Glossary of Terms

Adjuvant therapy: therapy given to treat cancer in addition to the primary treatment. May include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or biological therapy.

Advance directive: a legal document that describes your wishes for end-of-life care. Some advance directives allow you to name someone to make decisions for you if you are not able.

Alopecia: loss of hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes as well as body hair. This often occurs as a reaction to chemotherapy and radiation therapy directed at the head.

Alternative medicine: Treatments used instead of standard or traditional care. See complementary medicine.

Analgesic: also known as a painkiller. An analgesic is any drug used to relieve pain.

Antigen: any substance that causes the immune system to produce antibodies against it.

Antioxidants: compounds that hold back chemical reactions with oxygen (oxidation). A common use of the word is in relation to foods that are thought to reduce the risk of cancer. However, the use of some antioxidant supplements may actually lead to higher cancer risk.

Aplastic anemia: a condition that occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells. Aplastic anemia causes fatigue and a higher risk of infections and uncontrolled bleeding. It may be associated with certain cancers or cancer treatments.

Autoimmunity: a misdirected response of the immune system that causes it to attack the body. Indicated by the presence of autoantibodies or T lymphocytes reactive with host antigens.

Biological therapy: treatment used to boost or restore the immune system's ability to fight cancer. May also be used to lessen side effects of some cancer treatments. Agents used in this therapy may include monoclonal antibodies, growth factors, and vaccines. Also called biological response modifier therapy, biotherapy, BRM therapy, and immunotherapy.

Carcinogen: a substance or agent that causes cancer.

Carcinoma in situ: an early-stage tumor that has not spread beyond where it began.

Chemotherapy: drug therapy that kills cancer cells or stops them from multiplying. It can also harm healthy cells, which causes side effects.

Clinical trial: research studies that test how well new medical approaches work in people.

COBRA: the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time under certain circumstances such as voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in the hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce, and other life events.

Combined modality therapy: two or more types of treatment used alternately or together to get the best results.

Complementary medicine: treatments that are not part of standard or traditional care. Complementary medicine or treatments are used along with standard care. See alternative medicine.

Complete remission/complete response (CR): the disappearance of all signs of cancer in response to treatment. This does not always mean the cancer has been cured.

Consent: a patient's oral and written agreement to a procedure or a treatment based on full disclosure about the treatment, its potential risks and benefits, alternative treatments, and any other information the patient needs to make the decision.

Corticosteroid: man-made drugs that closely resemble cortisol, a hormone that the adrenal glands produce naturally. More commonly known as steroids. They are sometimes used as a cancer treatment or to reduce nausea. They are also used to relieve bone pain in patients with cancer in the bones. Corticosteroids are different from the male hormone-related steroid compounds that some athletes abuse.

Cytotoxic: toxic to cells; cell-killing.

Cytology: a branch of biology dealing with the structure, function, multiplication, pathology, and life history of cells. May also refer to the analysis under a microscope of cells collected from a part of the body.

Debulking: a procedure that removes a significant part of a tumor in cases where it is not possible to remove all of it. This may make subsequent treatments easier and more effective.

Distress: Emotional, social, spiritual, or physical pain or suffering that may cause a person to feel sad, afraid, depressed, anxious, or lonely. People in distress may also feel that they are not able to manage or cope with changes caused by normal life activities or by having a disease, such as cancer. Cancer patients may have trouble coping with their diagnosis, physical symptoms, or treatment.

Drug resistance: the ability of cancer cells to become resistant to the effects of the chemotherapy drugs.

Dysplasia: abnormal development or growth of tissues, organs, or cells.

Edema: swelling caused by fluid in bodily tissues.

Emesis: term for vomiting.

Endocrine therapy: treatment that adds, blocks, or removes hormones. Also called hormone therapy.

Endoscope: a device with a light attached that is used to look inside a body cavity or organ.

Epigenetic therapy: epigenetic marks change the pattern of genes expressed in a given cell or tissue by amplifying or muting the effect of a gene, but do not alter the actual DNA sequence. Unlike mutations to DNA sequence, epigenetic modifications are typically reversible. Tumor cells often contain epigenetic abnormalities. A new type of therapy attempts to reverse those abnormalities.