Basic Cancer Terms

This is your guide to standard terms used by clinicians and other health-care professionals. Learn these terms below to help keep from getting lost in the medical jargon!

Adenosquamous Carcinoma: A type of cancer that contains two types of cells: squamous cells (thin, flat cells that line certain organs) and gland-like cells.

Angiogenesis: A physiological process involving the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels; a fundamental step in the transition of tumors from a dormant state to a malignant state.

Carcinoma: Cancer that starts in skin or tissues that line the inside or cover the outside of internal organs.

Cells: Basic elements of tissues; the appearance and composition of individual cells are unique to the tissue they compose.

Chemotherapy: Drugs used to destroy cancer cells by interfering with their growth and/or preventing their reproduction.

DNA: The molecules inside cells that carry genetic information and pass it from one generation to the next.

Enzyme: A protein that speeds up chemical reactions in the body.

HER1: The protein found on the surface of some cells and to which epidermal growth factor binds, causing the cells to divide. It is found at abnormally high levels on the surface of many types of cancer cells, so these cells may divide excessively in the presence of epidermal growth factor.

HER2/neu: A protein involved in normal cell growth found in high levels on some breast cancer cells.

Hereditary Mutation: A gene change in a body’s reproductive cell (egg or sperm) that becomes incorporated into the DNA of every cell in the body of the offspring. Hereditary mutations are passed on from parents to offspring.

Hormone: A substance produced by an organ or gland that is carried by the blood and produces a specific effect on other organs or glands.

Lymph Nodes: Tissues in the lymphatic system that filter lymph fluid and help the immune system fight disease.

Malignant: Cancerous, growing and is capable of invading into adjacent tissues.

Medical Oncologist: A doctor who is specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and who specializes in the use of chemotherapy and other drugs to treat cancer.

Metastasis: The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another.

Multidisciplinary Care: Team approach to the care of patients with cancer in which physicians in many different areas of specialization join to provide their expertise and experience.

Oncogene: A normal gene that when mutated plays a significant role in causing cancer.

Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in caring for people who have cancer.

Palliative Care: Treatment intended to relieve symptoms caused by cancer, rather than to cure it, and improve quality of life.

Radiation: Treatment of cancer with high-energy rays that destroy cancer cells.

Reconstructive Surgery:Surgery that is done to reshape or rebuild a part of the body changed by previous surgery.

Recurrence: The return of cancer cells and signs of cancer after being cancer free.

Remission: A decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer, but not necessarily the entire disease.

Subcutaneous: Under the skin.

Tumor: A growth of tissue that forms an abnormal mass.


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