Glossary of Breast Cancer Terms

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Adjuvant therapy: treatment given after primary treatment (usually surgery) to lower the chance of the cancer coming back. This could include chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy.

Alternative therapy: a variety of treatments, outside the scope of conventional medical practice, and used instead of standard treatments - eg. nutritional supplements, herbal remedies, massage, acupuncture, energy work, etc.

Antiemetics: drugs used to treat nausea and vomiting

Aplastic anemia: a condition in which the bone marrow is unable to produce red blood cells

Axillary lymph nodes: lymph nodes under the arm


Benign: a way to describe changed cells that are not inclined to spread to nearby tissue or other parts of the body.

Blood tests: a sample of your blood is tested to check whether your bone marrow, liver and kidneys are working normally. Sometimes "tumor markers" can be measured to evaluate tumor response to treatment in women who have metastases.

Biopsy: a procedure used to remove a lump or cells for testing or review under the microscope.

Bone marrow transplant: a procedure whereby treatment-damaged bone marrow is replaced, either by the person's own marrow saved beforehand or by donor marrow

Bone scan: a picture of the bones is created by an injection of radioactive dye prior to the scan. The scan highlights changes in the bones related to the cancer and from arthritis, previous breaks or injuries.


Cancer: a term used to describe abnormal cells that divide without control and may spread to the surrounding tissue and lymph

Carcinogen: any chemical or other substance that causes cancer

Carcinoma: cancer that begins in the skin or in the tissue around the internal organs

Chemotherapy: drug treatment that can kill cancer cells or make them less active

Complementary therapy: a variety of treatments, outside the scope of conventional medical practice and used alongside standard treatments - eg. nutritional supplements, herbal remedies, massage, acupuncture, energy work, etc.

Core needle biopsy: removes a piece of tissue through a hollow needle. It is often done with the assistance of an ultrasound test. The tissue is then looked at under a microscope to see if it is abnormal or normal.

CT Scan (also called CAT Scan): computer-directed x-ray imaging of internal areas of the body, used for diagnostic purposes

D, E, F, G,H

Excisional biopsy: the surgical removal of the entire lump or suspicious area. The tissue is checked under the microscope to see if it is abnormal or normal.

Fine needle aspiration: a type of biopsy that removes fluid and/or a few cells from the tissue to determine if there are cancer cells present. No tissue is removed with this test.

Hormone therapy: drug treatment that adds, removes or blocks hormones in the body


Immunotherapy (also called biological response modifier therapy): a variety of treatments aimed at strengthening the immune system to fight disease and to lessen the side effects of treatment

in situ: Latin words to describe changed cells that have not yet spread beyond their place of origin (eg. gland/lobe or duct)

Integrative medicine: an approach to treatment that intentionally uses conventional medical treatments alongside other practices (eg. nutritional supplements, herbal remedies, massage, acupuncture, energy work, etc.) for maximum benefit

Internal radiation therapy (also called brachytherapy): a procedure whereby radioactive material is injected into or near a tumor to kill the cells within it

Invasive cancer (also called infiltrating cancer): cancer that has spread beyond the lobe or duct of origin into the surrounding tissue


J, K, L

Lumpectomy: a surgical procedure used to remove a lump and some of healthy tissue around it

Lymphedema: a condition which results from poor circulation of the lymph fluid following the removal of underarm lymph glands and/or radiation of this area. This results in the swelling of the arm, an increased risk of skin breakdown and infection and a decrease in the mobility of the arm.


Malignant: a way to describe changed cells that multiply without control and have a tendency to spread

Mammogram: an x-ray picture of the breast

Mastectomy: a surgical procedure to remove all (or as much as possible) the breast tissue of an affected breast

Metastases (also called advanced breast cancer): a variety of uncurable-but-treatable conditions caused by the spread of cancerous breast cells traveling via the blood or lymph systems to distant parts of the body - typically, bone, lungs, liver or brain

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): a technique whereby a computer linked to a magnet produces images of internal areas of the body

N, O

Oncologist: a doctor who specializes in cancer treatment.

Oncology: the study or science of cancer


Palliative care: a variety of supports and treatments designed to relieve the symptoms and enhance the quality of life of those with advanced cancer

Pathologist: a doctor who specializes in the function and shape of body cells and tissue.

Pathology report: describes the results of tests that were performed on the tissue removed during surgery. It usually describes the cancer and the normal tissue surrounding it.

Psychosocial Oncology: Psychosocial Oncology is the formal study, understanding and treatment of the social, psychological, emotional, spiritual, quality of life and functional aspects of cancer across the cancer continuum, from prevention through diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, palliative care and bereavement.

Q, R

Radiation therapy: the use of high-energy radiation from x-rays and other sources to kill cancer cells, shrink tumors and/or provide pain control

Recurrence: a return of cancer following a cancer-free period. It may be at the original site (local) in the adjacent lymph nodes (regional) or elsewhere in the body (metastases).

Remission: the temporary or permanent halt of cancerous spread, such that certain signs and symptoms disappear


Stereotactic biopsy: a way of removing a piece of tissue in an area where you can not feel an abnormality but the area looks suspicious on a mammogram. A computer and a 3 dimensional scanning device are used. The tissue is looked at under a microscope to determine if it is normal or abnormal.

Systemic treatment: a treatment that has an impact upon the entire body as a system rather than upon just one isolated region - eg. chemotherapy, hormone therapy


Tumor: a lump marked by rapid cell division that may be malignant or not benign

Tumor marker: a chemical reading in the blood or other body fluids which is associated with cancerous activity in the body. They may be measured in women with metastases to see if there is response to treatment. They are not sensitive enough to be used for diagnostic purposes.

U, V, W, X, Y, Z

Ultrasound: a test which uses sound waves to create pictures of the tissues and internal organs of the body. It is helpful in determining if a breast lump is solid tissue or contains fluid.

X-Ray: Low doses of high energy radiation used to diagnose disease or high doses of radiation used to treat cancer.