Glossary of Terms

Acute Leukemia - Cancer of bone marrow cells that progresses rapidly

Adenocarcinoma - Cancer that begins in gland cells that line certain internal organs

Adenoma - A noncancerous tumor of the glands

Adjuvant Therapy - Treatment given in addition to the primary treatment to enhance the effectiveness of the primary treatment

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

Anemia - A decrease in the normal amounts of red blood cells

Angiogenesis - Blood vessel formation, which usually accompanies the growth of malignant tissue

Antibody - A protein substance which helps defend the body against infections due to viruses, bacteria, and other foreign organisms

Antigen - Any substance capable of stimulating a specific immune response in the body

Arterial Perfusion - Treatment in which anticancer drugs are delivered to the major artery supplying the limb being treated

Asbestos - A natural material that is made up of tiny fibers; if the fibers are inhaled, they can lodge in the lungs and lead to cancer.

Autologous Bone Marrow Transplant (ABMT) - A process in which a patient's healthy bone marrow is withdrawn and preserved; it is later injected back into the patient to replace bone marrow damaged by high doses of radiation therapy

Basal Cells - Cells found in the lowest part of the epidermis, or outermost layer of skin

Basal Cell Carcinoma - A type of skin cancer which arises from the basal cells

Benign - Not cancerous

Biological Therapy - Cancer treatment that uses natural substances or substances made in a laboratory to stimulate or restore the ability of the body's immune system to fight disease

Biopsy - The surgical removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination; often used to determine if cells or a tumor are cancerous

Blasts - Immature blood cells

Bone Marrow - The soft, spongy center of bones; Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.

Bone Marrow Aspiration or Biopsy - Removal of a small sample of bone marrow (usually from the hip) through a needle for examination under a microscope

Bone Marrow Transplantation - Procedure in which doctors replace marrow destroyed by treatment with high doses of anticancer drugs or radiation; the replacement marrow may be taken from the patient before treatment or may be donated by another person

Bone Scan - A technology to create images of bones on a computer screen or on film; a small amount of radioactive material is injected and travels through the blood stream

Brachytherapy - A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive materials are placed in direct contact with the tissue being treated

Burkitt's Lymphoma - A type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that most often occurs in young people between the ages of 12 and 30; the disease usually causes a rapidly growing tumor in the abdomen

Cancer - A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide and invade without control; cancer cells can invade nearby tissues and spread through the blood stream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body

Carcinogen - Any substance that is known to cause cancer

Carcinogensis - The process by which normal cells are transformed into cancer cells

Carcinoma - Cancer that begins in the lining or covering of an organ

Carcinoma In Situ - Cancer that involves only the cells in which it began and has not spread to other tissues

Cauterization - The use of heat to destroy abnormal cells

CEA Assay - A lab test to measure the level of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), a substance that is sometimes found in an increased amount in the blood of patients with certain cancers

Chemoprevention - Use of natural or lab made substances to prevent cancer

Chemotherapy - Treatment with anticancer drugs

Cholangiosarcoma - A type of cancer that begins in the bile duct

Chondrosarcoma - A cancer that forms in cartilage

Chordoma - A form of bone cancer that usually starts in the lower spinal column

Chronic Leukemia - Bone marrow cancer that progresses slowly

Chronic Phase - Refers to the early stages of chronic myelogenous leukemia; the number of immature, abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow and blood is higher than normal, but lower than in the accelerated or blast phase

Clinical Trial - Research conducted with patients, usually to evaluate a new treatment; many times cancer patients can receive new, experimental treatments by participating in a clinical trial

Diverticulosis - A condition in which a person has small sacs or pouch in the walls of an organ, such as the stomach or intestine; these sacs can become inflamed to cause diverticulitis and can be a risk factor for certain types of cancer

Dose Intensity - In chemotherapy, the total amount of drug delivered in a one-week period

Epidermis - The outermost layer of the skin; overexposure of the epidermis to ultraviolet rays from the sun can lead to skin cancer

Five-year Survival Rate - The likelihood that a patient will not die from causes associated with his or her cancer for at least five years after diagnosis; this is the standard many professionals use when determining someone a "survivor" of cancer

Flow Cytometry - A procedure used to evaluate the risk of recurrence of certain cancers by measuring the amount of DNA in cells

Hematology - The branch of medicine that studies and treats the blood and blood tissues

Hematologist - A doctor who specializes in the study and treatment of diseases of the blood

Hemorrhage - Bleeding

Hodgkin's Disease - A malignant disorder of the lymph tissue (lymphoma) that occurs most often in males, and most often in individuals between the ages of 15 and 35; it is characterized by progressive, painless enlargement of the lymph nodes, spleen, and general lymph tissue

Immune System - The body system, made up of many organs and cells, that defends the body against infection, disease and foreign substances

Immunocompetence - The body's ability to develop an immune response to infection or disease

Immunotherapy - Treatment of disease by stimulating the body's own immune system; this is a type of therapy currently being researched as a treatment for cancer

Interferons - Proteins produced by the body with the specific purpose of regulating cell functions. Interferons are produced in the laboratory in large quantities, and are sometimes used in the treatment of certain cancers

Interleukin-2 - A hormone-like substance produced by the body (certain blood cells, specifically) that stimulates the growth of blood cells important to the body's immune system

Iodine - An element; radiation therapy often uses radioactive forms of iodine in treatment

Leukemia - A progressive, malignant disease of the blood-forming organs, characterized by over-proliferation and development of leukocytes (a type of white blood cell); there are many different forms of leukemia

Lymph Nodes - Small, bean-shaped organs that supply lymphocytes ( a certain type of white blood cell) to the bloodstream and filter out bacteria and foreign substances from the fluid that contains white blood cells

Lymphatic System - The tissues and organs that produce and stire white blood cells used to fight infection

Lymphocytes - The type of white blood cell that fights disease and infection

Lymphoma - A general term form for any disease of the lymphatic tissue characterized by abnormal, uncontrolled cell growth; Hodgkin's disease is a type of lymphoma

Malignant - Cancerous

Malignancy - Common term for a cancerous tumor or cancerous tissue

Mammogram - An X-ray of the breast; mammograms are used to detect any abnormalities in breast tissue, specifically breast cancer

Metastases - Cancer that started from cancer cells from another part of the body; for example, cancer that starts in the breast can spread to the lymph nodes and then be spread throughout the body

Metastasis - The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another

Multiple Myeloma - A cancer of the plasma cells found in the bone marrow

Mycosis Fungoides - A rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that first appears on the skin, then later spreads to the lymph nodes and organs

Neuroblastoma - A sarcoma (a specific type of cancerous cell structure) that originates in the nervous system and usually affects infants and children under the age of ten

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma - Any kind of primary cancer of the lymph tissues other than Hodgkin's disease

Nuclear Medicine - The branch of medicine pertaining to diagnostic, therapeutic and investigative use of radioactive chemical elements

Oncologist - A doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer

Pathologist - A doctor who specializes in the nature, structure and identification of disease

Pathology - The branch of medicine concerned with disease, especially its structure and its functional effects on the body

Photocoagulation - A cancer treatment in which a laser is used to destroy blood vessels entering a tumor in order to deprive the tumor of its nutrients

Photodynamic Therapy - Cancer treatment that uses the interaction between laser light and a substance that makes cells more sensitive to light; when light is applied to cells that have been treated with this substance, a chemical reaction occurs and destroys cancer cells

Plasma Cells - White blood cells

Polyp - A protruding growth from a mucous membrane, commonly found in the nose, uterus and rectum; certain polyps, such as those found in the colon, can become cancerous

Prognosis - The probable outcome of a disease

Prostate Gland - A gland in the male that surrounds the neck of the bladder and urethra; the prostate contributes to the seminal fluid

Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test - A simple blood test used to detect prostate cancer in men

Radiation Therapy - Cancer treatment using radiation from X-ray machines, cobalt, radium or other sources to destroy cancer cells

Red Blood Cells - A blood component; these cells carry oxygen to the organs and tissues throughout the body

Remission - The decrease or disappearance of the symptoms of cancer

Sarcoma - A cancerous growth of the soft tissues, usually appearing first as a painless swelling

Stage - A term used to describe cancer; the stage includes the size of the tumor and the extent to which it has spread, if any, to other parts of the body

Surgical Oncology - Treatment of cancer using surgery, usually to remove cancerous tumors and tissue

Tumor - Abnormal growth of tissue; can be benign (harmless) or malignant (cancerous)

Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes - Special cancer-fighting cells of the immune system found in tumors

Tumor Marker - A substance in the body that usually indicates the presence of cancer; these markers are usually specific to certain types of cancer, and are usually found in the blood or other tissue samples


Altman, R., and Michael J. Sarg, M.D. The Cancer Dictionary. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1992.

Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1985.

Mosby's Medical Encyclopedia.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Cancer Institute.