Glossary of Cancer Terms
Alpha Fetoprotein Test (AFP): AFP in the blood can mean that certain types of cancer—especially cancer of the testicles, ovaries, stomach, pancreas, or liver—are present if found in the blood of men, nonpregnant women, and children. High levels of AFP may also be found in Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma, brain tumors and renal cell cancer.
Biopsy: A small sample of the suspicious area of the body is removed for examination under a microscope.
CA 125 blood test: Measures the amount of the protein CA 125 (cancer antigen 125) in your blood. A CA 125 test may be used to monitor certain cancers during and after treatment. In some cases, a CA 125 test may be used to look for early signs of ovarian cancer in women with a very high risk of the disease.
Cancer screening exams: Tests performed when you are healthy and do not show signs of any disease. These exams help to find cancer early, when the chances for successfully treating the disease are best.
Cancer: An abnormal growth of cells that rapidly reproduce despite restriction of space, nutrients shared by other cells or signals sent from the body to stop reproduction. Cancer cells are often shaped differently from healthy cells. Cancer cells do not function properly and they can spread to many areas of the body. Tumors are cancer cell that are capable of growing and dividing uncontrollably.
Carcinoma: A cancer found in body tissue that covers or lines surfaces of organs, glands or body structures. For example, a cancer of the lining of the stomach is called a carcinoma. Many carcinomas affect organs or glands that are involved with secretion, such as breasts that produce milk. Carcinomas account for 80 percent to 90 percent of all cancer cases.
Clinical breast exam: An exam where your health care provider checks for lumps or other changes.
Colonoscopy: An exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the colon and rectum. This uses a small tube called a colonoscope with a video camera that allows the doctor to examine the surface of the colon.
Core biopsy: A thicker needle is used to remove one or more small cylinder-shaped tissue samples from the tumor.
CT or CAT scan (Computed Tomography): A computed tomography (CT) scan is an imaging method that uses X-rays to create pictures of cross-sections of the body.
Digital rectal exam: An examination of the lower rectum. The doctor uses a gloved, lubricated finger inserted in the rectum to check for any abnormal findings.
Distant spread: Cancer has spread from the primary site to distant tissues, organs or lymph nodes.
Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): This test finds hidden blood in the stool, which may be a sign of cancer. If your doctor finds blood in your stool, you will need a colonoscopy to find out the cause.
Fine needle aspiration (FNA): A type of biopsy. A thin, hollow needle is inserted into the area to be biopsied. Fluid and cells are removed from the tumor and looked at with a microscope. While this test can help to determine if cancer is present, it cannot determine if the cancer is invasive. Additional biopsies may be needed.
IDD: The acronym for the Institute of Drug Development, which is located within the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In situ: Cancer cells are present, but have not spread.
Leukemia: Also known as blood cancer. It is a cancer of the bone marrow, which keeps the marrow from producing normal red and white blood cells and platelets. White blood cells are needed to resist infection. Red blood cells are needed to prevent anemia. Platelets keep the body from easily bruising and bleeding.
Localized: Cancer is limited to the organ in which it began. No evidence of spread to other locations in the body.
Lymphedema: Swelling that occurs in your limbs, one of your arms or legs. Sometimes both arms or both legs swell.
Lymphoma: A cancer that originates in the nodes or glands of the lymphatic system, whose job it is to produce white blood cells and clean body fluids, or in organs such as the brain and breast. Lymphomas are classified into two categories: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Mammogram: This exam uses low-dose X-rays to create an image of the breast tissue. It detects lumps that are too small to be felt.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body.
Myeloma: Myeloma grows in the plasma cells of bone marrow. In some cases, the myeloma cells collect in one bone and form a single tumor, called a plasmacytoma. Myeloma cells can collect in many bones, forming many bone tumors. This is called multiple myeloma.
NCI-designated cancer center: NCI-designated cancer centers are at the forefront of NCI-supported efforts at universities and cancer research centers across the United States that are developing and translating scientific knowledge from promising laboratory discoveries into new treatments for cancer patients. The Cancer Therapy & Research Center is one of 69 NCI-designated cancer centers in the United States.
Oncology: The medical specialty concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
PSA test: Used primarily to screen for prostate cancer. This test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. X-rays, gamma rays and charged particles are types of radiation used for cancer treatment. The radiation may be delivered by a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses radioactive substances, such as radioactive iodine, that travel in the blood to kill cancer cells. About half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy during treatment.
Regional spread: Cancer has spread beyond the primary site to nearby lymph nodes, tissues or organs.
Sarcoma: A malignant tumor growing from connective tissues, such as cartilage, fat, muscle, tendons and bones. The most common sarcoma, a tumor on the bone, usually occurs in young adults. Examples of sarcoma include osteosarcoma (bone) and chondrosarcoma (cartilage).
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: Lymph nodes are olive-sized glands that are part of the lymphatic system, which circulates lymph fluid throughout the body. The lymphatic system also can carry cancer cells from the tumor site to other areas of the body. The sentinel lymph node is the node closest to the cancer site. It is tested to determine if the cancer has moved beyond its original location.
Stage 0 cancer: Cancer cells found in location, no spread.
Stage 1 cancer: Cancer is limited to the organ in which it began. No evidence of spread to other locations in the body.
Stage 2 cancer: Cancer has spread beyond the primary site to nearby lymph nodes, tissues or organs. Tumor may be larger, spread more extensive.
Stage 3 cancer: Cancer has spread beyond the primary site to nearby lymph nodes, tissues or organs. Tumor may be larger, spread more extensive.
Stage 4 cancer: Cancer has spread from the primary site to distant tissues, organs or lymph nodes.
Surgical biopsy: An incision is made in the body. Surgeons find the tumor by touch or with a CT (or CAT, computed axial tomography) scan, ultrasound or mammogram. The entire mass is removed in an excisional biopsy. Only a portion of the tumor is removed in an excisional biopsy.
Transvaginal ultrasound: A test used to look at a woman's reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries and cervix. Transvaginal means across or through the vagina.
Ultrasound: This exam uses a machine that sends out high-frequency sound waves, which reflect off body structures. A computer receives the waves and uses them to create a picture. Unlike with an X-ray or CT scan, this test does not use ionizing radiation.
Unknown: During tumor examination, there is not enough information available to determine the stage.
Virtual colonoscopy (also called Computed Tomographic Colonography): Virtual colonoscopy, also called computerized tomography (CT) colonography, is a procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to create images of the rectum and entire colon. Virtual colonoscopy can show irritated and swollen tissue, ulcers, and polyps—extra pieces of tissue that grow on the lining of the intestine.