Basic Breast Cancer Vocabulary and Terms

Medical Terms To Know As You Start Your Journey

Basic breast cancer vocabulary and terms. Photo©tupungato

Making sure you understand some basic breast cancer vocabulary words and terms can go a long way in being an empowered patient.  In recent years patients have been taking part in much of the decision making process when it comes to cancer treatment.  The ability to research your disease on the internet may help you weigh the options that are best for you.

Adjuvant - Treatments provided after breast surgery to eliminate cancer cells which may have traveled beyond the initial site of the cancer.  Chemotherapy is a commonly used adjuvant therapy for people with breast cancer.

Antiestrogen therapy - Medications that are used to counteract the effect of estrogen on the body, including the growth of breast cancer.

Aspirate - A technique used to remove non-solid materials such as fluid or gas from the body.

Atypia - A benign condition which has the potential to develop into cancer.

Benign - This describes anything that is not cancer, and is not malignant.  Benign tumors do not have the ability to travel to distant regions of the body, though they may grow to be quite large.

BRCA Gene - BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two different genes that help to prevent the development and spread of cancer.  These genes are implicated in hereditary breast cancer, and people who may be at risk due to a family history of the disease may be tested.

Carcinoma - The malignant growth of cells. Synonymous with "cancer."

Chemotherapy - The use of medicines to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells.

Cyst - A balloon-like sac filled with fluid, gas, or semisolid substances.  A cyst is benign - non-cancerous.

Duct - A small, tube-shaped part of the body that carries fluids like breast milk.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) - A pre-invasive condition in which cancer cells have not obtained the ability to grow out of the breast ducts.

Early stage breast cancer - Any breast cancer that can be treated with surgery.  This usually refers to cancers that are stage 0, stage 1, stage 2, and stage 3A.

Estrogen - A hormone that promotes the development of female characteristics in the body.

Estrogen receptor status - Breast cancers are diagnosed as either positive or negative for estrogen receptors, which affects treatment options.

Fibroadenoma - A benign breast tumor composed of mixed fibrous and glandular tissue.

Fibrocystic breast changes - Benign cysts in the breast.

Hyperplasia - An excess growth of tissue.  This occurs when cells within an organ or tissue grow larger and faster than expected.

Immunotherapy - A type of cancer treatment which uses medications which stimulate the immune system to fight cancer.

In situ - A Latin phrase meaning in one place.

Invasive - Defines when a cancer has acquired the ability to leave it's normal tissue of origin, for example the ducts of the breast.

Lobes - Glands which are part of the milk production system within your breast.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) - A precancerous condition that can develop in the lining of the breast lobes.

Lumpectomy - A surgery intended to remove only the tumor and a small amount of surrounding normal tissue.  A lumpectomy is a form of "breast conserving surgery."

Lymph nodes - Small bean-shaped parts of the lymphatic system responsible for providing a staging ground for immune responses to fight cancer or infections.

Lymphedema - This refers to a swelling of the arm; a side effect experienced by less than 20 percent of patients after lymph node removal. Early signs of lymphedema are a feeling of tightness in the arm, pain or aching in the arm, swelling of the arm, and loss of movement or flexibility in the arm. One of the first signs patients notice is that rings or sleeves no longer fit.

Malignant - Synonymous with cancer.  A malignant tumor can spread to other regions of the body.

Mammogram - an X-ray of the soft tissue of the breast.

Margin - A surgical margin or radiation margin is a layer of healthy tissue between the tumor site and surrounding tissue.

Mastectomy - Surgical procedures to remove all of the breast.

Metastasize - The spread of cancer from the origin tissue to other parts of the body.

Oncology - The study and treatment of cancer.

Oncologist - A physician who studies and treats cancer.

Pathology - The science of studying the nature of a disease.

Port - A surgically implanted device that streamlines blood draws and infusions without repeated needle sticks.

Progesterone - An important female hormone.  Breast cancer cells are tested to see if they are progesterone positive, which means they have receptors for progesterone on the surface of the cell.

Prognosis - An estimate on how well someone will do with a disease, including the chance of death.

Radiation - The use of X-ray energy to kill cancer cells.

Recurrence - The reappearance of cancer after treatment.

Remission - A condition in which symptoms of a disease are reduced or no longer detectable.

Sarcoma - A type of tumor that is found in connective tissue.

Sentinel Node Biopsy - A surgical diagnostic procedure done to remove a small sample of lymph nodes to which the tumor may have spread.

Ultrasound - Medical imaging that uses sound waves to make pictures of soft tissues.

X-rays - A type of high energy used in medical imaging to identify locations of diseases within the body.

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