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Unless you are a health care professional, many of the terms for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of breast and cervical cancer will be new and unfamiliar. This dictionary of terms will help you better understand the medical terms associated with breast and cervical health.
Terms: A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Adjuvant therapy: Cancer treatment given in addition to the primary treatment. Surgery is usually the primary treatment while radiation or chemotherapy is the adjuvant therapy.
Alopecia: Hair loss. Often occurs as a result of chemotherapy.
Anesthesia: Entire or partial loss of feeling or sensation produced by drugs or gases.
Antiemetic: A medicine to prevent or relieve nausea or vomiting.
Areola: The circular area of darker-colored skin that surrounds the nipple.
Aspiration: Removal of fluid from a lump, often a cyst, with a hypodermic needle.
Atypical hyperplasia: A benign (non-cancerous) condition in which the breast tissue has certain abnormal features. Women with this condition have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Axilla: The underarm area.
Axillary dissection: Surgery to remove lymph nodes under the arm.
Benign: Not cancerous; does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.
Biological therapy: Treatment to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight infection and disease. Also called immunotherapy.
Biopsy: The removal of a sample of tissue, which is then examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Excisional biopsy is surgery to remove an entire lump and an area of normal tissue around it. In incisional biopsy, the surgeon removes just part of the lump. Removal of tissue with a needle is called a needle biopsy.
Bone marrow: The soft, sponge-like material inside some bones. Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.
Bone marrow transplantation: A procedure in which doctors replace bone marrow destroyed by high doses of anti-cancer drugs or radiation. The replacement marrow is taken from the breast cancer patient before treatment and the procedure is called autologous bone marrow transplantation. For some patients, a bone marrow donor is used.
Bone scan: A picture of all the bones in the body taken two hours after injection of a radioactive tracer.
Breast implant: an "envelope" containing silicone or saline (or both) used to restore breast form.
Breast Self-Exam: A method used by women to become familiar with the normal appearance and feel of their breast tissue so that if a change occurs, it will be detected early.
Cancer: A term for more than 100 diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control. Breast cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal breast cells. Cancer cells can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the lining or covering of an organ.
CAT scan: A cross-sectional view of the entire body through X-ray, which might show cancer earlier and more accurately than other imaging methods.
Chemotherapy: Treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells; often used to supplement surgery and/or radiation or to treat recurrent cancer.
Clinical trials: Research studies that involve patients. Each study is designed to answer scientific questions and to find better ways to prevent or treat cancer.
Colony-stimulating factors: Laboratory-made substances similar to substances in the body that stimulate the production of blood cells. Treatment with colony-stimulating factors can help cells in the bone marrow recover from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Cyst: A closed sac or capsule filled with fluid, usually harmless, that can be removed by aspiration. (See "aspiration.")
Duct: A small channel in the breast through which milk passes to the nipple. Cancer that begins in a duct is called ductal carcinoma.
Ductal carcinoma in situ: Abnormal cells that involve only the lining of a duct. The cells have not spread outside the duct to other tissues of the breast. Also called DCIS or intraductal carcinoma.
Ductal Papillomas: non-cancerous breast tumor, arising in the breast duct, usually cannot be felt. Commonly found in women forty-five to fifty. Generally appears as either a bloody nipple or clear nipple discharge.
Estrogen: A female hormone produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. Some cancers need a supply of estrogen in order to grow.
Estrogen Receptor Assay (ERA): A laboratory test performed on a malignant breast tumor to determine if the tumor needs estrogen to grow.
Fat Necrosis: Destruction of fat cells due to trauma or injury that can cause a non-cancerous lump.
Fibroadenoma: a non-cancerous, solid breast tumor most commonly found in younger women.
Fibrocystic Breast Condition: A non-cancerous breast condition sometimes resulting in painful cysts or lumpy breasts. It can be accompanied by discomfort or pain that fluctuates with the menstrual cycle.
Flow Cytometry: A test performed on cancerous tissue to determine the growth rate of malignant cells and the presence of abnormal chromosomes. Indicates aggressiveness of a tumor.
Frozen section: A technique in which a part of the biopsy tissue is frozen immediately and a thin slice is then mounted on a microscope slide, enabling a pathologist to analyze it in just a few minutes for diagnosis.
Gynecologist: A doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the female reproductive organs.
Hair follicle: A sac from which a hair grows.
Hormonal therapy: Treatment for cancer by removing, blocking, or adding hormones.
Hormones: Chemicals produced by glands in the body. Hormones control the actions of certain cells or organs.
Hormone receptor test: A test to measure the amount of certain proteins, called hormone receptors, in breast cancer tissue. Hormones can attach to these proteins. A high level of hormone receptors means hormones probably help the cancer grow.
Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is the primary risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for most cervical cancer cases.
Inflammatory breast cancer: A rare type of breast cancer in which cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. That breast becomes red, swollen, and warm, and the skin of the breast may appear pitted or have ridges. Also called stage III breast cancer.
Invasive cancer: Cancer that has spread beyond the layer of tissue in which it developed. Invasive breast cancer is also called infiltrating cancer or infiltrating carcinoma.
Lobe: A part of the breast; each breast contains six to nine lobes.
Lobular carcinoma in situ: Abnormal cells in the lobules of the breast. This condition seldom becomes invasive cancer. However, having lobular carcinoma in situ is a sign that the woman has an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Also called LCIS.
Lobule: A subdivision of the lobes of the breast. Cancer that begins in a lobule is called lobular carcinoma.
Local therapy: Treatment that affects cells in the tumor and the area close to it.
Lumpectomy: Surgery to remove only the cancerous breast lump; usually followed by radiation therapy.
Lymph: The almost colorless fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and carries cells that help fight infection and disease.
Lymph nodes: Small. bean-shaped structures located along the channels of the lymphatic system. Bacteria or cancer cells that enter the lymphatic system may be found in the nodes. Also called lymph glands.
Lymphatic system: The tissues and organs (including the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, and lymph nodes) that produce and store cells that fight infections and disease. The channels that carry lymph also are part of this system.
Lymphedema: Swelling of the hand and arm caused by extra fluid that may collect in tissues when underarm lymph nodes are removed or blocked; sometimes called "milk arm."
Malignant: Cancerous; can spread to other parts of the body.
Mammogram: An X-ray of the breast.
Mammography: The use of X-rays to create a picture of the breast.
Mastectomy: Surgery to remove the breast (or as much of the breast as possible).
Menopause: The time of a woman’s life when menstrual periods stop; also called "change of life."
Menstrual cycle: The hormone changes that lead up to a woman’s period. For most women, one cycle takes 28 days.
Metastasis: The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. Cells in the metastatic (secondary) tumor are like those in the original (primary) tumor.
Microcalcifications: Tiny deposits of calcium in the breast that cannot be felt but can be detected on a mammogram. A cluster of these very small specks of calcium may indicate that cancer is present.
Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating cancer.
Ovaries: The pair of female reproductive organs that produce eggs and hormones.
Palpation: A simple technique in which a doctor presses on the surface of the body with his or her fingers to feel the organs or tissues underneath.
Pathologist: A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.
Peripheral stem cell support: A method for replacing bone marrow destroyed by cancer treatment. Certain cells (stem cells) in the blood that are similar to those in bone marrow are removed from the patient’s blood before treatment. The cells are given back to the patient after treatment to help the bone marrow recover and continue producing healthy blood cells.
Progesterone: A female hormone.
Prognosis: The probable outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery.
Prosthesis: An artificial replacement of a part of the body. A breast prosthesis is a breast form worn under clothing.
Radiation therapy: Treatment with high energy rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy that uses a machine located outside the body to aim high-energy rays at the cancer is called external radiation. When radioactive material is placed in the breast in thin plastic tubes, the treatment is called implant radiation.
Radiologist: A doctor who specializes in creating and interpreting pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are produced with X-rays, sound waves, or other types of energy.
Remission: Disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer. When this happens, the disease is said to be "in remission." A remission can be temporary or permanent.
Risk factor: Something that increases a person’s chance for developing a disease.
Screening: Checking for disease when there are no symptoms.
Stage: The extent of the cancer. The stage of breast cancer depends on the size of the cancer and whether it has spread.
Stem cells: The cells from which all blood cells develop.
Surgery: An operation.
Systemic therapy: Treatment that reaches and affects cells all over the body.
Tissue: A group or layer of cells that performs a specific function.
Tumor: An abnormal mass of tissue.
Ultrasonography: A test in which high-frequency sound waves that cannot be heard by humans are bounced off tissues and the echoes are converted into a picture (sonogram). These pictures are shown on a monitor like a TV screen. Tissues of different densities look different in the pictures because they reflect sound waves differently. A sonogram can often show whether a breast lump is a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass.
Xeroradiography: A type of mammography in which a picture of the breast is recorded on paper rather than on film.
X-ray: High-energy radiation. It is used in low doses to diagnose diseases and in low doses to treat cancer.