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Glossary of Common Cancer Terms

When you’re on treatment, a lot of the words you hear may be new. Here are some terms that might help you learn more about your cancer diagnosis and plan for treatment. Try asking your doctor for any information you don’t understand. Find more terms related to cancer here.

A-E

F-J

K-O

P-Z


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    Acute

    Used to describe a symptom or issue that begins or worsens quickly

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    Adjuvant treatment

    A type of therapy that is given after the primary treatment to lower the risk that the cancer will come back

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    Adverse event

    An unexpected problem occurring during medical treatment with a drug or therapy. Adverse events can vary for different medications. If you have an adverse event, contact your doctor. Adverse events differ from side effects

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    Benign (nonmalignant)

    Used to describe a growth that does not have cancer. It’s usually related to a tumor

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    Biological therapies

    A treatment derived from living organisms. They can interfere with cancer cells in various ways

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    Biomarker

    A molecule within the body that can indicate the presence of cancer, help doctors determine the right type of cancer treatment for a patient, or show how cancer is responding to treatment. Learn more about biomarkers here

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    Brachytherapy

    A kind of radiation therapy in which the source of radiation is put into the body near a tumor

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    Cancer (malignancy)

    The medical term for when abnormal cells start to increase in number without control. Cancer cells may spread into other parts of the body

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    Catheter

    A flexible tube that transports liquid to and from the body

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    Cell

    The smallest unit of life. All living things and tissues are made up of cells, including healthy tissue and cancerous tissue. See also stem cell transplant

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    Chemotherapy

    The use of drug treatments to destroy cancer cells or keep new cancer cells from forming. Learn more about common cancer treatments

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    Gene

    A piece of DNA responsible for carrying genetic information from parent to child

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    Immune system

    The system of the body that includes white blood cells and helps the body fight disease and infection

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    Immunotherapy

    A treatment that uses the immune system to fight disease, including some cancers

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    Infusion

    A way of putting liquids, including cancer treatments, into the blood through a catheter or port into a vein

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    Injection (shot)

    Giving medicine with a syringe and needle

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    Intravenous (IV)

    A treatment or therapy that is administered into the body through a vein

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    Laparoscopic surgery

    A surgery in which the surgeon uses a thin tube with a laparoscope (a thin tube with a camera and light) to see inside the body. This allows the surgeon to perform surgery without making a large cut

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    Localized treatment

    A treatment delivered to the specific area of the body where the cancer is present

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    Lymph node

    A small, bean-shaped part of the immune system that contains white blood cells. There are hundreds connected through the lymph system to help fight disease and infection

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    Maintenance treatment

    A treatment that is meant to keep cancer from returning after other treatments have eliminated or reduced the cancer. It can be given for weeks, months, or years, depending on the cancer and treatment type

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    Malignant

    Used to describe a cancerous growth that may spread to other parts of the body

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    Neoadjuvant treatment

    A cancer treatment that is used to shrink a tumor before the primary (or main) treatment, or help to make the primary treatment more effective

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    Open surgery

    A procedure in which a surgeon makes a large cut to the body to remove a tumor and possibly other nearby tissue

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    Palliative care

    A form of care that manages people who are affected by a serious or terminal diagnosis. It can use a variety of ways to relieve symptoms and to help manage side effects and psychosocial problems to improve quality of life

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    Port (port-a-cath)

    A device used to give and take fluids in and out of the body. A catheter connects the port to a large vein, usually in the chest. It is surgically inserted under the skin

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    Primary treatment

    This is the first treatment for a disease. The primary treatment may not be enough to eliminate the disease, so other treatments may be recommended

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    Protein

    A molecule found in the body. It’s made up of amino acids. They are important for the body to work properly

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    Radiation therapy

    A treatment that uses high-energy from X-rays or other particles to target, shrink, or kill cancerous cells and tumors. Learn more about common cancer treatments

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    Side effect

    A problem that happens when a treatment has an effect on the body other than the area being treated. There are many kinds of side effects that may occur with cancer treatment. If you experience any side effects, be sure to tell your doctor right away

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    Stem cell transplant

    A type of treatment in which a patient receives blood-forming cells to replace cells that have been damaged by disease or cancer treatment

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    Surgery

    A procedure performed by a surgeon to treat or explore a condition in the body. Surgery to treat cancer usually removes the cancerous cells from the area of the body that is affected

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    Symptom

    A problem, such as pain or nausea, that a patient experiences, which may be a sign of a disease or condition

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    Systemic treatment

    A treatment that affects cells throughout the whole body, rather than one specific area of the body

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    Targeted therapy

    A treatment that works to target specific cancer cells to stop them from continuing to grow. Learn more about common cancer treatments

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    Tumor (neoplasm)

    An abnormal growth of tissue in the body. Tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous)