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.

Erythrocyte: red blood cell.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA): entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

First-degree relative: a family member who shares about 50 percent of his or her genes with a particular individual in a family. First-degree relatives include parents, offspring, and siblings.

Gene: a piece of DNA that has information on hereditary traits such as hair color, eye color, and height, as well as susceptibility to certain diseases.

Genetic counseling: help for individuals and families to translate scientific knowledge into practical information. A genetic counselor works with a person or family that may be at risk for an inherited disease.

Genetic testing: genetic tests are tests on blood and other tissue to find genetic disorders.

Health disparity: population-specific differences in the presence of disease, health outcomes, quality of health care and access to health care services that exist across racial and ethnic groups.

Hematocrit: hematocrit is a blood test that measures the percentage of the volume of whole blood that is made up of red blood cells.

Hematologist: a doctor who specializes in diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs.

Hemoglobin: a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.

Hereditary cancer syndrome: conditions linked with cancers that occur in several family members because of an inherited, mutated gene.

Hospice: a kind of care for people in the final phase of illness, as well as their families and caregivers which usually takes place in the patient's home or in a home-like facility.

Hormone therapy: treatment that adds, blocks, or removes hormones. Also called endocrine therapy.

Immune system: a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by invaders, primarily microbes.

Immunosuppression: suppression of the body's immune system and its ability to fight infections and other diseases. Immunosuppression may be deliberately induced with drugs, as in preparation for bone marrow or other organ transplantation, to prevent rejection of the donor tissue. It may also result from certain diseases such as AIDS or lymphoma or from anticancer drugs.

Immunotherapy: 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.

Infusion: a method of putting fluids, including drugs, into the bloodstream. Also called intravenous infusion.

Intramuscular (IM): within or into muscle.

Intravenous (IV): into or within a vein. Usually refers to a way of giving a drug or other substance through a needle or tube inserted into a vein.

Invasive cancer: cancer that has spread from where it started into surrounding healthy tissue.

Late Effects: Refers to unrecognized toxicities that are absent or subclinical at the end of treatment and that occur months and years after treatment has been completed.

Localized cancer: confined to the site of the primary (original) tumor, and has not spread.

Long-term Effects: Refers to side effects or complications of cancer or its treatment that begin during treatment and continue beyond treatment.

Lymphatic system: a network of organs, lymph nodes, lymph ducts, and lymph vessels that produce and transport lymph from tissues to the bloodstream.

Lymphedema: swelling that generally occurs in arms or legs. Removal of or damage to lymph nodes as a result of cancer treatment can cause lymphedema.

Lymph nodes: small masses of lymphatic tissue surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue that are located throughout the lymphatic system to filter lymphatic tissue and trap bacteria and cancer cells.

Lymphocyte: a type of white blood cell that helps protect the body from infection.

Malignant: cancerous and capable of spreading beyond initial site.

Medical oncologist: a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer. A medical oncologist often is the main health care provider for someone who has cancer and may coordinate treatment given by other doctors.

Metastasis: the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumor formed by cells that have spread is called a "metastatic tumor" or a "metastasis." The metastatic tumor contains cells that are like those in the original tumor. The plural form of metastasis is metastases.

Monoclonal antibodies: made in a lab, these antibodies are used to treat cancer through immunotherapy, treatment used to boost or restore the immune system's ability to fight cancer.

Morbidity: a measure of the new cases of a disease in a population; the number of people who have a disease.

Nadir: the lowest point that an individual's blood cell count will reach as a side effect of cancer treatment.

Neoadjuvant therapy: cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, given before the main or primary treatment, such as surgery.

Neoplasm: a tumor.

Neutropenia: a decrease in the number of neutrophils (white blood cells that respond quickly to infection) in the blood. If a person has less than 1,500 cells/mm3 neutrophils, he or she is considered to be neutropenic and at risk for infection.

Oncogene: a gene that causes normal cells to turn into cancerous tumor cells.

Oncogenesis: the process by which normal cells turn cancerous.

Oncologist: a doctor who specializes in treating cancer. A medical oncologist specializes in diagnosing and treating cancer, for example, while a radiation oncologist specializes in radiation therapy.

Oncology: field of medicine devoted to the treatment and study of cancer.

Palliative care: specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness.

Partial remission: a decrease in the size of a tumor, or in the extent of cancer in the body, in response to treatment. Also called partial response.

Pharmacogenetics: study of the genetic factors that influence each person's reaction to a drug.

Pathogenesis: the development of disease.

Pathology: the scientific study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences.

Pathologist: a doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.

Patient navigation: assistance offered to patients, families, and caregivers to help overcome health care system barriers and facilitate timely access to quality medical and psychosocial care from pre-diagnosis through all phases of the cancer experience.

Phase I trial: in a clinical trial, the first phase of use of the treatment being studied is done with small groups of people after extensive study in the laboratory. Phase I trials determine a safe and appropriate dose to use in a phase II trial. Usually does not include a control treatment for comparison.

Phase II trial: clinical trial that continues testing of new treatment. In phase II, researchers begin to evaluate how well it works against a specific type of cancer. In these trials, the new agent is given to groups of people with one type of cancer or related cancers, using the dosage found to be safe in phase I trials. Usually the new treatment is compared with a standard treatment in this type of trial.

Phase III trial: clinical trial designed to answer research questions across the disease continuum. Usually have hundreds to thousands of participants, in order to find out if there are true differences in the effectiveness of the treatment being tested.

Phase IV trial: clinical trials that are used to evaluate the long-term safety and effectiveness of a treatment. Less common than phase I, II, and III trials, phase IV trials take place after the new treatment has been approved for standard use.

Phenotype: observable characteristics or traits of an organism such as hair color, blood type, or the presence or absence of a disease.

Pivotal trial: a controlled trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a drug in patients who have the disease or condition to be treated.

Placebo-controlled: refers to a clinical study in which the "control" patients receive a placebo, or inert medication or procedure. The experience of the control group of patients is compared with that of the patients who received the investigational drug to determine the safety and efficacy of the therapy being studied.

Port: a small medical appliance that is installed beneath the skin so that drugs can be injected and blood samples can be drawn many times, usually with less discomfort for the patient than a more typical "needle stick." Also called a portacath.

Progression-free survival: defines the length of time during and after treatment that the cancer does not grow. Progression-free survival includes the amount of time patients have experienced a complete response or a partial response, as well as the amount of time patients have experienced stable disease.

Progressive disease: tumor growth of more than 20 percent since treatment began. Tumor growth means that the tumor is getting bigger, but it may also mean that the tumor is spreading. Progression generally indicates that treatment has stopped working.

Protocol: written plan for conducting a clinical trial. The protocol explains what a trial will do, how it will be carried out, and why each part of the trial is necessary.

Proto-oncogenes: a gene that promotes normal cell growth and differentiation.

Psychosocial: In medicine, describes the psychological (emotional) and social parts of a disease and its treatment. Some of the psychosocial parts of cancer are its effects on patients’ feelings, moods, beliefs, the way they cope, and relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.

Radiation oncology: the use of high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and dividing. Also called radiation therapy or radiotherapy.

Randomized clinical trial: a study in which participants are randomly assigned by chance to separate groups that compare different treatments.

Recurrence: the return of cancer, at the same site as the original (primary) tumor or in another location, after the tumor had disappeared.

Refractory: cancer that has not responded to treatment.

Relapse: the return of signs and symptoms of cancer after a period of improvement.

Remission: a decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer.

Response rate: percentage of patients whose cancer shrinks more than 50 percent following treatment.

Second-line treatment: treatment that is given after the cancer has not responded to a first course of therapy.

Stable disease: tumors in which there is no significant shrinkage or increase.

Stage: the extent of a cancer, especially whether the disease has spread from the original site to other parts of the body. The stages of cancer vary for each cancer type and with the staging system used. Generally, stage 0 is still confined to where it started while stage 4 is cancer that has spread to distant lymph nodes or organs.

Standard treatment: a currently accepted and widely used treatment for a certain type of cancer, based on the results of past research.

Survivor: One who remains alive and continues to function during and after overcoming a serious hardship or life-threatening disease. In cancer, a person is considered to be a survivor from the time of diagnosis until the end of life.

Survivorship: In cancer, survivorship focuses on the health and life of a person with cancer post treatment until the end of life. It covers the physical, psychosocial, and economic issues of cancer, beyond the diagnosis and treatment phases. Survivorship includes issues related to the ability to get health care and follow-up treatment, late effects of treatment, second cancers, and quality of life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also considered part of the survivorship experience.

Symptom deterioration: a deterioration of health status requiring discontinuation of treatment without objective evidence of disease progression.

Targeted therapy: a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells while limiting affect on normal cells.

Third-line treatment: treatment that is given after the cancer has not responded to a second course of therapy.

Toxicity: harmful side effects from an agent being tested.

Transformation: the process by which a normal cell undergoes a series of changes that cause it to become cancerous.

Translational research: research that bridges the gap between laboratory research and its application to the clinic. This type of research, which often involves teams of scientists, conveys new ideas and discoveries between the lab and clinic both to increase our understanding of cancer and to advance the areas of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer.

Tumor marker: substance made by cancer cells and sometimes normal cells. Tumor markers may be used to monitor response to cancer treatment or to look for cancer that has recurred. Tumor markers include CA 125 (ovarian cancer), CEA (GI tract cancers), and PSA (prostate cancer).

White blood cells: a variety of cells that fight invading germs, infection, and allergy-causing agents. Also called leukocytes.