This glossary defines some of the medical
and scientific terms commonly used by oncology physicians, nurses, researchers,
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" initial therapy.
Treatment that is added to increase the effectiveness of a primary therapy. In
cancer, adjuvant treatment usually refers to chemotherapy or radiation therapy
administered before or after surgery to increase the likelihood of cure.
One of two or more things, courses or propositions to be chosen. In applying
this to cancer treatment this means making a choice to use some treatment other
than what is traditionally offered by the medical community in the treatment of
A tumour that is not cancerous. It is the opposite of a malignant or cancerous
Treatment by stimulation of the body’s immune defence system. Most of these
treatments are in the clinical research phase of development.
The surgical removal of a small piece of tissue for microscopic examination to
determine if cancer cells are present. Biopsy is a very important procedure to
determine the type of cells of which the tumour is made. Different cancer
treatments may be used depending on the tumour cell type.
Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT):
A treatment of cancer that involves receiving high doses of chemotherapy and
radiation (to kill all cancer cells in the body) and an infusion of healthy bone
marrow (to help healthy new cells to grow). BMTs can be autologous which is the
infusion of the patient’s own bone marrow or allogeneic which is the infusion of
someone else’s bone marrow that is genetically similar.
Treatment with radioactive sources placed into or very near the tumour or
affected area. It includes surface application, body cavity application (intracavitary),
and placement into the tissue (interstitial). Sometimes this term is used
interchangeably with "internal radiation therapy" or "radiation implant".
A procedure that involves placing a flexible tube with a camera at the end
(called a fibroscope) down the nose or throat to visualize, and often take
tissue specimens of the larynx, trachea, bronchus, and lungs.
CAT SCAN (Computerized Axial Tomography Scan):
A type of X-ray that yields a three-dimensional picture of the body that is
about 100 times more sensitive than a standard X-ray. It can be given with or
without contrast (medication given by drink or injection to enhance X-ray
CBC (Complete Blood Count):
A test to measure blood cells including:
WBC (white blood cells) – cells that fight infection.
RBC (red blood cells) – measured by the haemoglobin and
haematocrit; these cells carry oxygen to your body’s tissues.
Platelets – cells that help form clots and prevent bleeding.
A general term for more than 100 diseases characterized by abnormal and
uncontrolled growth of cells. The resulting mass, or tumour, can invade and
destroy surrounding normal tissues. Cancer cells from the tumour can spread
through the bloodstream or lymph system to start new cancers in other parts of
A form of cancer that develops in tissues covering or lining organs of the body,
such as the skin, the uterus, the lung, or the breast.
The use of drugs or hormones to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be
given orally (by pills), by intravenous injections (into the vein), by
subcutaneous injection (under the skin), by intramuscular injection (into the
muscle), by intra-arterial injection (into the arteries), or topically (with
creams and/or gels).
In cancer research, a clinical trial is a study conducted with cancer patients,
usually to evaluate a new drug or treatment. Studies are designed to find new
and better ways to help cancer patients. Generally, cancer clinical research
evaluates surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy techniques. Methods of
prevention, detection or diagnosis also may be the subject of clinical trials.
Patients are never placed on a clinical trial without their permission.
A procedure that allows inspection and tissue sampling of the rectum and large
intestine by inserting a flexible tube with an attached camera through the
Treatments using two or more chemotherapy drugs
to achieve the most effective results.
An abnormal sac-like structure that contains liquid or semisolid material. A
cyst may be benign (not harmful) or malignant (harmful).
Made-up of DNA and contained in every cell, they are sets of instructions that
control biological development and function. You inherit genes as distinct units
from your parents.
A scale of one to three indicating how much the tumour cells resemble normal
cells (also referred to as differentiation). The lower the grade, the more the
tumour cells resemble normal cells, which may mean a more favourable prognosis.
A mutation carried in the reproductive cells that can be passed on from one
generation to another. Only 5 – 10% of cancers are inherited.
Hormones are secreted naturally by various organs of the body to help regulate
growth, metabolism, and reproduction. Hormones may be used alone to treat
cancers or in combination with other chemotherapy drugs.
A concept of psychosocial and support care to meet the special needs of patient
and their families during the terminal stages of illness. The care is provided
both in outpatient and inpatient settings.
Study of the body’s mechanisms for resisting disease in the invasion of foreign
A treatment that stimulates the body’s own defence mechanisms to combat disease,
such as cancer.
In place, localized and confined to one area; a very early stage of cancer.
Cancer that has spread from its place of origin to surrounding tissue.
Treatments done under specific standards set up by the scientific community. The
treatments have some basis for being tested in humans, that they work against
some animal cancers.
The surgical removal of the larynx or voice box, resulting in the loss of normal
Cancer of the blood-forming tissues such as bone marrow, lymph nodes, and
spleen. Leukaemia is characterized by the overproduction of abnormal, immature
white blood cells.
A machine that creates high-energy radiation to treat cancers, using electricity
to form a stream of fast-moving subatomic particles.
A cancer still confined to its site of origin.
A clear fluid that contains white blood cells and antibodies, and is circulated
throughout the body by the lymphatic system.
Swelling of the hand and arm in some women who have had surgery for breast
cancer; caused by extra fluid that may collect in tissues when underarm lymph
nodes are removed or blocked.
A gland which produces lymph which normally
acts as a filter of impurities in the body. It can trap cancer cells which may
then develop into a new tumour.
Cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. The most common type of lymphoma
is Hodgkin's Disease. All other lymphomas are called non-Hodgkin's lymphomas.
A tumour that has been determined to be cancerous. It is the opposite of a
The image produced by a low-dose X-ray of the breast.
A screening and diagnostic technique that uses low-dose X-rays to find tumours
in the breast. Mammography can reveal a tumour too small to be felt even by the
most experienced physician.
An area of tissue surrounding a tumour which has been surgically removed. Clear
margins, those without evidence of cancer, indicate that the surgeon has removed
all of the microscopically visible cancer.
A very aggressive type of skin cancer that can spread to other areas of the body
if not detected and treated early.
The spread of cancer cells to other areas of the body. The term metastases
refers to these new cancer sites.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging):
A type of diagnostic ray that uses magnets to obtain clear, detailed pictures of
specific body sections. MRIs can create a greater contrast between some soft
tissues (such as in the brain) which usually makes it a better tool than a CAT
Scan in such cases.
The period of time following chemotherapy, usually 7-10 days after chemotherapy,
when blood counts drop, thereby increasing susceptibility to infection or
Any new abnormal growth. Neoplasms may be benign or malignant, but the term is
generally used to describe a cancer.
Certain stretches of cellular DNA that, when activated, contribute to the
malignant transformation of cells.
A doctor who specializes in cancer treatment.
The science dealing with the physical, chemical and biological properties and
features of cancer, including the causes and progression of the disease.
Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist:
A nurse with advanced skills and knowledge about cancer care who assists
patients and their families with treatment: from prevention and detection of
cancer through treatment, follow-up, cure, or terminal care.
Oncology Nurse Practitioner:
A registered nurse with advanced education in cancer care who provides nursing
and medical services to cancer patients and their families.
Therapy that relieves symptoms, such as pain, but does not alter the course of
the disease. Its primary purpose is to improve the quality of life.
The study of disease through examination of body tissues and organs. This always
includes a microscopic examination. Any tumour suspected of being cancerous must
be diagnosed by pathologic examination.
Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant (PBSC):
A newer type of transplant similar to bone marrow transplant (BMT) that instead
uses a patient’s own circulating peripheral cells as opposed to cells inside the
An inert substance, such as a sugar pill. A placebo may be used in clinical
trials to compare the effects of a given treatment against no treatment.
The reduction of cancer risk with cancer fighting agents. A change in
life-style, such as not smoking, can help prevent lung and many other cancers.
A source of high-dose radiation that is placed directly into and around a cancer
to kill the cancer cells.
A physician with special training in the use of X-ray energy for the treatment
A person trained to ensure that the radiation machine delivers the right amount
of radiation to the treatment site.
A person with special training who runs the equipment that delivers the
radiation. Sometimes called a radiation technologist.
Treatment of cancer with high-energy radiation. Radiation therapy may be the
only treatment used, or it may be given before surgery to reduce the size of a
cancer, after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells, or in conjunction
Reappearance of cancer at its original site after a period of remission.
Complete or partial disappearance of the signs and symptoms of disease in
response to treatment; the period during which a disease is under control.
A cancer of connective tissue, bone or cartilage.
Usually described as after-effects, or secondary effects, of treatment. For
example, hair loss may be a side effect of chemotherapy; nausea may be a side
effect of radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Most treatment-related side effects
can be managed.
A process involving special X-ray pictures that are used to plan radiation
treatment so that the area to be treated is precisely located and marked for
Cancer that develops from random changes in the cells of the body during one’s
lifetime – these changes can be due to environment toxins such as tobacco. Most
cancers (90 – 95%) are sporadic.
An evaluation of the extent of disease, such as cancer. A classification based
on stage at diagnosis helps determine appropriate treatment and prognosis.
A pinpoint biopsy, usually of the breast or brain, using specific equipment to
determine the coordinates of the tumour to be biopsied.
A type of treatment that allows high doses of radiation to be given to small
areas of the brain. This treatment uses a special frame to keep the patient’s
head very still, and may require an overnight hospital stay for monitoring.
The removal of a malignant tumour in an operation. Surgery is the oldest and
most frequently used cancer treatment.
An abnormal tissue swelling or mass; may be either benign or malignant.
The use of high frequency sound waves to locate a tumour deep inside the body.
Also called ultra-sonography.