Glossary of Cancer Terms


The part of the body that contains the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, pancreas and other organs.


Not normal. May be cancerous or pre-cancerous.


A pocket of pus that forms as the body’s defenses attempt to wall off infection-causing germs

Accelerated phase

Refers to chronic myelogenous leukemia that is progressing. The number of immature, abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow and blood is higher than in the chronic phase, but not as high as in the blast phase.


A lack of hydrochloric acid in the digestive juices in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid helps digest food.


Related to sound or hearing.

Acquired mutations

Gene changes that arise within individual cells and accumulate throughout a person’s lifetime; also called somatic mutations.


Fine needles are inserted into the skin at certain points of the body to relieve pain.

Acute Leukemia

A cancer of the white blood cells. In acute leukemia the white blood cells are immature (called blasts) and cause the bone marrow to malfunction. This is a rapidly progressing disease that requires immediate treatment.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) An acute leukemia affecting the lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). It is most common in children and in the elderly. This is a rapidly progressing disease that requires immediate treatment.
Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) An acute leukemia affecting the myeloid line of white blood cells. There are several sub types of AML. It is more common in adults. This is a rapidly progressing disease that requires immediate treatment.

Acute pain

Pain that is severe, but lasts a relatively short time.


Uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use.


Cancer that begins in cells from glandular structures in the lining or covering of an organ.

Adjuvant therapy

One or more anticancer drugs used in combination with surgery or radiation therapy as part of the treatment of cancer. Adjuvant usually means "in addition to" treatment.

Adrenal Cancer The most common cancerous tumor of the adrenal gland are adrenalcortical carcinomas. They tend to be large and secrete several hormones. About 30% of these do not produce hormones, and are usually recognized only when have grown to a considerable size. Adrenocortical carcinomas are curable if the diagnosis can be made before the tumor is larger than 2 in. and has not spread outside the adrenal gland. Pheochromocytomas, tumors of the adrenal medulla, can either be benign (85%) or malignant (15%). Either type can produce hormones or other substances that may cause significant health problems. Only malignant tumors spread to other sites.
Adrenal glands Triangular shaped glands located on top of the kidneys. They produce a variety of hormones that are essential for life. The central part of the gland - the medulla - produces norepinephrine, a substance necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses, and epinephrine. The outer part - the cortex -produces four hormones: aldosterone, which regulates salt and water balance: hydrocortisone, which is essential for body metabolism; and sex hormones in males (androgens) and females (estrogens).

Advanced directives

Legal documents which state an individual’s decision about future medical treatment, in the event they are unable to make their wishes known.


A type of disease that generally grows quickly.


Variant forms of the same gene. Different alleles produce variations in inherited characteristics such as eye color or blood type.


Hair loss.

Alteration, altered

Change, different from the original.

Amino acid

Any of a class of 20 molecules that combine to form proteins in living things.


An anticancer drug that belongs to the family of drugs called non-steroidal aromatase inhibitors. Aminogluterhimide is used to decrease the production of sex hormones (estrogen or testosterone) and suppress the growth of tumors that need sex hormones to grow.

Amyloidosis Amyloidosis is a disease in which an abnormal amyloid protein collects in various tissues damaging them and interfering with the function of the involved organ.


Medicine that is used to relieve pain.


A term used to describe cancer cells that divide rapidly and bear little or no resemblance to normal cells.


A male hormone.


A decrease in the normal number of red blood cells. Symptoms include weakness, lack of energy, paleness, and sometimes shortness of breath.


Drugs or gases given before and during surgery so the patient won’t feel pain. The patient may be awake or asleep.


A doctor who gives drugs or gases that keep the patient comfortable during surgery.


A procedure to x-ray blood vessels. The blood vessels can be seen because of an injection of a dye that shows up in the x-ray pictures.

Angiosarcoma A type of soft tissue sarcoma in which the tissue of origin is the blood vessels. Soft tissue sarcomas are uncommon malignant tumors that begin in the soft tissues such as muscles, cartilage, fat, or connective tissue. Each year, in the United States, there are about 6,000 cases of soft tissue sarcomas, making up 1% of all cancers in adults and 15% of all cancers in children. There are at least 56 different types of soft tissue sarcomas named according to the normal tissues from which the tumor is derived. In most cases, surgery is considered first-line therapy.


Decrease in appetite.


Drugs used to block the production or interfere with the action of male sex hormones.


Drugs that fight infections.


Substances made by certain white blood cells that fight infection.


Medicine to stop, prevent, or control seizures (convulsions). Also used to control burning and tingling pain.


A medicine used to treat depression or tingling or burning pain from damaged nerves.


Medication to prevent nausea and vomiting.


A substance, foreign to the body, that stimulates the production of antibodies by the immune system. Antigens include foreign proteins, bacteria, viruses, pollen and other materials.


The opening of the rectum to the outside of the body.

Anus Cancer Cancer at the opening of the rectum to the outside of the body.

Anxiolutic (Anti-anxiety medication)

Medicine used to treat anxiety or muscle spasms.


The dark colored skin surrounding the nipple.

Arterial embolization

Blocking an artery so that blood cannot flow to the tumor.


Abnormal collection of fluid in the abdomen.


To withdraw fluid from a lump, often a cyst or the nipple. The fluid taken out is also called aspirate.


Are tumors that arise from astrocyte cells, part of the supportive (neuroglial) tissue of the brain. The cells are named for their star-like shape. Astrocytomas are the most common primary central nervous system (CNS) tumors. Astrocytomas are graded according to their severity.

Ataxic gait

Awkward, uncoordinated walking.


X-rays of blood vessels, which are taken after injection of a dye.

Atypical hyperplasia

A non-cancerous condition in which cells have abnormal features and are increased in number.

Autologous bone marrow transplantation A procedure in which bone marrow is removed from the person, stored, then returned after intensive treatment.

Autologous breast reconstruction

Reconstruction of the breast after mastectomy using the woman’s own body tissue. See TRAM and latissimus dorsi breast reconstruction.


Any of the non-sex-determining chromosomes. Human cells have 22 pairs of autosomes.

Average risk

A measure of the chance of getting disease without the presence of any specific factors known to be associated with the disease.


Armpit, underarm.


Pertaining to the area under the arm, including lymph nodes.

Axillary lymph node dissection

Surgery to remove the lymph nodes from the armpit region.


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