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Glossary of Cancer Terms Banner

Glossary Of Cancer Terms

Facts about Cancer

Here are some of the many terms used in connection with cancer diagnosis and treatment. It is not intended to be all-inclusive, but rather to provide a quick reference for patients and family members.

For more information on cancer as well as numerous other health care topics, please search our Health Information Database.


AlopeciaLoss of hair.
AnemiaA low red blood cell count which can result in fatigue and sometimes dizziness or shortness of breath.
BenignAn abnormal growth or tumor which is not cancer and does not spread to other areas of the body.
Biologic Response ModifiersA new class of compounds, such as interferon, produced in the body that fight cancer naturally by stimulating the body’s own immune system; also called immunotherapy.
Biopsy The surgical removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination to determine if cancer cells are present.
CancerA general term for the large group of 100 diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth, invasion and spread of abnormal cells to other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy Systemic treatment of cancer with medicines administered orally or by injection.
Clinical TrialThe scientific evaluation of the means to prevent, detect, diagnose, or treat disease in humans. Clinical trials are conducted after experiments in animals have shown evidence of potential effectiveness and preliminary studies in humans suggest usefulness.
HematologyThe study of the blood, the parts of the body where blood is formed and blood diseases.
HospiceProgram of care for persons whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment. The goal is to have the patient live as fully and comfortably as possible, through the control of pain and other symptoms, psychological, social and spiritual support.
Integrative TherapiesIntegrative Therapies are nontraditional therapies that use the mind-body-spirit connection to assist in healing and symptom management. These therapies have been used successfully by cancer patients, along with traditional medical treatments, for managing symptoms of the disease.
Lymphedema Swelling in a part of the body caused by an accumulation of fluid in the tissues.
Malignant An abnormal growth or tumor which is cancer and could spread to other areas of the body. 
Metastasis The spread of cancer cells to distant areas of the body by way of the lymph system or blood stream; the term metastasis refers to these new cancer sites.
Monoclonal AntibodyAn antibody made to target antigens on cancer cells and eliminate them without harming healthy tissue.
NeutropeniaLow white blood cell count which creates high risk for infection.
OncologyThe science dealing with the physical, chemical and biologic properties and features of cancer.
Palliative TreatmentTherapy that relieves symptoms, such as pain, but does not alter the course of the disease. 
Pathologist A doctor who specializes in the study of cells and tissues removed from the body, as well as making a diagnosis based on changes in these cells.
Primary SiteThe site in the body where the cancer originated.
PrognosisA prediction of the course of the disease.
ProtocolA detailed plan doctors follow in treating cancer patients.
Radiation/Portal Field The area of the body designated to receive radiotherapy; usually marked with ink or tattoos.
Remission Complete or partial disappearance of the disease.
Side EffectsProblems caused when cancer treatment affects healthy body cells. The most common side effects are hair loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and mouth sores.
StagingAn evaluation of the extent of the cancer which provides the basis for making treatment recommendations.
StomatitisInflammation and/or sores of the oral mucous membrane (mouth and throat) resulting from chemotherapy or radiation to the head and neck regions; also known as mucositis.
SystematicPertaining to or affecting the body as a whole.
Thrombocytopenia Low platelet count which creates high risk for bleeding.
TumorAn abnormal lump or mass of tissue. Tumors can be benign (non cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

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