many organs, including the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and others.

Ablation: Using surgery or radiation to remove or stop the function of an organ or tissue in the body.

Acute: When symptoms start suddenly and last for a relatively short period of time. Not long-standing or acute.  

Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that arises from glandular tissues. Examples include cancers of the breast, lung, thyroid, colon, and pancreas.

Adenopathy: Large or swollen lymph nodes

Adjuvant Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy used along with surgery or radiation therapy. It is usually used in cases where there is a high risk of hidden cancer cells remaining and may increase the likelihood of cure by destroying small amounts of undetectable cancer.

Adrenal glands: A pair of small glands on top of each kidney. These glands make the steroid hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones help control heart rate, blood pressure, and other important body activities.

Adverse effect: An unwanted side-effect of treatment.

Agranulocyte: A type of white blood cell or immune cell. Examples are lymphocytes and monocytes. 

Alopecia: Partial or complete loss of hair. This may result from radiation to the head or from certain chemotherapy drugs.

Alternative medicine: Alternative medicine includes the use of dietary supplements, special teas, vitamins, herbal preparations, and practices such as massage therapy, acupuncture, spiritual healing, and meditation. Alternative medicine includes treatment that may not be fully accepted by the main established medical community.

Anemia: Having less than the normal amount of red blood cells (hemoglobin) in the blood. This may be due to bleeding, lack of blood production by the bone marrow or the brief survival of blood already manufactured. Symptoms include tiredness, shortness of breath, and weakness.

Androgens: Hormones that help to develop sex organs in men. They also help to keep up sexual function in both women and men. In women, most of them are changed into estrogen by fat and muscle cells. After menopause, when the ovaries no longer make estrogen, this is the main source of estrogen made in the body.

Angiogenesis: The formation of new blood vessels that cancer cells need in order to grow.

Angiogenesis inhibitor: A substance that stops new blood vessels from forming. It tries to fight cancer by stopping the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumor. As a result, the tumor starves and shrinks. 

Anorexia: Lack or loss of appetite Antibody: A protein in the blood that fights against an invading foreign agent (antigen). Each antibody works against a particular antigen.

Antibiotics: Drugs used to treat infections caused by bacteria and other microorganisms.

Antibody: Special fighter protein made by your immune system. Antibodies help protect you from disease. The immune system makes a special protein for each kind of “intruder” that enters the body from the outside. These “intruders” are called antigens. The fighter proteins link up with the antigens like pieces of a puzzle. Once they are linked, the antigen is killed.

Anti-inflammatory: Something that reduces swelling, fever, and pain (these ae the signs of inflammation). Anti-inflammatory drugs include aspirin, Motrin/Advil, and Tylenol.

Antiemetics: Drugs given to prevent or minimize nausea and vomiting.

Antioxidant: A substance that stops the harm caused by free radicals. (These are unstable atoms or molecules that damage others as they pass by.) Examples are Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

Anus: The opening of the rectum to the outside of the body.

Apheresis: A procedure in which blood is collected, then part of the blood, such as the platelets or white blood cells, is removed, and the remaining blood is returned to the donor.

Apoptosis: A normal series of events inside a cell that leads to its death. Also called: programmed cell death.

Ascites: Abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen. The fluid collects in the space around and between the organs in the abdomen.

Asymptomatic: Without obvious signs or symptoms of the disease. Cancer may cause symptoms or warning signs but, especially in its early stages, cancer may develop and grow without producing symptoms.

Atypical: Not usual; abnormal.

Autoimmune disease: A condition in which your immune system attacks tissue in your own body. This happens if the immune system gets signals telling it that your body tissue is an outside invader.

Autologous: Taken from a person’s own tissues, cells, or DNA.

Axilla: The armpit. Lymph glands in the armpit are called axillary nodes. Certain cancer, such as breast cancer, spread to the axillary nodes. Axillary lymph nodes are usually removed by surgery to determine if breast cancer is present and if treatment with chemotherapy is necessary.

B cells: (AKA: B lymphocytes): White blood cells that produce antibodies. They are an important part of the immune system.

Bacteria: Single-cell organisms that cause infections and disease in animals and people.

Barium enema: A procedure in which a liquid that contains barium is inserted into the rectum and colon through the anus. Barium is a silver-white metallic compound that helps show the image of the lower gastrointestinal tract on x-ray.

Basal Cell Carcinoma: A form of skin cancer that grows very slowly and is curable in almost all cases by surgery or other local treatment.

Basophil: A type of white blood cell. White blood cells are part of the immune system. They help protect the body from infection and disease.

Benign: An abnormal, non-cancerous growth of tissue that does not spread to another part of the body, as a cancerous tumor can do. Though generally not life-threatening, benign tumors can cause a wide range of problems and side effects.

Bilateral: Pertaining to both sides of the body. For example, bilateral breast cancer would involve both breasts.

Biomarkers (also known as tumor markers): These substances are normally present in small amounts in the blood or other tissues. Cancer cells can sometimes make these substances. When the amount of these substances rises above normal, cancer might be present in the body. Examples of biomarkers include CA 125 (ovarian cancer), CA 15-3 and 27-29 (breast cancer), CEA (ovarian, lung, breast, pancreas, and gastrointestinal tract cancers), and PSA (prostate cancer).

Biopsy: The microscopic examination of tissue or cells removed from the body to determine if cancer cells are present. Among the most common are needle aspiration biopsy, core needle biopsy, excisional biopsy, incisional biopsy, bone marrow biopsy, and spinal tap.

Blood-brain barrier: The brain is surrounded by a special layer that protects it from infection. This layer is made up of a network of blood vessels with thick walls. It is hard for bacteria and viruses to get through the thick walls. It is also hard for some substances (like anti-cancer drugs) to get past the walls and into the brain.

Blood cells: The red cells, white cells, and platelets make up the complete blood count (CBC). They are made in the bone marrow.

Blood count: Examination of a blood specimen in which the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are determined.

Blood transfusion: When blood, or part of the blood, is injected into a person’s blood vessel. It may be done after you lose a lot of blood. It may also be done when you don’t have enough of a certain part of the blood, like platelets or red blood cells.

Blood vessels: Tubes that carry blood through the body. They include a network of arteries, arterioles, capillaries, venules, and veins.

Bolus (or push) chemotherapy: Administration of intravenous chemotherapy over a short time, usually ten minutes or less. The other method is called infusion chemotherapy, which may last from 15 minutes to several hours or days.

Bone marrow: The bones are hollow, and their central cavity is occupied by marrow, a spongy tissue that plays a major role in the development of blood cells. Some forms of cancer can be diagnosed by examining bone marrow.

Bone marrow biopsy and aspiration: Removing a small sample of bone marrow to examine under a microscope. This is done with a hollow needle, usually from the hip.

Bone marrow transplant (BMT): A supportive treatment in which a cancer patient’s bone marrow is replaced with healthy marrow. The main purpose of BMT in the treatment of most types of cancer is to enable the patient to be given very large and potentially more effective, doses of chemotherapy or radiation, doses that cause severe damage to the bone marrow. There are three types of transplants: autologous (the patient’s own marrow is used); allogenic (the marrow comes from a sibling, parent, or an unrelated donor whose marrow closely matches); and syngeneic (perfectly matched marrow that comes from an identical twin).

Bone scan: A picture of all the bones in the body taken about two hours after injection of a radioactive tracer. “Hot spots” indicate areas of bone abnormality that may indicate tumors. This test can help determine if cancer has spread to the bones, if therapy is working and if damaged bony areas are healing.

Brachytherapy: The use of a radioactive “seed” implanted directly into the tumor. This allows a very high but sharply localized dose of radiation to be given to a tumor while sparing surrounding tissues from significant radiation exposure.

BRCA1: A gene that maintains normal cell growth.  If the gene becomes abnormal, then cell growth can become abnormal. The cells can grow out of control, forming cancer. A woman who inherits an abnormal version of BRCA1 has a higher risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer.

BRCA2: A gene that normally helps to prevent cell growth especially the growth of abnormal or defective cells. A person who inherits an abnormal version of BRCA2 has a higher risk of getting breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer.

Breakthrough pain: Pain that shows up in between doses of regular pain control medicine. It can happen for no reason that we know of. It can come from activity, or it can happen because the dose of regular medicine is not strong enough.

Breast reconstruction: Surgery to rebuild the breast’s shape after a mastectomy.

Bronchitis: Swelling and reddening (inflammation) of the air tubes that go into the lungs. These tubes are called bronchi.

Bronchoscopy: A test that uses s thin tube with a light on the end. It is passed through the nose or mouth into the lungs. This allows doctors to look inside the air passages and the lungs. It may be used to find cancer or to perform a treatment.

Bronchus: An air tube that leads from the trachea (the main air tube or windpipe) into the lung.

Breast Self-Exam (BSE): A simple procedure to examine breasts thoroughly; recommended once a month for all women to do themselves between regular physician checkups.

Cachexia: Severe malnutrition, weakness, and muscle wasting resulting from a chronic disease.

Cancer: A general term for more than 100 diseases characterized by the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells in different parts of the body that can spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer vaccine: A vaccine designed to prevent or treat cancer. The vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system to fight a weak cancer agent that is present in both the vaccine and cancer.

Carcinogen: Any substance that causes cancer.

Cardiopulmonary: Having to do with the heart and lungs.

Cardiotoxicity: Side effects to the heart.

Carcinomas: A form of cancer that develops in the tissue covering or lining organs of the body such as the skin, uterus, lung, or breast. Eighty to 90 percent of all cancers are carcinomas.

Carcinoma in situ: The earliest stage of cancer, in which the tumor is still confined to the local area before it has grown to a significant size or has spread. In situ carcinomas are highly curable.

Catheter: A tube made of rubber, plastic, or metal that can be introduced into a body cavity to drain fluid or deliver fluids or medication. 

Cell: The unit that makes up all of the tissues of the body. All living things are made up of one or more cells.

Cell Differentiation: The process which involves young, immature cells reaching their mature form and function. In this process, they turn from unspecialized cells (without individual characteristics) into specialized cells (with characteristics that make them different from other cells). 

Cell proliferation: An increase in the number of cells as a result of cell growth and cell division.

Central nervous system (CNS): The part of your body’s system of nerves that includes the brain and spinal cord.  

Cervix: Any “neck-like” structure; usually refers to the neck of the uterus where cancer may occur.

Chemotherapy: The use of chemicals (drugs or medications) to kill malignant cells. Numerous drugs have been developed for this purpose and most act to injure the DNA of the cells. When the DNA is injured, the cells cannot grow or survive. Successful chemotherapy depends on the fact that malignant cells are somewhat more sensitive to the drugs than normal cells. Because the cells of the marrow, the intestinal tract, the skin, and hair follicles are most sensitive to these drugs, injury to these organs causes the common side effects of chemotherapy (mouth sores, hair loss).

Chromosome: A chain of genes. You have 46 chromosomes in each cell in your body, except your reproductive cells (eggs or sperm). The reproductive cells have only 23 chromosomes. When the egg and sperm combine, they produce a cell that has a full set of 46 chromosomes. This is how genes are passed on to children. 

Circulatory system: The system that contains the heart and the blood vessels and moves blood throughout the body. The circulatory system delivers oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. It also helps the tissues get rid of waste products. The lymph system, which connects with the blood system, is often considered part of the circulatory system.

Clinical trials: The procedure in which new cancer treatments are tested. The treatment is evaluated for its effectiveness in reducing or eliminating the disease. A clinical trial may be done by the National Cancer Institute, a drug company, or a hospital to determine the most effective dose of a drug, to compare different combinations of treatments, or to determine the effect of the drug on a tumor.

Colon: The part of the large intestine that extends from the end of the small intestine to the rectum. The function of the colon is to carry food from the small intestine to the rectum; its job is to remove water, some nutrients, and chemicals that the body needs from the digested food; the leftover solid waste (called stool) moves through the colon to the rectum and leaves the body through the anus.

Colonoscopy: A technique used to visually examine the entire colon by means of a lighted, flexible instrument, called a fiber optic colon scope.

Colony-stimulating factor (CSF): A substance that stimulates the production of blood cells. 

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): Practices not usually recognized by the medical community as standard or conventional medical approaches, used to enhance or complement standard medical treatments. Their purpose is to strengthen your whole mind and body to maximize health, energy, and well-being. They include dietary supplements, vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, massage therapy, acupuncture, spiritual healing, visualization, and meditation.

Colostomy: A surgical procedure that creates an artificial opening in the abdominal wall for the elimination of body wastes from the colon. It can be either temporary or permanent. Most colon cancers do not require colostomies if they are found early and treated promptly.

Computerized axial tomography scan (CAT or CT scan): A CT scan creates cross-section images of the body tissues and organs. A CT scan can be used to measure the size of a tumor before, during, and after treatment.

Congestive heart failure (CHF): A condition in which the heart cannot pump blood effectively. This leads to a buildup of fluid in body tissues.

Cycle of treatment: Designates an intensive, clustered period of chemotherapy and/or radiation. The treatment may be given for several days or weeks and represents one cycle of treatment. The treatment plan may call for two, three, or more cycles of treatment.

Cyst: An abnormal sac-like structure that contains liquid or semisolid material; may be benign or malignant. Lumps in the breast arc often found to be harmless cysts and not cancer.

Cytology: Study of cells under a microscope. Cells that have been sloughed off or scraped off organs, such as the uterus, lungs, bladder, or stomach, arc microscopically examined for signs of cancer.

Debulking: This is a procedure that involves the removal of a significant portion of the tumor when it is not possible to remove the entire tumor. This may make subsequent radiation or chemotherapy easier and more effective.

Digital Rectal Exam (DRE): A procedure in which the physician inserts a finger into the rectum to examine this area (as well as the prostate gland in men) for signs of cancer.

Diuretics: Drugs that increase the elimination of water and salts in the urine.

Dose limiting: A side effect, complications, or risk that makes it impossible or unwise to exceed a specific dose of a chemotherapeutic agent.

DNA: The molecules inside cells that carry genetic information. DNA directs the production of proteins that regulate cell activity and growth. DNA is passed from old cells to new cells.  

Drug resistance: The development of resistance in cancer cells to a specific drug or drugs. If resistance develops, a patient in remission from chemotherapy may relapse despite continued administration of anticancer drugs.

Duct: A tiny part of the body shaped like a tube or pipe. Body fluids pass through it, for example tear ducts, milk ducts, and bile ducts.

Dysphagia: Difficulty in swallowing; a sensation of food sticking in the throat.

Dyspnea: Difficulty or pain when breathing; shortness of breath.

Dysuria: Difficult or painful urination; burning on urination.

Edema: Swelling caused by too much fluid in body tissues.

Endometrium: The layer of tissue that lines the inside of the uterus.

Endoscopy: Any procedure that uses a hollow tube-like instrument to visualize and biopsy otherwise inaccessible areas of the body, such as the esophagus, stomach, colon, bladder, or lung.

Eosinophil: A type of white blood cell that participates in allergic reactions and helps fight certain parasitic infections.

Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR): The receptor protein found on the surface of some cells and to which the epidermal growth factor binds, causing the cells to divide. EGFR appears to be a cancer stimulant, found at abnormally high levels on the surface of many types of cancer cells and may be why these cells ivied excessively if the epidermal growth factor is also present.

Erythema: Red patches on the skin. Erythema of the skin may be a sign of underlying infection or inflammation. Chemotherapy injections may also cause erythema of the skin. This usually disappears within several hours. Persistent redness of the skin at a chemotherapy site should be brought to the attention of a nurse or doctor.

Erythrocytes: A synonym for red cells. (See Red Blood Cells.)

Esophagitis: Soreness and inflammation of the esophagus due to infection, toxicity from radiation or chemotherapy, or some physical injury.

Estrogen: A female hormone secreted by the ovaries, which is essential for menstruation, reproduction, and the development of secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts.

Estrogen-receptor (ER): A special type of protein found on some cancer cells. Estrogen attaches to it, and this can cause the cancer cells to grow. 

Extravasation: Leakage of intravenous fluids or drugs (such as chemotherapy drugs) from the vein being used for injection, into the surrounding tissues. Extravasation may damage the tissues.

Fertility: Being able to have children.

Fine needle aspiration: A test that uses a hollow needle to remove tissue or fluid. Then the material is looked at under a microscope to see if is normal or abnormal.

Frozen Section: This is a technique in which tissue is removed by biopsy, then frozen and cut into thin slices, stained, and examined under a microscope. A pathologist can rapidly examine a frozen section for an immediate diagnosis. This procedure is often done during surgery to help the physician decide the most appropriate course of action.

Gastric: Having to do with the stomach.

Gene: The basic unit of a cell that passes on traits from parents to their children through the egg and sperm. Genes are pieces of DNA. They have information for making specific proteins that control specific traits or activities. Examples of traits controlled by genes are eye color foot size, and height. Examples of activity include the growth and repair of cells.

Granulocytes: A type of white blood cell which has a large number of granules in the cell body. Neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils are types of granulocytes.

Hematuria: Blood in the urine.

Hepatomegaly: Enlargement of the liver.

Hereditary: Traits that are carried by gents from one generation to the next, parent to child.

Hodgkin’s disease: A form of cancer that affects the lymph system. Hodgkin’s disease generally occurs in adults and can now be successfully treated in the majority of patients.

Hormone therapy:  A cancer treatment that removes blocks or adds hormones.

Hormones: Chemicals made by glands in the body. They circulate in the blood and control the actions of certain cells or organs. For example, estrogen is made in the ovary, travels in the blood to the breast, and can stimulate the growth of breast cells.

Hospice: A program of caring for patients who are terminally ill. The focus of hospice care is not to cure the patient but to improve the quality of life for whatever time the patient has left and to make the dying process as comfortable and pain-free as possible. Support is also offered to the patient’s family members.

Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2): A gene that helps control how cells grow, divide, and repair themselves. It is important in the control of abnormal or defective cells that could become cancerous.

Hysterectomy: The surgical removal of the uterus. This may be combined with the removal of the ovaries (Oophorectomy).

Immune system: The complex group of organs and cells that defends the body against infection or disease.

Immunocompromised: Having an immune system that is weak because of treatment or disease.

Immunotherapy (Also known as biologic therapy, biological response modifier therapy): Treatment to help the body’s defense system (immune system) fight infection and disease. It is also used to help the immune system heal from the side effects of cancer treatment.

Incidence: How often something happens, for example, the number of new cases of a disease diagnosed each year.

Indwelling catheter: This is a device used for patients receiving chemotherapy and/or nutritional support. An indwelling catheter is a special tube inserted into a large vein in the upper chest. The catheter is tunneled under the skin of the chest to keep it firmly in place. The external end of the catheter can be used to administer medications, fluids, or blood products or to withdraw blood samples.

Intravenous Infusion: Administration of fluids and/or medications into a vein or artery over a period of time.

Infusion pumps: Small, preloaded mechanical devices used to continuously administer intravenous chemotherapy over a designated time.

Interferon: A natural body protein produced by normal cells that is capable of killing cancer cells or stopping their unrestrained growth. Interferon was originally discovered as an antiviral agent but has now been found to have some anti-cancer activity as well. Interferon may be artificially produced in large quantities using the technique of recombinant DNA.

In situ: A very early stage of cancer in which the tumor is localized to one area.

Intramuscular (IM): The injection of a drug into a muscle, where it is absorbed into the circulation.

Intravenous (IV): The administration of drugs or fluids directly into the vein.

Invasive cancer: A stage of cancer in which cancer cells have spread to healthy tissue adjacent to the tumor.

Jaundice: Where there is too much bile in the blood. This occurs when the liver is not working well or when a bile duct is blocked. The extra bile makes the skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow. The urine darkens and the stool becomes clay-colored.

Kidneys: A pair of organs in the abdomen that removes waste from the blood (as urine), produce erythropoietin (a substance that stimulates red blood cell production), and play a role in blood pressure regulation.

Laboratory test: A medical procedure that tests a sample of blood, urine, or other bodily substance. Tests can help determine a diagnosis, plan treatment, check to see if treatment is working, or monitor the disease over time.

Leukemia: Cancer of the blood-form mg tissues (bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen). Leukemia is characterized by the overproduction of abnormal, immature white blood cells.

Leukocytes: A synonym for white blood cells. (See White Blood Cells)

Leukopenia: A decreased white blood cell count (below 5,000).

Liver: A large, glandular organ located in the upper abdomen. The liver cleanses the blood and aids in digestion by secreting bile.

Localized: Cancer confined to the site of origin without evidence of spread.

Lumbar puncture: A procedure that puts a needle in between the bones of the lower back, directly into the fluid sac around the spinal cord. It may be done to take fluid and check it for abnormalities. It can also be done to give chemotherapy drugs.

Lumpectomy: Removal of a cancerous breast lump and the surrounding tissue without removing the entire breast is a less radical procedure than mastectomy and is usually followed by radiation treatment.

Lymphedema: Swelling, usually of an arm or leg, caused by obstructed lymphatic vessels. It can develop because of a tumor or as an effect of surgery or radiation. Lymph Node: One of the many small, bean-shaped organs of the immune system linked by lymphatic vessels throughout the body. They make and store many different immune cells that fight infections.

Lymph node: A rounded mass of lymphatic tissue that is surrounded by a covering of connective tissue. Lymph nodes are spread out along lymphatic vessels and contain many lymphocytes, and act as a filter system for the lymphatic fluid (lymph).

Lymphatic system: The tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that fight infection and disease. This system includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, and lymph nodes. It also includes the network of thin tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells. These tubes branch out, like blood vessels, and pass through all tissues of the body.

Lymphocytes: A type of white blood cell. Lymphocytes have a number of roles in the immune system, including the production of antibodies and other substances that fight infection and disease. 

Malignant: Cancerous. Two qualities of malignancies are the tendency to penetrate the tissues or organ, in which it originated, and to break off and spread elsewhere (“metastasize’’).

Mammogram: An x-ray procedure used in the screening and diagnosis of breast cancer which can reveal a tumor in the breast long before it can be felt.

Mastectomy: Surgical removal of the breast.

Melanoma: A type of skin cancer. While most skin cancers rarely spread to other areas of the body and are easily treated and cured, melanoma can be more aggressive if not detected early.

Menopause: The time of life when a woman stops getter her period or menstruating. This is also referred to as “the change of life”.

Metastasis: The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another by way of the lymph system or bloodstream. Cells in the new tumor are like those in the original tumor.

Monoclonal antibodies: Special fighter proteins made in the lab. Each one is made to target only one substance. They can be used in many ways because they can find and connect to cancer cells wherever they are in the body. They can be used to find or treat cancer. Or they can be used to take drugs, toxins, or radioactive material straight to cancer. 

Monocytes: A type of white blood cell that assists in fighting infection. The monocyte, along with the neutrophil is the two major microbe-eating and killing cells in the blood.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): This technique details images of body structures. It differs from a CT scan in that the patient is not exposed to x-rays. The signals generated in the tissues in response to the magnetic field are converted by a computer into images of body structures.

Mucositis: Inflammation of the mucous membranes. Soreness, such as “cold sores’”, can develop in the mouth as a side effect of chemotherapy.

Mutation: Any change that is not normal in the genes in a cell. The change can result in a damaged gene, missing gene, or a gene that ends up in the wrong place. It may be caused by mistakes when a cell divides. It may be caused by something in the environment. It can be harmful, good, or have no effect. If this happens in a mother’s egg or a father’s sperm, it can be passed on to the parent’s child. Some of these changes can lead to cancer or other diseases.

Myeloma: A cancer of the protein-producing plasma cells of the bone marrow. Multiple bone lesions are common.

Myelosuppression: A condition in which the bone marrow makes fewer blood cells. This means there are fewer red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. It is a side effect of some cancer treatments.

Nadir: The lowest point to which white blood cell or platelet counts fall after chemotherapy.

National Cancer Institute (NCI): A research center in Bethesda, Maryland that conducts basic and clinical research on new cancer treatments and supervised clinical trials of new treatments throughout the United States.

National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP): A group of research and clinical physicians who have formed a large cooperative group to study new cancer treatments.

Neoadjuvant therapy: Treatment that is given first to help make the next treatment step go more smoothly, for example, chemotherapy, radiation, or hormones may be given before surgery to shrink a large tumor to make it easier to remove.

Neoplasm: An abnormal growth or tumor.

Neuropathy: Malfunction of a nerve, often causing numbness (sensory nerve) or weakness (motor nerve). It is sometimes a side effect of chemotherapy drugs.

Neutropenia: A blood condition characterized by a decrease or absence of neutrophils, one type of white blood cell that is crucial to the body’s defense against infection. Neutropenia can be caused by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or by cancer itself.

Neutrophils: This is a type of white blood cell that combats infections. 

Nodule: A small solid mass.

Obstruction: The blockage of a passageway.

Oncogene: A gene that controls cell growth. If the gene is abnormal it can allow cells to grow out of control. This can result in cancer.

Oncologist: A physician who specializes in cancer therapy. Medical oncologists are internists with expertise in chemotherapy and the handling of general medical problems that arise during the treatment of cancer. Radiation oncologists specialize in the use of radiation to treat cancer.

Oral: By or having to do with the mouth.

Ovaries: The pair of female reproductive glands in which the ova, or eggs, are formed. The ovaries are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus.

P53 gene: A gene that keeps cells under control and growing normally. If this gene is abnormal, cell growth may get out of control. This may result in the start of cancer.

Palliative Treatment: The use of medical remedies to relieve pain, symptoms, and/or prevent further complications rather than to cure.

Pathology report: A report that describes what was found in the tissue removed from the body. Cancer and surrounding normal tissue are checked with a microscope and other special tests. The report tells you many things about the nature and the extent of the disease.

Peritoneal: Having to do with the peritoneum. This is the tissue that lines the inside wall of the abdomen. It also covers the outside surface of some organs in the abdomen.

Petechiae: Tiny, flat, round red spots under the skin, caused by bleeding.

Pituitary gland:  Gland that makes hormones that control the production of other hormones in your body. In this way, it supervises many of your body’s functions, including growth and the production of sex hormones by the ovaries or testicles.

Placebo: A fake pill or treatment that looks the same and is taken in the same way as a drug or treatment in a clinical trial. It contains no active ingredients. A placebo may be used in clinical trials to compare the effects of a given treatment against no treatment

Polyps: A nodular growth of tissue developing in the lining of a cavity, such as a colon, the nose, or the vocal cords. Polyps may be benign or malignant.

Poorly differentiated: A tumor that when examined under the microscope, appears to have a little or slight resemblance to the tissue of origin.

Port: A small disc with a soft center (about the size of a quarter) that is surgically placed just below the skin in the chest or abdomen. A tube corning out of the side is connected via a large vein directly into the bloodstream. By passing a needle through the skin into the disc, fluid, drugs, or blood products can be given without worrying about finding an adequate vein.

Primary tumor: The place where cancer first starts to grow. Even if it spreads elsewhere, it is still known by the place of origin.

Prognosis: A statement about the likely outcome of disease in a particular patient. In cancer, it is based on all available information about the type of tumor, staging, therapeutic possibilities, expected results, and other personal or medical factors. It may be presented as a kind of forecast by your healthcare provider.

Progression: When cancer gets bigger or spreads to other parts of the body.

Prophylactic: A drug, device, or procedure that protects the body from disease or infection. It can also refer to something that prevents a symptom such as medication given before chemotherapy to prevent nausea.

Prostate: A gland located at the base of the bladder in males.

Protein: A type of molecule that the body needs to work properly. Proteins are the basis of body structures such as skin, muscle, and hair.

Protocol: The outline or plan for a treatment program.

Quality of Life: Overall pleasure, comfort, and enjoyment in being alive. Many clinical trials look at the effects of cancer and its treatment on a person’s quality of life.

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 therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body in the area near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, implant radiation, or brachytherapy). 

Radical Mastectomy: Removal of the entire breast along with underlying muscle and the lymph nodes of the armpit (axilla). In a modified radical mastectomy, the underlying (pectoral) muscles are left in place.

Radical Prostatectomy: Surgical removal of the prostate and the surrounding tissue.

Rectum: The last five or six inches of the colon leading to the anus.

Recurrence: The reappearance of a disease after treatment had caused it to apparently disappear.

Regimen: A treatment plan. The plan includes which treatments and procedures will be done, medications and their dose, the schedule of treatments, and how long the treatment will take.

Regression: The shrinkage of cancer usually the result of therapy.

Relapse: The reappearance of cancer after a disease-free period.

Remission: The partial or complete shrinkage of cancer usually occurring as the result of therapy. This is also a period when the disease is under control. Remission is not necessarily a cure.

Resistance: When cancer does not respond to treatment.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA): A complex molecule that is found in all living cells. It reads genetic information on the DNA inside the cells and it then takes the information to the part of the cell that makes vital proteins based on this information.

Sarcoma: A form of cancer that arises m the supportive tissues, such as bone, cartilage, fat, or muscle.

Sentinel lymph node:  The first lymph node that cancer is likely to spread to from the place where it started.

Sepsis: The presence of bacteria in the bloodstream.

Serum: The clear liquid part of the blood. This is what remains after blood cells and clotting proteins have been removed.

Side effects: When treatment for disease causes problems for healthy cells. Common side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, loss of appetite, mouth sores, diarrhea, and constipation.

Sigmoidoscopy: The visual inspection of the rectum and the lower colon by a tubular instrument called a sigmoid scope passed through the rectum.

Spleen: An organ that is part of the lymphatic system. The spleen produces lymphocytes, filters the blood, stores blood cells, and destroys old blood cells. It is located on the left side of the abdomen near the stomach.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in squamous cells, or cells that line the surfaces of the skin and line the air and food tubes. They also line some organs. These are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales. This type of cancer is a common type of lung and skin cancer. 

Staging: An organized process of determining how far cancer has spread. Staging involves a physical exam, blood tests, x-rays, scans, and sometimes surgery. Knowing the stage helps determine the most appropriate treatment and the prognosis.

Stem Cells: These are primitive cells in the marrow that are important in making red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Generally, the stem cells are largely found in the marrow, but some leave the marrow and circulate in the blood.

Stomatitis: Inflammation and soreness of the mouth. This is sometimes a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation.

Symptom: A sign or indication that a person has a condition or disease. Examples of symptoms are headache, fever, fatigue, and pain.

Systemic: Affecting the entire body.

T-cell: One type of white blood cells that attacks virus-infected cells, foreign cells, and cancer cells. T-cells also produce a number of substances that regulate the immune system.

Thrombocytopenia: An abnormally low number of platelets (thrombocytes), - less than 150,000 – due to disease, reaction to a drug, or toxic reaction to treatments. Platelets are blood cells that help stop bleeding. Bleeding can occur if there are too few platelets. 

Thrush: An overgrowth of yeast in the mouth. Usually, white spots appear in the mouth and throat.  It is a relatively common side effect of chemotherapy or long-term steroid use.

Toxicity: Refers to the undesirable and harmful side effects of a drug. Based on the toxicity, the amount of the drug a patient can safely take can be determined.

Toxins: Substances that are poisonous or harmful to the body. They are made by certain animals, plants, or bacteria. They can also be made in the laboratory.

Tumor: A lump, mass, or swelling. A tumor can be benign or malignant.

Tumor Marker: A chemical substance found in increased amounts in the body fluids of some cancer patients. The presence of a tumor marker in the blood for specific cancer can be an indication that cancer is present in the body. Tumor markers can be used as part of the diagnosis process but generally cannot provide a definitive diagnosis. Tumor markers are also used to monitor the progress of treatment as well as possible recurrence of cancer after treatment.

Undifferentiated: A tumor that appears “wild” under the microscope, not resembling the tissue of origin. These tumors tend to grow and spread faster than well-differentiated tumors, which do resemble the normal tissue they come from.

Urinary tract: The organs of the body that produce and discharge urine. These include the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.

Urine: Fluid containing water and waste products. Urine is made by the kidneys, stored in the bladder, and leaves the body through the urethra. 

Urticaria (hives): An allergic reaction marked by itching welts. This may be a side effect of chemotherapy. They may appear at the site of a chemotherapy injection or on other parts of the body.

Vaccine: One or more substances that cause the immune system to fight an enemy. The enemy could be bacteria, viruses, or cancer. The vaccine can be made from a weak form of the bacteria or virus or a part of a cancer cell. This piece of the enemy excites the immune system. The immune system begins to make antibodies (fighter proteins). This means the immune system is ready to act if it is exposed to the full-strength disease.  

Vesicant drugs: Chemotherapeutic agents that can cause significant tissue irritation and soreness if they leak outside the vein after injection.

Well-differentiated: A tumor that under the microscope resembles normal tissue from the same organ.