Cancer Glossary

There are several terms that are used in context of cancer. Some of these include:

Terms related to cancer types

  • Tumor or tumour – this means any abnormal swelling, lump or mass.
  • Neoplasm – this is the medical term for cancer and is synonymous with it.
  • Neoplasm may be further spoken of as a malignant neoplasm or cancer.
  • Benign neoplasm or benign tumor.
  • An invasive tumor is one that signifies the invasiveness of the cancer.
  • A non-invasive tumor is one that is not yet invasive but has the potential to turn aggressive and invade other organs.
  • Atypia, dysplasia and carcinoma in situ – this is a form of non invasive tumors where the cells begin to show abnormality under the microscope.
  • Carcinoma – this is a type of cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.
  • Sarcoma – this type of cancer begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels and other supportive tissues.
  • Leukemia – this type of cancer starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow leading to production of large numbers of abnormal blood cells - this is called blood cancer is common parlance.
  • Lymphoma and myeloma – these are cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.

Terms related to diagnosis and pathology of cancer

  • Screening – this refers to a test that is done routinely at fixed age and intervals among healthy persons to detect tumors before they become apparent. A good example of a screening test is a mammogram to detect breast cancer. These tests are usually minimally painful or invasive to increase their acceptability.
  • Biopsy – this is a laboratory test that involves removal of a sample of tissues from a cancer or tumor to check the cells under the microscope for abnormality. There are several types of biopsy procedures like fine needle aspiration, core biopsy or excision biopsy.
  • Grade of the tumor – This is usually defined as the degree of resemblance of the tumor to the surrounding benign tissue. A low grade tumor resembles the surrounding normal tissues closely while a high grade tumor is very different from surrounding tissues. An intermediate grade lies somewhere in between.
  • Stage of cancer – This is usually a number (usually between 0 to 4) that describe the degree of invasion of the body by the tumor. A grade 4 cancer is an advanced cancer that has spread to distant organs and is less amenable to treatment.
  • Metastasis – Spread of tumors to distant sites away from the original site of the cancer.
  • Transformation of the tumor – This refers to change of a low grade tumor to a high grade tumor.
  • Aggressive tumor – a minimally aggressive tumor spreads slowly whereas an aggressive tumor tends to spread faster.
  • Oncologist – a Specialist who deals with cancer and its treatment.
  • An oncopatholgist – a pathologist who helps in diagnosis and detection of cancers.

Terms related to treatment of cancer

  • Remission – when a cancer patient shows no sign of cancer after therapy, he or she is said to be in remission. They are kept under a close watch and system of monitoring and follow up to detect a relapse.
  • Cure – a cure is considered in a cancer patient if 95% of treated patients live a certain period of time after the date of their diagnosis of cancer. For Hodgkin’s lymphoma it is 10 years, whereas for Burkitt's lymphoma this period is 1 year.
  • Recurrence – if the cancer returns at the site of the original tumor after surgery or treatment, it is called a recurrence.
  • Median survival time – this is a period of time measured in months or years over which at least 50% of the cancer patients are expected to be alive.
  • Overall survival – this is statistical term that determines the maximum survivability with a cancer.
  • Prognosis – this is the possible outcome of a cancer. It is usually expressed as a probability of survival five years after diagnosis. It can also be expressed as the number of years when 50% of the patients are still alive. A graphical analysis by the Kaplan-Meier curve is used to determine the prognosis.
  • Protocol – This refers to the specific chemotherapy plan that is used.
  • Chemotherapy – this refers to the treatment of cancer using anti-cancer drugs.
  • Cycle - chemotherapy drugs are often given in the same order on the same schedule repeatedly. These are called cycles of chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy – this treatment refers to therapy with high energy beams or rays and radiation to kill the cancer cells.
  • Adjuvant therapy – this is usually given with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This is given after surgery to kill the remaining cancer cells.
  • Neo-adjuvant therapy – This is similar to adjuvant therapy used before surgery to reduce the burden of cancer cells.
  • Palliative therapy – This refers to symptomatic relief that is provided in patients with advanced cancers.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Ananya Mandal

Written by

Ananya Mandal

Ananya is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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