Ablation: Using surgery or radiation to remove or stop the function of an organ or tissue in the body.

Active breath control device: Device used to help protect the heart and lungs from radiation when the left breast/chest wall is receiving radiation therapy.

Acute: Symptoms or signs that begin and worsen quickly; not chronic.

Adjunct therapy: Another treatment that is used together with the primary treatment.

Adjuvant therapy: Treatment given after the primary cancer treatment to lower the risk that the cancer will come back. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy or biological therapy.

Advanced directive: A legal document that states the treatment or care a person wishes to receive or not receive if he or she becomes unable to make medical decisions (for example, due to being unconscious or in a coma). Some types of advance directives are living wills and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders.

Alkylating agents: Alkylating agents were amongst the first chemotherapy drugs developed and are still commonly used to today. Alkylating agents form chemical bonds with a cell’s DNA and prevent the cell from dividing. A common alkylating agent in breast cancer is Cytoxan. Platinum drugs are often grouped with alkylating agents because they work similarly. Common platinum drugs are cisplatin and carboplatin.

Alternative medicine or therapy: Practices used instead of standard treatments. See “complementary and alternative medicine”.

Amenorrhea: The absence or halting of the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women.

Analgesic: Drugs that reduce pain.

Anemia: A condition where the number of red blood cells is below normal or too low.

Angiogenesis: Blood vessel formation. Tumor angiogenesis is the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow. This is caused by the release of chemicals by the tumor.

Anthracyclines: A type of chemotherapy that comes from certain types of Streptomyces bacteria. Anthracyclines are used to treat many types of cancer. Anthracyclines damage the DNA in cancer cells, causing them to die.

Antibodies: Special proteins produced by your immune system which help to protect the body from disease.

Antiemetic: A drug that stops or prevents nausea or vomiting.

Antiestrogen: A substance that keeps cells from making or using estrogen (a hormone that plays a role in female sex characteristics, the menstrual cycle and pregnancy). Antiestrogens may stop some cancer cells from growing and are used to prevent and treat breast cancer. They are also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer. An antiestrogen is a type of hormone antagonist. Also called estrogen blocker.

Anti-metabolites: Anti-metabolite antibiotics block enzymes necessary for DNA synthesis. Common anti-metabolites are methotrexate and 5-fluoroucacil (5-FU).

Anti-microtubule agents: Anti-microtubule agents disrupt the ability of a cell to divide.  Examples of anti-microtubules are taxanes and Ixempra.

Anti-tumor antibiotics: Anti-tumor antibiotics act by binding with DNA and preventing RNA synthesis. Preventing RNA synthesis does not allow a cell to make the proteins necessary for cell survival, and as a result the cell dies. Anti-tumor antibiotics are not the same as antibiotics that fight bacterial infections. Common anti-tumor antibiotics are Adriamycin, Doxil and Mutamycin.

Aromatase inhibitor: A drug that decreases the amount of estrogen made in the body after menopause. This can slow or stop cancer growth that needs estrogen to grow.

Asymptomatic: Having no signs or symptoms of disease.

Atypical cells: Cells that are not typical, are abnormal. Atypical is often used to refer to the appearance of precancerous or cancerous cells.

Autologous bone marrow transplantation: A procedure in which healthy bone marrow is removed from a patient, stored and then replaced following cancer treatment (chemo or radiation therapy). This is done in order to preserve the marrow from the damaging effects of the therapy.

Axillary lymph node dissection: Surgery to remove lymph nodes found in the armpit region. Also called axillary dissection.

Axillary lymph node involvement: The spread of cancer from the primary tumor to the axillary lymph nodes, which are located in the arm pit area. The axilla is typically the first site of spread (metastasis) in breast cancer.


Benign: Not cancerous.

Bilateral: Affecting both sides of the body.

Biological therapy: Also known as immunotherapy or biotherapy, this term refers to treatments designed to use the body's immune system (either directly or indirectly) to fight cancer or reduce side effects of cancer treatment. Cancer vaccines, now in development, are a type of biological therapy.

Biomarkers: A biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. A biomarker may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition.

Biopsy: The removal of a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Physical exam and imaging can show that something abnormal is present in the breast, but a biopsy is the only sure way to know whether the problem is cancer. In a biopsy, the doctor removes a sample of the tissue from the abnormal area, or may even remove the whole tumor. A specialist trained to examine such issues is called a pathologist. A pathologist examines the tissue under a microscope. If cancer is present, the pathologist can usually tell what kind of cancer it is and may be able to judge whether the cells are likely to grow slowly or quickly.

Bisphosphonates: A group of drugs routinely used in the treatment of osteoporosis. In cancer, bisphosphonates may reduce the incidence of metastasis to the bones and, when cancer has spread to the bones, they have been shown to prevent fractures, promote healing and reduce pain.

Blood-brain barrier: A special layer of the brain that protects it from infection and potentially toxic substances, made up of a network of blood vessels with closely spaced cells.

Bone density scan (or DEXA scan): A test for osteopenia and/or osteoporosis.

Bone scan: An x-ray that looks for signs of metastasis to the bones.

Boost dose: An extra dose of radiation administered in addition to the regular dose.

BRCA1 and BRCA2: Genes located on chromosome 17 and 13, respectively, that help to suppress cell growth under normal circumstances. Individuals with a mutated version of these genes are at increased risk of breast, ovarian or prostate cancer.

Breakthrough pain: Intense increases in pain that occur quickly even when pain-control medication is being used. Breakthrough pain can occur spontaneously or in relation to a specific activity.

Breast parenchyma: The complete essential elements of the breast, the complete breast, not including the supporting framework.

Breast-conservation therapy: A treatment modality for early-stage breast cancer involving surgery, in which the tumor and a portion of the surrounding breast tissue are removed (amount varies), followed by postoperative radiation therapy. Lumpectomy (also called excisional biopsy, or wide or wide-local excision), partial/segmental mastectomy, and modified radical mastectomy (MRM) are all types of breast-conserving surgery, each designating the removal of an increasingly large portion of the breast. BCT usually involves the removal of some of the axillary lymph nodes. If nodes are found to be clinically positive for disease, a complete axillary lymph node dissection is usually performed. For many women with small tumors, BCT represents an effective and appealing alternative to mastectomy, allowing good disease control and improved cosmetic results.

Biological Response Modifier (BRM) therapy: Treatment to boost or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer, infections and other diseases. Also used to lessen certain side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments. Agents used in BRM therapy include monoclonal antibodies, growth factors, and vaccines. These agents may also have a direct antitumor effect. C

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): Forms of treatment that are used in addition to (complementary) or instead of (alternative) standard treatments, and are generally not considered standard medical approaches. Standard treatments go through a long and careful research process to prove they are safe and effective, but less is known about most types of CAM. CAM may include dietary supplements, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, acupuncture, massage therapy, magnet therapy, spiritual healing and meditation.

Case manager: A person in the healthcare system that helps to coordinate treatment to assure appropriate medical care is provided to the patient.

Complete blood count (CBC): A test to check the number of red and white blood cells and platelets in a sample of blood. Also called blood cell count.

CHEK2: Mutations in the CHEK2 gene have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, particularly in the European population.

Chemosensitivity: A favorable response to chemotherapy indicating that it is working and is killing cancer cells and shrinking the tumor mass.

Chemotherapy: Often referred to simply as “chemo”. The use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be taken orally or by needle into a vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic therapy because the drugs enter the blood stream and travel throughout the body in order to kill cancer cells.

Chest wall recurrence: The reappearance of a breast cancer within the chest wall in a patient who underwent treatment and was found to be disease-free. This is a particularly serious occurrence.

Chronic: A disease or condition that continues or lasts over a long period of time.

Circulating tumor cell (CTC): Cells that have detached from a primary tumor and circulate in the bloodstream.

Clinical trial: A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease. Clinical trials help doctors and researchers improve the overall standard of cancer care.

Clinically significant findings: Findings considered important upon evaluation.

Combination therapy: Treatment that utilizes more than one anti-cancer drug at a time.

Comorbidity: The presence of an additional or coexisting disease, such as diabetes or heart disease; may be considered a factor in a person’s disease outcome.

Complementary medicine or therapy: Interventions used in conjunction with standard therapies. See “complementary and alternative medicine”.

Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body taken from different angles. The pictures are created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. Also called computerized axial tomography scan, computerized tomography and CAT scan.

Contralateral: Affecting or located on the opposite side of the body. The opposite of ipsilateral.

Cyst: A closed sac or capsule, usually filled with fluid or semisolid materia

Cytotoxic: A term that describes anything that is cell-killing.

Cytotoxic chemotherapy: Anticancer drugs that kill cells, especially cancer cells.


DCIS: Ductal carcinoma in situ. Often referred to as pre-cancer, DCIS is the term for a type of cancer consisting of cancer cells that remain where they originated, in the ducts of the breast.

DIEP flap: A type of breast reconstruction in which blood vessels called deep inferior epigastric perforators (DIEP), and the skin and fat connected to them are removed from the lower abdomen and used for reconstruction. Muscle is left in place. For more information about breast reconstruction procedures, contact YSC.

Disease-free survival rate: The length of time after treatment during which a patient survives with no sign of the disease. Disease-free survival may be used in a clinical study or trial to help measure how well a new treatment works.

Distant recurrence: Breast cancer that has spread to another organ outside the breast and the lymph nodes near the breast.

Dominant mass: A prominent, suspicious mass requiring further clinical evaluation.

Drug resistance: The failure of cancer cells, viruses or bacteria to respond to a drug used to kill or weaken them. They may be resistant to the drug at the beginning of treatment or may become resistant after being exposed to the drug.

Dysplasia: Cells that look abnormal under a microscope but are not cancer.


Echocardiogram (or ECHO): A test that uses an ultrasound (sound waves) to create a moving picture of the heart. The picture is much more detailed than a plain x-ray image.

Edema: Swelling caused by excess fluid in body tissues.

Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR): The protein found on the surface of some cells and to which epidermal growth factor binds, causing the cells to divide. It is found at abnormally high levels on the surface of many types of cancer cells, so these cells may divide excessively in the presence of epidermal growth factor. Also called ErbB1 and HER1.

Endocrine therapy: Treatment that adds, blocks or removes hormones. For certain conditions (such as diabetes or menopause), hormones are given to adjust low hormone levels. Synthetic hormones or other drugs may be given to block the body’s natural hormones to slow or stop the growth of certain cancers (such as prostate and breast cancer). Sometimes surgery is needed to remove the gland that makes a certain hormone. Also called hormonal therapy, hormone therapy, and hormone treatment.

Estrogen receptor negative or normal (ER-): See “estrogen receptor positive”.

Estrogen receptor positive (ER+): Describes cells that have a receptor protein that binds the hormone estrogen. Cancer cells that are estrogen receptor positive may need estrogen to grow, and may stop growing or die when treated with substances that block the binding and actions of estrogen. Cancer cells that are estrogen receptor negative do not need estrogen to grow.

Estrogen receptor (ER) status: This refers to whether the tumor is ER+ or ER-.

Excision: The act of cutting out; the surgical removal of part or all of a structure, such as a breast mass, or organ.

EIC: Extensive intraductal component. The term used to describe situations in which 25% or more of the primary tumor consists of DCIS and in which DCIS is seen in ducts extending beyond the primary mass. EIC is more common in young patients and is associated with a higher incidence of positive margins and residual tumor in the surrounding breast.


False-positive rate: The rate at which a test produces results that are mistakenly positive for cancer when in fact no cancer is actually present.

Fibroadenoma: Benign fibrous tissue of the breast. Such tissue is most commonly found in young women.

Fine-needle aspiration (FNA): The removal of a sample of tissue using a small-gauge hypodermic needle (from the abnormal area) for pathological evaluation.

FISH: A laboratory technique used to look at genes or chromosomes in cells and tissues. Pieces of DNA that contain a fluorescent dye are made in the laboratory and added to cells or tissues on a glass slide. When these pieces of DNA bind to specific genes or areas of chromosomes on the slide, they light up when viewed under a microscope with a special light. Also called fluorescence in situ hybridization.

First-line therapy: The first drug or set of drugs given as treatment.


Gamma Knife therapy: A treatment using gamma rays, a type of high-energy radiation that can be tightly focused on small tumors or other lesions in the head or neck so very little normal tissue receives radiation. The gamma rays are aimed at the tumor from many different angles at once and deliver a large dose of radiation to the tumor in one treatment session. Gamma Knife therapy is not a knife and is not surgery. Gamma Knife is a registered trademark of Elekta Instruments, Inc.


Healthcare proxy: A type of advance directive that gives a person (such as a relative, lawyer or friend) the authority to make healthcare decisions for another person. It becomes active when that person loses the ability to make decisions for him or herself.

Hematoma: A pool of clotted or partially clotted blood in an organ, tissue or body space, usually caused by a broken blood vessel.

Hemoglobin: Part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen.

Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2/neu): A protein involved in normal cell growth. It is found on some types of cancer cells, including breast and ovarian. Cancer cells removed from the body may be tested for the presence of HER2/neu to help decide the best type of treatment.  

HER2 overexpression: An excess of the HER2/neu receptor on the cell surface; may be related to a high number of abnormal or defective cells.

Highly proliferative tumors: The proliferative capacity of a tumor refers to the rate at which the cancer cells within the tumor are dividing (increasing in number). The higher the rate of proliferation, the more aggressive the tumor is considered to be. In highly proliferative tumors, the cells are multiplying relatively quickly. This proliferative capacity is measured using a number of indicators, including S-phase fraction and flow cytometry, which evaluate cell-division behavior and the amount and type of DNA in the tumor cells, respectively. The proliferative capacity of a tumor is considered to be a predictor of risk of relapse.

Histopathological features: The features related to changes in and progress of the cancer. In breast cancer, these include pathologic tumor size, pathologic axillary status, number of metastatic lymph nodes, pathologic stage, lymphatic vascular invasion, estrogen-receptor status, and histologic grade. The histopathologic features of a breast cancer tumor are those characteristics determined by the pathologist under microscopic examination.

Hormone receptor: A protein that binds a specific hormone to a cell. The hormone receptor may be on the surface of the cell or inside the cell. Many changes take place in a cell after a hormone binds to its receptor.

Hormonal therapy: Treatment that works against hormone receptor positive breast cancer. This blocks the effects of hormones upon breast cancer growth.

Hypercalcemia: Accelerated loss of calcium from bones, leading to a condition where the level of calcium in the bloodstream is above normal.


IHC: See Immunohistochemistry.

Imaging: Any one of a variety of radiologic techniques, including x-ray, mammography, and MRI, used to produce a clinical image. Imaging is used to visualize the breast tissue in order to detect any visible, suspicious masses.

Immunohistochemistry: A sophisticated pathologic test in which cancer cells are stained with either fluorescent dyes or enzymes in order to reveal specific antigens.

IMRT: A type of 3-dimensional radiation therapy that uses computer-generated images to show the size and shape of the tumor. Thin beams of radiation of different intensities are aimed at the tumor from many angles. This type of radiation therapy reduces the damage to healthy tissue near the tumor. Also called intensity-modulated radiation therapy.

Incidental findings: Findings made while looking for something else; findings that are found by accident.

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC): A type of breast cancer in which the breast looks red and swollen and feels warm. The skin of the breast may also show the pitted appearance called peau d'orange (like the skin of an orange). The redness and warmth occur because the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin.

Informed consent: A process in which a person is given important facts about a medical procedure or treatment, a clinical trial or genetic testing before deciding whether to participate. It also includes informing the patient when there is new information that may affect his or her decision to continue. Informed consent includes information about the possible risks, benefits and limits of the procedure, treatment, trial or genetic testing.

Interferon: A biological response modifier (a substance that can improve the body's natural response to infections and other diseases). Interferons interfere with the division of cancer cells and can slow tumor growth. There are several types of interferons, including interferon -alpha,    -beta and -gamma. The body normally produces these substances, but they are also made in the laboratory to treat cancer and other diseases.

Invasive/infiltrating ductal carcinoma: One of several specific patterns of breast cancer. It begins in the cells of the breast ducts and spreads into the surrounding breast tissue. An estimated 65% to 85% of all breast cancers are of this type.

Ipsilateral: Affecting or located on the same side of the body. The opposite of contralateral (the other or opposite side).


KI-67: Molecule that can be easily detected in growing cells in order to understand the rate of which the cells within a tumor are growing. Often shown on pathology report.


LCIS: Lobular carcinoma in situ.

Lobular carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the lobules (the glands that make milk) of the breast. Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is a condition in which abnormal cells are found only in the lobules. When cancer has spread from the lobules to surrounding tissues, it is invasive lobular carcinoma.

Local recurrence: Breast cancer has returned inside the breast after treatment was completed.

Local-regional recurrence rate: The rate at which cancer cells from the primary tumor are detected in the same location and/or region following the primary treatment for the cancer.

Locally advanced cancer: Cancer that has spread from where it started to nearby tissue or lymph nodes.

Lumpectomy: See breast-conservation therapy.

Lymph:  The clear fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and carries cells that help fight infections and other diseases. Also called lymphatic fluid.

Lymphatic invasion: Sometimes called lymphovascular invasion; is one of the many factors that the pathologist looks for when evaluating tissue from the primary tumor obtained by biopsy. If cancer cells are seen (under the microscope) in the middle of a blood vessel or a lymphatic vessel, this is called vascular invasion or lymphatic invasion. Such invasion in the primary tumor suggests that the cancer is potentially more dangerous than if there is no such invasion, as there is a greater likelihood of it metastasizing, via the lymphatics, to the lymph nodes in the axilla.

Lymph node: A rounded mass of lymphatic tissue. Lymph nodes filter lymph (lymphatic fluid), and they store lymphocytes (white blood cells). They are located along lymphatic vessels. Also called lymph gland.

Lymphedema: A condition in which extra lymph fluid builds up in tissues and causes swelling. It may occur in an arm or leg if lymph vessels are blocked, damaged, or removed by surgery. It can be temporary or permanent and may occur soon after surgery or at a much later date.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. Magnetic resonance imaging makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or x-ray. It is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones.

Margins: This term refers to the area of normal, noncancerous breast tissue between the tumor and the surgeon's knife. Tumor margins are pathologically assessed following removal of the tumor to see whether they are free of cancer cells. The role of margins as a predictor of local recurrence is an important and controversial issue.

Mastectomy: Removal of the breast for the purpose of removing breast cancer

Metastases: The plural of “metastasis”.

Metastasis: The spread of disease from one organ or body part to another. All cancerous tumors have the ability to metastasize.

Metastatic breast cancer: Cancer that has spread outside the breast to other parts of the body. Metastatic breast cancer may spread to organs or sites such as but not limited to the liver, lungs, bone or brain.

Metastatic seeding: Surgery-induced tumor cell dissemination. The spread of cancer cells at the time of tumor excision.

Micrometastases: Small numbers of cancer cells that have spread from the primary tumor to other parts of the body and are too small or too few to be seen in a screening or diagnostic test.

Monoclonal antibody: A type of protein made in the laboratory that can bind to substances in the body, including tumor cells. There are many kinds of monoclonal antibodies, and each is made to find one substance. Monoclonal antibodies are being used to treat some types of cancer and are being studied in the treatment of other types. They can be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins or radioactive materials directly to a tumor.

Monotherapy: Using a single medication for treatment rather than a combination of medications.

Mucositis: Condition of the mucosa (lining of the digestive tract, from mouth to anus) that becomes swollen, red and sore. The mucosa can become sore as a side effect of chemotherapy treatment.

Multiple Gated Acquisition (MUGA) Scan: A test used to determine if the heart is pumping blood correctly. It is used to monitor chemotherapy’s effects on the heart.

Multicentric breast cancer: More than one distinct primary tumor found within the breast, all of which have formed separately from one another; likely to be in different sections of the breast.

Multifocal breast cancer: Breast cancer in which there is more than one tumor, all of which have arisen from one original tumor; likely to be in the same section of the breast.


Nadir: The lowest point of blood counts that occurs as a result of chemotherapy treatment.

Necrosis: Dead tissue.

Negative: Refers to a normal rest results, as in the test was not positive for a specific finding, response, presence, condition, etc. For example, negative margins mean surgical margins that are found to be free of cancer cells on pathologic evaluation.

Neoadjuvant treatment: Treatment given as a first step to shrink a tumor before the main treatment, which is usually surgery, is given.

Neuropathy: A nerve problem that causes pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, or muscle weakness in different parts of the body. It usually begins in the hands or feet and gets worse over time. Neuropathy may be caused by physical injury, infection, toxic substances, disease (such as cancer, diabetes, kidney failure or malnutrition) or drugs, including anticancer drugs. Also called peripheral neuropathy.

Neutropenia: Condition in which there is a lower than normal number of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell).

Neutropenic fever: Fever due to low white blood cell counts; may be a side effect of chemotherapy.

Neutrophil: A type of cell of the immune system that is one of the first to travel to the site of an infection. Neutrophils help fight infection by ingesting microorganisms and releasing enzymes that kill the microorganisms. A neutrophil is a type of white blood cell.

Node positivity: A finding of cancer cells in the lymph nodes indicating that the cancer has metastasized (spread).

Nuclear medicine scan: A method of diagnostic imaging that uses very small amounts of radioactive material. The patient is injected with a liquid that contains the radioactive substance, which collects in the part of the body to be imaged. Sophisticated instruments detect the radioactive substance in the body and process that information into an image.


Occult metastases: Hidden metastases, or those metastases not seen during routine examination.

Oncogene: A gene that is a mutated form of a gene involved in normal cell growth. Oncogenes may cause the growth of cancer cells. Mutations in genes that become oncogenes can be inherited or caused by being exposed to substances in the environment that cause cancer.

Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation.

Oophorectomy: Surgical removal of one or both ovaries.

Osteonecrosis: Condition when some non-cancerous bone cells die off in a way that is not normal.

Osteopenia: Condition where there is less bone density or bone mass than normal; can lead to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis: A condition that is marked by a decrease in bone mass and density, causing bones to become fragile.

Ovarian ablation: The use of surgery, chemicals or radiation on the ovaries to halt their functioning and thereby "shut off" the menstrual cycle.

Ovarian suppression: The use of chemicals on the ovaries to halt their functioning and thereby “shut off” the menstrual cycle.

Overexpression: The excess of a particular protein on the surface of a cell. Overexpression of certain proteins is associated with the growth of cancer cells.


p53 gene: A gene that normally suppresses or restrains the growth of tumors. This gene is altered in many types of cancer.

Paget’s Disease: A form of breast cancer in which the tumor grows from ducts beneath the nipple onto the surface of the nipple. Symptoms commonly include itching and burning and an eczema-like condition around the nipple, sometimes accompanied by oozing or bleeding.

Palliative care: Care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a disease. The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat as early as possible the symptoms of a disease, side effects caused by treatment of a disease, and psychological, social and spiritual problems related to a disease or its treatment. Also called comfort care, supportive care and symptom management.

Pathologic confirmation: Confirmation of clinical findings by the pathologist, who conducts a microscopic examination of tissue/cell samples.

Patient navigator: Individual who assists patients in navigating their care and treatment by assisting them with scheduling appointments, answering questions related to test results and providing guidance in decision making across the continuum of care.

Peripheral neuropathy: Numbness and/or pain in the hands and/or feet, which can be caused by infection, strong drugs such as chemotherapy or disease.

Placebo: An inactive substance or treatment that looks the same as, and is given the same way as, an active drug or treatment being tested. The effects of the active drug or treatment are compared to the effects of the placebo.

Plant alkaloids: Plant alkaloids are chemotherapy treatments derived from plants. They are a class of chemicals. Both the vinca and taxane alkaloids act as anti-microtubule agents. 

Platelets: Blood components that assist in clotting and wound healing.

Pleural effusion: An abnormal collection of fluid between the thin layers of tissue (pleura) lining the lung and the wall of the chest cavity.

Pleurodesis: A medical procedure that uses chemicals or drugs to cause inflammation and adhesion between the layers of the pleura in order to prevent the buildup of fluid in the pleural cavity. It is used as a treatment for severe pleural effusion.

Polychemotherapy: Chemotherapy regimens involving the use of more than one chemotherapeutic agent; also called multidrug chemotherapy.

Port: An implanted device through which blood may be withdrawn and drugs may be infused without repeated needle sticks. Also called port-a-cath.

Positive: Refers to an abnormal test result, as in the test was positive for a specific finding, response, presence, condition, etc.  For example, positive margins mean surgical margins that are found to contain cancer cells on pathologic evaluation.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A procedure in which a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein, and a scanner is used to make detailed, computerized pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is used. Because cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells, the pictures can be used to find cancer cells in the body.

Progesterone receptor negative or normal (PR-): See “progesterone receptor positive”.

Progesterone receptor positive (PR+): Describes cells that have a receptor protein that binds the hormone progesterone. Cancer cells that are progesterone receptor positive may need progesterone to grow, and may stop growing or die when treated with substances that block the binding and actions of progesterone. Cancer cells that are progesterone receptor negative do not need progesterone to grow.

Progesterone receptor (PR) status: This refers to whether the tumor is PR+ or PR-. Prognosis: A prediction of the likely outcome of a disease

Progression: The course of a disease, such as cancer, as it becomes worse or spreads in the body.

Prognosis: A forecast of the probable outcome of an attack or disease, the prospect of recovery from a disease as indicated by the nature and symptoms of the case.

Prophylactic mastectomy: Surgery to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by removing one or both breasts before disease develops. Also called preventive mastectomy.


Quadrant: The breast is spoken of in clinical terms as having four quarters, known as quadrants: the upper-outer, the upper-inner, the lower-outer and the lower-inner quadrants.


Radiation absorbed dose (RAD): Used to measure the amount of radiation absorbed by an object or person

Radiation therapy: The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from 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). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body.

Randomized: Describes the process in a clinical trial where an animal or human subject is assigned by chance to separate groups, which allows for comparison of different treatments.

Recurrence or recurrent cancer:  Cancer that come back, usually after a period of time during which the cancer could not be detected. The cancer may come back to the same place as the original tumor or to another place in the body.

Red blood cells (RBC):  Cells in the blood with the primary function of carrying oxygen to body tissue.

Re-excision: A follow-up surgical procedure at the original surgery site in order to remove any tumor cells left behind during the original surgery.

Remission: A decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some, but not all, signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body.

Resection volume: The overall volume of tissue, including disease- free tissue, removed during lumpectomy.

Residual tumor: Tumor cells that remain behind after cancer treatment.

RT: Contraction of Radiation Therapy. Treatment with high-energy rays (e.g., x-rays) to the affected area to kill cancer cells and/or to shrink the tumor. Also called radiotherapy.


Salvage mastectomy: Surgery to remove the breast after a treatment has failed.  For example, a woman who originally had a lumpectomy may have a salvage mastectomy if her cancer returns in the same breast.

Second-line treatment: The term used to describe treatment used when cancer has recurred (come back).

Sentinel lymph node biopsy: Removal and examination of the sentinel node(s) (the first lymph node(s) to which cancer cells are likely to spread from a primary tumor). To identify the sentinel lymph node(s), the surgeon injects a radioactive substance, blue dye, or both near the tumor. The surgeon then uses a probe to find the sentinel lymph node(s) containing the radioactive substance or looks for the lymph node(s) stained with dye. The surgeon then removes the sentinel node(s) to check for the presence of cancer cells. This is used to determine the presence and extent of metastatic disease in the axilla. This technique is most successful for staging of early-stage breast cancers and is a less invasive option to axillary lymph node dissection.

Side effect: A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.

Standard of care: Treatment that experts agree is appropriate, accepted and widely used. Healthcare providers are obligated to provide patients with the standard of care. Also called best practice and standard therapy.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS): A type of external radiation therapy that uses special equipment to position the patient and precisely give a single large dose of radiation to a tumor. It is used to treat brain tumors and other brain disorders that cannot be treated by regular surgery. It is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer. Also called radiation surgery, radiosurgery and stereotaxic radiosurgery.

Stomatitis: Inflammation or irritation of the mucous membranes in the mouth.

Supraclavicular lymph nodes: A lymph node located above the clavicle (collarbone). T

Tamoxifen: An antiestrogen, tamoxifen is an anticancer drug that works by blocking the effect of the body’s natural estrogen. In breast cancer treatment, tamoxifen can be used as a preventive agent to prevent the onset of breast cancer, or as adjuvant therapy to control the spread of breast cancer or delay its return.

Taxanes: A type of drug that blocks cell growth by stopping mitosis (cell division). Taxanes interfere with microtubules (cellular structures that help move chromosomes during mitosis). They are used to treat cancer. A taxane is a type of mitotic inhibitor and antimicrotubule agent.

Targeted therapy: Targeted cancer therapies are treatments that target specific characteristics of cancer cells, such as a protein or an enzyme, or the formation of new blood vessels that might allow the cancer cells to grow in a rapid or abnormal way. Targeted therapies are generally less likely than chemotherapy to harm normal, healthy cells.

Tumor: An abnormal mass or a lump of extra tissue. A tumor may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Tumor board review: A treatment planning approach in which a number of doctors who are experts in different specialties review and discuss the medical condition and treatment options of a patient. In cancer treatment, a tumor board review may include that of a medical oncologist (who provides cancer treatment with drugs), a surgical oncologist (who provides cancer treatment with surgery) and a radiation oncologist (who provides cancer treatment with radiation). Also called multidisciplinary opinion.

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Tumor suppressor gene: A type of gene that makes a protein called a tumor suppressor protein that helps control cell growth. Mutations (changes in DNA) in tumor suppressor genes may lead to cancer. Also called antioncogene.


Ultrasonography: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echo patterns are shown on the screen of an ultrasound machine, forming a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. Also called ultrasound.

Unilateral: Having to do with one side of the body.


Vascular invasion: See “lymphatic invasion”.


Wide excision: Also called wide-local excision. In breast cancer, this refers to the surgical removal of an area of breast tissue containing cancer cells, along with a rim (~1-cm in width) of normal tissue around the cancer cells (see margins). When referring to treatment of invasive breast cancers, wide excision is also commonly called lumpectomy (see Breast-conservation therapy). When referring to treatment of DCIS, the term wide excision is more commonly used since there is usually no palpable lump per se.