Glossary

We have gathered terms and definitions related to cancer and medicine on this page. Sources for definitions include the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute.

Ablation

Treatment that removes or destroys all or part of a cancer; can also be used to remove or stop the function of an organ. For example, removing the ovaries or testicles or taking medicines that cause them to stop making their hormones would be called ablation. Besides surgery and drug treatment, other ways of ablating body tissues and tumors include extreme heat, freezing and chemicals.

Adenocarcinoma

Cancer that forms in the glandular tissue that lines certain internal organs and makes and releases substances in the body, such as mucus, digestive juices or other fluids. Most cancers of the breast, pancreas, lung, prostate, colon, esophagus and stomach are adenocarcinomas.

Albumin

Albumin is a protein made by the liver. Once it enters your bloodstream, it helps keep fluid from leaking out of the blood vessels and into different parts of the body. In patients with multiple myeloma, albumin levels are used to stage the disease.

Allogeneic stem cell transplant

Uses bone marrow or stem cells from a donor whose tissue type closely matches the patient’s to replace blood-forming cells that have been destroyed by disease or cancer treatment. This can be from a related or unrelated donor.

Anemia

A condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal.

Anesthesia

A loss of feeling or awareness caused by drugs or other substances. Anesthesia keeps patients from feeling pain during surgery or other procedures. Local anesthesia is a loss of feeling in one small area of the body, such as the mouth. Regional anesthesia is a loss of feeling in a part of the body, such as an arm or leg. General anesthesia is a loss of feeling and a complete loss of awareness that feels like a very deep sleep.

Anthracycline

A type of antibiotic that comes from certain types of Streptomyces bacteria. Anthracyclines are used to treat many types of cancer. Anthracyclines damage the DNA in cancer cells, causing them to die.

Antibody

A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood. Antibodies defend the body against foreign substances, such as bacteria.

Antibody therapy

A treatment that uses antibodies to help the body fight cancer, infection or other diseases. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system that bind to specific markers on cells or tissues. Monoclonal antibodies are a type of antibody made in the laboratory that can be used in diagnosis or treatment. In cancer treatment, monoclonal antibodies may kill cancer cells directly; they may block development of tumor blood vessels; or they may help the immune system kill cancer cells.

Antigen

A foreign substance, such as bacteria, that causes the body’s immune system to respond by making antibodies. Antibodies defend the body against antigens.

Apheresis

A procedure in which blood is taken out of the body, part of the blood is removed, and the rest of the blood is infused back into the body.

Asymptomatic

Having no signs or symptoms of disease.

Autologous bone marrow transplant

A procedure in which a patient’s healthy stem cells (blood-forming cells) are collected from the bone marrow before treatment, stored and then given back to the patient after treatment. An autologous bone marrow transplant replaces a patient’s stem cells that have been destroyed by treatment with radiation or high doses of chemotherapy.

Axillary reverse mapping

A method to locate lymph vessels by injecting dye during surgery. This helps surgeons preserve the lymph vessels.

B cell

A type of white blood cell that makes antibodies. B cells are part of the immune system and develop from stem cells in the bone marrow.

B symptoms

In lymphoma, B symptoms include unexplained fever, weight loss or night sweats.

B-cell lymphoma

A type of cancer that forms in B cells (a type of immune system cell). B-cell lymphomas may be either indolent (slow-growing) or aggressive (fast-growing). Most B-cell lymphomas are non-Hodgkin lymphomas. There are many different types of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. These include Burkitt lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL), diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma and mantle cell lymphoma. Prognosis and treatment depend on the type and stage of the cancer.

Benign

Not cancer. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia

A benign (not cancer) condition in which an overgrowth of prostate tissue pushes against the urethra and the bladder, blocking the flow of urine. Also called benign prostatic hypertrophy and BPH.

Beta-2 microglobulin

A small protein normally found on the surface of many cells, including lymphocytes, and in small amounts in the blood and urine. An increased amount in the blood or urine may be a sign of certain diseases, including some types of cancer, such as multiple myeloma or lymphoma.

Biopsy

The removal of a sample of tissue or fluid that is examined to see whether cancer is present. This may be done with a large needle or through surgical removal of tissue or fluids.

Blood chemistry test

A test done on a sample of blood to measure the amount of certain substances in the body. These substances include electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium and chloride), fats, proteins, glucose (sugar) and enzymes. Blood chemistry tests give important information about how well a person’s kidneys, liver and other organs are working. An abnormal amount of a substance in the blood can be a sign of disease or a side effect of treatment. Blood chemistry tests are used to help diagnose and monitor many conditions before, during and after treatment.

Blood transfusion

A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient and stored until needed. Also called transfusion.

Bone marrow

The soft, spongy material in the center of your bones that produces all your blood cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

Bone marrow aspiration

A procedure in which a small sample of bone marrow is removed, usually from the hip bone, breastbone or thigh bone. A small area of skin and the surface of the bone underneath are numbed with an anesthetic. Then, a special wide needle is pushed into the bone. A sample of liquid bone marrow is removed with a syringe attached to the needle. The bone marrow is sent to a laboratory to be looked at under a microscope. This procedure may be done at the same time as a bone marrow biopsy.

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Anesthesia Drugs or other substances that cause a loss of feeling or awareness. This keeps patients from feeling pain during surgery or other procedures. A loss of feeling or awareness caused by drugs or other substances. Anesthesia keeps patients from feeling pain during surgery or other procedures. Local anesthesia is a loss of feeling in one small area of the body, such as the mouth. Regional anesthesia is a loss of feeling in a part of the body, such as an arm or leg. General anesthesia is a loss of feeling and a complete loss of awareness that feels like a very deep sleep. Antibody A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood. Antibodies defend the body against foreign substances, such as bacteria. Antibody A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood. Antibodies defend the body against foreign substances, such as bacteria. Autologous bone marrow transplant A procedure in which a patient’s healthy stem cells (blood-forming cells) are collected from the bone marrow before treatment, stored and then given back to the patient after treatment. A procedure in which a patient’s healthy stem cells (blood-forming cells) are collected from the bone marrow before treatment, stored and then given back to the patient after treatment. An autologous bone marrow transplant replaces a patient’s stem cells that have been destroyed by treatment with radiation or high doses of chemotherapy. B cell A type of white blood cell that makes antibodies. B cells are part of the immune system and develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. B-cell lymphoma A type of cancer that forms in B cells (a type of immune system cell). B-cell lymphomas may be either indolent (slow-growing) or aggressive (fast-growing). Most B-cell lymphomas are non-Hodgkin lymphomas. A type of cancer that forms in B cells (a type of immune system cell). B-cell lymphomas may be either indolent (slow-growing) or aggressive (fast-growing). Most B-cell lymphomas are non-Hodgkin lymphomas. There are many different types of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas. These include Burkitt lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL), diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma and mantle cell lymphoma. Prognosis and treatment depend on the type and stage of the cancer. B symptoms In lymphoma, B symptoms include unexplained fever, weight loss or night sweats. Benign Not cancer. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body. Benign prostatic hyperplasia A benign (not cancer) condition in which an overgrowth of prostate tissue pushes against the urethra and the bladder, blocking the flow of urine. Also called benign prostatic hypertrophy and BPH. Benign prostatic hyperplasia A benign (not cancer) condition in which an overgrowth of prostate tissue pushes against the urethra and the bladder, blocking the flow of urine. Also called benign prostatic hypertrophy and BPH. Biopsy The removal of a sample of tissue or fluid that is examined to see whether cancer is present. This may be done with a large needle or through surgical removal of tissue or fluids. Blood chemistry test A test done on a sample of blood to measure the amount of certain substances in the body. An abnormal amount of a substance in the blood can be a sign of disease or a side effect of treatment. A test done on a sample of blood to measure the amount of certain substances in the body. These substances include electrolytes (such as sodium, potassium and chloride), fats, proteins, glucose (sugar) and enzymes. Blood chemistry tests give important information about how well a person’s kidneys, liver and other organs are working. An abnormal amount of a substance in the blood can be a sign of disease or a side effect of treatment. Blood chemistry tests are used to help diagnose and monitor many conditions before, during and after treatment. Blood transfusion A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient. A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient and stored until needed. Also called transfusion. Bone marrow The soft, spongy material in the center of your bones that produces all your blood cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Follicular lymphoma A type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the immune system) that is usually indolent (slow-growing). The tumor cells grow as groups to form nodules. A type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the immune system) that is usually indolent (slow-growing). The tumor cells grow as groups to form nodules. There are several subtypes of follicular lymphoma. Indolent Slow-growing. Lymphocyte A type of immune cell that is made in the bone marrow and is found in the blood and in lymph tissue. The two main types of lymphocytes are B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. A type of immune cell that is made in the bone marrow and is found in the blood and in lymph tissue. The two main types of lymphocytes (white blood cells) are B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. B lymphocytes make antibodies, and T lymphocytes help kill tumor cells and help control immune responses. Lymphoma Cancer that begins in the cells of the immune system. There are two basic categories of lymphomas: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Cancer that begins in cells of the immune system. There are two basic categories of lymphomas. One is Hodgkin lymphoma, which is marked by the presence of a type of cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell. The other category is non-Hodgkin lymphomas, which includes a large, diverse group of cancers of immune system cells. Non-Hodgkin lymphomas can be further divided into cancers that have an indolent (slow-growing) course and those that have an aggressive (fast-growing) course. These subtypes behave and respond to treatment differently. Both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas can occur in children and adults, and prognosis and treatment depend on the stage and the type of cancer. Mantle cell lymphoma An aggressive (fast-growing) type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma that usually occurs in middle-aged or older adults. An aggressive (fast-growing) type of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma that usually occurs in middle-aged or older adults. It is marked by small- to medium-size cancer cells that may be in the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, blood and gastrointestinal system. Nonmalignant Not cancer. Nonmalignant tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body. Also called benign. Platelet A tiny, disc-shaped piece of a cell that is found in the blood and spleen. Platelets help form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding and to help wounds heal. A tiny, disc-shaped piece of a cell that is found in the blood and spleen. Platelets are pieces of very large cells in the bone marrow called megakaryocytes. They help form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding and to help wounds heal. Having too many or too few platelets, or having platelets that do not work as they should, can cause problems. Checking the number of platelets in the blood may help diagnose certain diseases or conditions. Prognosis A statement about the likely outcome of a disease in a patient. Red blood cell A type of blood cell that carries oxygen in the body. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores. Sign In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. Some examples of signs are fever, swelling, skin rash, high blood pressure and high blood glucose. Sign In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. Some examples of signs are fever, swelling, skin rash, high blood pressure and high blood glucose. Stage The extent of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body. Stem cell A cell from which other types of cells develop. For example, blood cells develop from blood-forming stem cells. Stem cell A cell from which other types of cells develop. For example, blood cells develop from blood-forming stem cells. Symptom A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea and pain. White blood cell A type of blood cell that is made in the bone marrow and found in the blood and lymph tissue. White blood cells are part of the body’s immune system and help the body fight infection and other diseases. A type of blood cell that is made in the bone marrow and found in the blood and lymph tissue. White blood cells are part of the body’s immune system. They help the body fight infection and other diseases. Types of white blood cells include granulocytes (neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils), monocytes and lymphocytes (T cells and B cells). Checking the number of white blood cells in the blood is usually part of a complete blood cell (CBC) test. It may be used to look for conditions such as infection, inflammation, allergies and leukemia. Also called leukocyte and WBC. Albumin Albumin is a protein made by the liver. Once it enters your bloodstream, it helps keep fluid from leaking out of the blood vessels and into different parts of the body. In patients with multiple myeloma, albumin levels are used to stage the disease. Ablation Treatment to remove or destroy all or part of a cancer; also used to remove or stop organ function. Besides surgery and drugs, other types of ablation include extreme heat, freezing and chemicals.

Treatment that removes or destroys all or part of a cancer; can also be used to remove or stop the function of an organ. For example, removing the ovaries or testicles or taking medicines that cause them to stop making their hormones would be called ablation. Besides surgery and drug treatment, other ways of ablating body tissues and tumors include extreme heat, freezing and chemicals.