Glossary


Ablation Removal of or stopping a part of the body from working by surgery or other means such as hormone therapy or radiotherapy.
Abraxane A type of chemotherapy drug used to treat secondary breast cancer. It works by blocking one of the ways cancer cells divide and grow. It contains a form of another chemotherapy drug called paclitaxel and special, tiny particles that help it travel to and accumulate in cancer cells.
AC chemotherapy A combination of the chemotherapy drugs Adriamycin (also known as doxorubicin) and cyclophosphamide.
Adjuvant Treatment given in addition to other treatment, for example chemotherapy or radiotherapy on top of surgery.
Adriamycin Also see Doxorubicin. A chemotherapy drug also known as Adriamycin. It is one of a group of chemotherapy drugs known as anthracyclines.
Advanced breast cancer Breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and the lymph nodes under the arm to other parts of the body; also known as secondary, stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer. See also Locally advanced.
Adverse effect An undesired or harmful effect resulting from treatment.
Alopecia Loss of hair from the head and/or body.
Anaemia Too few red blood cells in the body. May be caused by chemotherapy.
Anastrozole A hormone therapy and one of a group of drugs called aromatase inhibitors. It may be known by different brand names such as Arimidex.
Anthracyclines A group of chemotherapy drugs commonly used to treat breast cancer. Examples include doxorubicin (also known as Adriamycin) and epirubicin.
Anti-emetics Drugs used to reduce nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting.
Areola Pigmented/coloured area of skin around the nipple.
Arimidex see Anastrozole. A hormone therapy and one of a group of drugs called aromatase inhibitors.
Aromasin Also see Exemestane, a hormone therapy drug. It is one of a group of drugs called aromatase inhibitors.
Ascites An accumulation of fluid between the two layers of the peritoneum, which lines the inside of the abdomen. It is a symptom of cancer and other conditions such as liver disease.
Avastin Also see Bevacizumab, a targeted therapy. It works by inhibiting the ability of cancer cells to develop their own blood supply (a process known as angiogenesis). This can help to stop the cancer from growing.
Axilla The underarm or armpit.
Axillary clearance An operation to remove all the lymph glands from the underarm (axilla).
Axillary dissection An operation to remove some of the lymph glands from the underarm (axilla).
Axillary nodes The lymph nodes (also called lymph glands) found in the underarm (axilla).
Benign Not cancer.
Bevacizumab A targeted therapy. Also known as Avastin, it works by inhibiting the ability of cancer cells to develop their own blood supply (a process known as angiogenesis). This can help to stop the cancer from growing.
Bilateral Affecting or about both the right and left sides of body. For example, a bilateral mastectomy is the removal of both breasts.
Biological therapies Also known as targeted therapies—see below.
Biopsy Removal of tissue to be examined under a microscope.
Blood cells Tiny structures produced in bone marrow. Includes red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Blood count The numbers of red and white blood cells and platelets in a blood sample.
Bone marrow Spongy material found in the hollow part of the bone where red and white blood cells and platelets are produced.
Bone metastases Also known as secondary cancer in the bone. Cancer cells have spread from the first cancer site, such as the breast, and are growing in the bones.
Bone scan Used to assess any increase or breakdown in bone growth. It can help identify changes such as injury or healing, or disease such as cancer.
Brain metastases Also known as secondary cancer in the brain. Cancer cells have spread from the first cancer site, such as the breast, and are growing in the brain.
BRCA1 (breast cancer 1) An altered or faulty gene passed on at birth from either parent that causes a permanent change in a person’s DNA. People who inherit an altered BRCA1 gene have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer and some other cancers compared with the general population.
BRCA2 (breast cancer 2) An altered or faulty gene passed on at birth from either parent that causes a permanent change in a person’s DNA. People who inherit an altered BRCA2 gene have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer and some other cancers compared with the general population.
Breast calcifications Calcium deposits in one or both of the breasts.
Breast care nurse A nurse trained to provide information and support to anyone diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast-conserving surgery Also known as wide local excision or lumpectomy, it is the removal of the cancer with a margin (border) of normal breast tissue around it.
Breasts Made up of lobules (milk-producing glands) and ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) surrounded by glandular, fibrous and fatty tissue.
Cancer A group of diseases in which malignant cells grow out of control and may spread to other parts of the body.
Capecitabine Also known as Xeloda. A type of chemotherapy drug taken orally as a tablet.
Carcinoma The medical term for cancer.
Cardiotoxicity An umbrella term for a range of possible complications of cancer treatments that damage the heart or make it work less efficiently.
Cell proliferation Cell proliferation An increase in the number of cells as a result of them multiplying and growing.
Cells Tiny structures found in all living organisms.
Chemotherapy Treatment aimed at destroying cancer cells using anti-cancer drugs, which are also called cytotoxic drugs.
Chest wall Chest wall The skin, muscles and bones that make up the area of the body between the neck and the abdomen.
Chronic The nature of an illness, disease or condition that is long-lasting and generally slow to progress.
CISH (chromogenic in situ hybridization) A way of measuring HER2 levels in cancer cells.
Clinical Through the observation and treatment of patients.
Clinical trials Research that aims to improve treatment or care for patients.
CMF A combination of three chemotherapy drugs: cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and 5-fluorouracil (5FU).
Complementary therapies A varied group of therapies used alongside conventional medical treatments.
Contralateral The other or opposite side, for example the contralateral breast.
Core biopsy Biopsy using a hollow needle to take one or more samples of tissue for analysis under a microscope.
CT (computerised tomography) scan Also known as a CAT scan. A type of scan that uses X-rays to take detailed pictures across the body.
CyberKnife see Stereotactic radiotherapy
DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) An early type of breast cancer where the cells have not yet developed the ability to spread outside the walls of the ducts into surrounding breast tissue or to other parts of the body. Sometimes called a pre-invasive, intraductal or non-invasive cancer.
Diagnostic radiographer A healthcare professional trained to carry out X-rays and scans.
DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforator) flap A method of breast reconstruction that uses the skin and fat between the belly button and the groin to form a breast shape.
Differentiation How different cancer cells are compared to normal cells. Well differentiated cancer cells look almost normal (a similar size and shape to normal cells); moderately differentiated cancer cells look less like normal cells (often larger and with more varied shapes); poorly differentiated cancer cells look the most changed and are usually fast-growing.
Distant recurrence Also called metastatic or secondary breast cancer. Cancer cells from the breast have spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, lungs, liver or brain.
Docetaxel A chemotherapy drug also known as Taxotere. It is one of a group of chemotherapy drugs called taxanes.
Doxorubicin A chemotherapy drug also known as Adriamycin. It is one of a group of chemotherapy drugs known as anthracyclines.
Drug resistance Reduced effectiveness of a drug on a disease.
Embolism When blood flow is blocked, usually by a blood clot or air bubble.
Encapsulated To surround and encase; for example, an encapsulated breast implant can be encased by a build-up of dense, tough tissue, also called fibrous tissue.
Endocrine therapy See Hormone therapy.
Endometrial cancer A type of cancer which begins in the lining of the womb (uterus).
Epoetin Treatment for anaemia (see also Anaemia).
ER status In breast cancer, refers to whether or not the cancer cells have receptors within the cell that bind to the female hormone oestrogen and stimulate the cancer to grow (known as oestrogen receptor positive or ER+ breast cancer). ER negative (ER-) means the breast cancer does not have oestrogen receptors.
Excision Surgical removal.
Exemestane A hormone therapy drug, also known as Aromasin. It is one of a group of drugs called aromatase inhibitors.
Faslodex See Fulvestrant.
FEC A combination of the chemotherapy drugs 5-flurouracil (5FU), epirubicin and cyclophosphamide.
FEC-T A combination of the chemotherapy drugs 5-flurouracil (5FU), epirubicin, cyclophosphamide and Taxotere (docetaxel).
Femara See Letrozole.
Fibrocystic A benign (not cancer) breast condition when multiple cysts or lumpy areas develop in one or both breasts.
Filgrastim See Neupogen.
Fine needle aspiration (FNA) Using a fine needle and syringe to take a sample of cells for analysis under a microscope.
FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridisation) A way of measuring HER2 levels in cancer cells.
Fractions Each radiotherapy treatment is known as a fraction. Treatment involves several fractions given over a few days or weeks.
Fulvestrant A hormone therapy drug, also known as Faslodex.
Gamma Knife Gamma Knife see Stereotactic radiotherapy.
GCSF (granulocyte colony-stimulating factor) A drug that boosts the levels of white blood cells in the body when they are low, for example during chemotherapy.
Gemcitabine A chemotherapy drug; also known as Gemzar.
Gemzar See Gemcitabine.
Gene Stores the biological information we inherit from our parents, affecting the way we look and how our bodies work and grow.
Goserelin A hormone therapy drug; also known as Zoladex.
Grade The system used to classify cancer cells according to how different they are to normal breast cells and how quickly they are growing.
HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) A protein involved in the growth of cells. Around 20% of breast cancers have higher than normal levels of HER2 (known as HER2 positive), which stimulates them to grow.
Herceptin See Trastuzumab.
Hereditary Characteristics, conditions or illnesses that are passed from parent to offspring through genes.
Hormone receptor Involved in the growth of cells. In some breast cancers hormone receptors bind to hormones within the cells (known as hormone receptor positive) and stimulate the cancer to grow.
Hormone therapy Use of drugs to block the effect of hormones on cancer cells; only used if the breast cancer is hormone receptor positive.
Hormones Chemical messengers produced in various organs of the body that regulate growth and reproduction.
Hypercalcaemia Higher than normal levels of calcium in the blood.
Hyperplasia An increase in the number and growth of cells.
Hypocalcaemia Lower than normal levels of calcium in the blood.
Immune response An automatic defence function of the body that recognises and provides protection from infection and foreign bodies.
Immunosuppression Reduced ability of the body to protect against infection and disease. May be caused by chemotherapy.
In situ (breast cancer) Has not developed the ability to spread outside the ducts, either within the breast or elsewhere in the body.
Infertility The inability to get pregnant. May be temporary or permanent and can be caused by chemotherapy.
Inflammation The reaction of body tissues to injury, infection or irritation.
Inflammatory breast cancer A rare type of breast cancer where the skin of the breast looks red and may feel warm and tender (inflamed).
Infusion A method of delivering fluids or drugs, usually into a vein.
Intraductal See DCIS.
Intramuscular (IM) An injection into the muscle.
Intravenous (IV) An injection into the vein.
Invasive cancer Has the potential to spread to other parts of the body.
Ipsilateral On the same side, as opposed to contralateral, which is on the other side.
Ki-67 A protein found in higher levels in cells that are dividing and growing.
Lapatinib A type of targeted therapy, also known as Tyverb, and one of a group of cancer drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs).
Letrozole A hormone therapy, also known as Femara, and one of a group of drugs called aromatase inhibitors.
Local recurrence Breast cancer that has come back in the chest/breast area or in the skin near the original site or scar.
Local treatment Specific to an area of the body, for example surgery or radiotherapy.
Locally advanced breast cancer Also known as regional recurrence. Breast cancer that has come back and spread to the tissues and lymph nodes around the chest and neck and under the breastbone.
Lumpectomy An operation to remove an area of breast tissue with or without a margin of healthy tissue; in breast cancer may also be called wide local excision or breast-conserving surgery.
Lymph nodes Also known as lymph glands. Small oval-shaped structures found in clusters throughout the lymphatic system, for example in the underarm (axilla).
Lymphatic system The drainage and filtering system of the body, made up of lymph nodes (lymph glands), vessels and fluid. Helps to get rid of waste products and fight infection.
Lymphoedema Swelling of the arm, hand or breast area caused by a build-up of lymphatic fluid in the surface tissues of the body. It can occur as a result of damage to the lymphatic system, for example because of surgery and/or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the underarm (axilla) and surrounding area.
Lymphovascular invasion When breast cancer cells spread into (invade) the lymphatic and blood vessels within the breast, and can be seen in these vessels under a microscope.
Malignant In cancer, uncontrolled growth. Invasive cells that have the potential to spread elsewhere in the body.
Mammogram A breast X-ray.
Mastectomy Removal of all the breast tissue including the nipple area.
Metastases Cancer cells that have spread from the first cancer site and grown elsewhere in the body, for example the bones. Also called mets, advanced cancer, secondary cancer or secondaries.
Mets See Metastases.
Multicentric When there is more than one instance of breast cancer in different quarters (areas) of the breast.
Multifocal When there is more than one instance of breast cancer in the same quarter (area) of the breast.
Navelbine See Vinorelbine.
Neoadjuvant Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy, given before surgery. Sometimes called primary, for example primary hormone therapy.
Neupogen A type of GCSF (See GCSF).
Neutropenia When the number of white blood cells falls below a certain level; may happen as a side effect of chemotherapy. If there is also a high temperature (above 38°C), it is known as febrile neutropenia.
Occult breast cancer Breast cancer that cannot be felt or seen on imaging (such as a mammogram or ultrasound). Usually diagnosed when someone is being investigated for symptoms elsewhere in the body, for example enlarged lymph node/s. Sometimes a biopsy in another part of the body shows cells that look like secondary breast cancer cells, indicating there is a primary cancer in the breast, even though it cannot be seen.
Oestrogen receptors Proteins within cancer cells that bind to the female hormone oestrogen and stimulate the cancer to grow (may be abbreviated to ER, from estrogen, the American spelling of oestrogen).
Oligometastatic disease Small, isolated areas of secondary breast cancer that are stable (not progressing) and usually present in only one site of the body (oligo means ‘little' or 'few’).
Oncologist A doctor who specialises in cancer (oncology). An oncologist may be a medical oncologist (cancer drugs specialist) or clinical oncologist (radiotherapy and/or cancer drugs specialist).
Oncoplastic surgeon A breast cancer surgeon with specific training in plastic surgery.
OSNA (one step nucleic acid amplification) A test used during surgery to see if breast cancer cells are in the lymph nodes in the underarm.
Osteopenia Decreased bone mineral density (a measurement of bone strength) that is not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis Literally means 'porous bones'. Decreased bone mineral density: thinner, weaker bones that are more likely to break. Usually diagnosed with a bone density scan (often called a DEXA scan).
Ovarian suppression Surgery or drugs that prevent the ovaries from working.
Paclitaxel Also known as Taxol. A chemotherapy drug and one of a group of drugs called taxanes.
Palliative care Focuses on symptom control and support when an illness cannot be cured; usually involves a team of healthcare professionals such as specialist nurses, doctors, social workers and physiotherapists.
Palliative treatment Aims to control symptoms and slow the progress of an illness rather than cure it.
Pathologist A medical expert who examines and identifies cells. The pathologist can tell where a cell comes from in the body and whether it is normal or a cancer cell. If it is a cancer cell, the pathologist can often tell what type of body cell the cancer developed from.
Pathology The branch of medicine that looks at how disease affects the body’s cells and tissues. Each time you have tissue removed, a report is written by a pathologist (a doctor who examines the tissue).
PET (positron emission tomography) scan A scan that produces a three-dimensional image with details of both the structure and function of the organs or tissue under examination. It is sometimes combined with a CT scan.
Plastic surgeon A specialist surgeon trained in plastic surgery techniques such as breast reconstruction.
Primary breast cancer Breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast or the lymph nodes (lymph glands) in the underarm (axilla).
Progesterone receptors Proteins within cancer cells that bind to the female hormone progesterone (may be abbreviated to PR).
Prognosis The likely outlook of a disease, including whether it is likely to be cured and the person’s life expectancy.
Prosthesis An artificial breast form used to restore shape when all or part of the breast has been removed.
Radiologist A doctor who specialises in the use of imaging (for example X-rays, ultrasound, CT, PET, MRI) to diagnose and treat disease.
Radiotherapy The use of high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells.
Reconstruction (breast) A surgery that rebuilds breast shape after all or part of the breast has been removed.
Recurrence When a disease or condition returns. There are several types of breast cancer recurrence.
Regional recurrence (also known as locally advanced) Breast cancer that has come back and has spread to the tissues and lymph nodes (lymph glands) around the chest and neck and under the breastbone.
Remission When the signs and symptoms of a disease partly or completely disappear. May be temporary or permanent.
Risk factor In medicine, something that increases a person’s chance of developing an illness such as cancer.
Secondary breast cancer When breast cancer cells spread from the first (primary) tumour in the breast through the lymphatic or blood system to other parts of the body. Also called metastases, advanced breast cancer, secondaries or stage 4 breast cancer.
Selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT) A type of targeted internal radiotherapy which uses radioactive beads to deliver radiation to the cancer.
Sentinel node biopsy (SNB) Identifies whether or not the first lymph node (or nodes) is clear of cancer cells.
Seroma A collection of fluid that forms under a wound after an operation. It is a common and sometimes uncomfortable but harmless side effect of breast surgery.
Side-effect Unwanted effect of treatments.
Stable disease The cancer has stayed the same size or has grown only a little.
Stage The size of the cancer and how far it has spread.
Stereotactic core biopsy The process of taking a sample of tissue using a needle biopsy device connected to a mammogram machine and linked to a computer; helps locate the exact position of the area to be biopsied.
Stereotactic radiotherapy Also known as radiosurgery. A very precise radiation treatment used in secondary breast cancer. May be referred to as Gamma Knife or CyberKnife.
Subcutaneous injection An injection into the fatty tissue under the skin.
Surgical margin How close the cancer cells are to the edges of the tissue removed during surgery.
Systemic treatment Drugs that treat the whole body, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or targeted therapy.
Tamoxifen A hormone therapy drug.
Targeted therapies Also known as biological therapies. A group of drugs that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with the biology of the cancer cells. They target specific processes in the cells that cause cancer to grow.
Taxol See Paclitaxel.
Taxotere See Docetaxel.
Terminal illness Eventually causing death. Often used when someone is approaching the last few weeks or days of life.
Thrombosis A blood clot.
TP53 gene A gene that provides instructions for making a protein called tumour protein p53. Some people inherit an altered TP53 gene, which can result in a rare inherited cancer syndrome called Li-Fraumeni syndrome.
Trastuzumab Also called Herceptin. A targeted therapy used to treat HER2 positive breast cancer, and one of a group of drugs called monoclonal antibodies.
Triple negative Type of breast cancer that has tested negative for the female hormones oestrogen, progesteron or the HER2-protein. This type of cancer is often treated with chemotherapy rather than hormone therapy or targeted therapies for HER2.
Tumour An overgrowth of cells forming a lump; may be benign (not cancer) or cancer.
Tumour markers Substances produced by cancer or by the body as a response to cancer.
Tyverb See Lapatinib.
Ultrasound scan Uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image.
Vacuum-assisted biopsy Used to remove breast tissue for examination under a microscope, often when a previous biopsy was difficult to perform or more tissue is needed to make a diagnosis. Sometimes it can be used as an alternative to surgery to remove a whole area of breast tissue (called a vacuum-assisted excision biopsy).
Vinorelbine A chemotherapy drug. Also known as Navelbine.
Wide local excision (WLE) Surgery to remove breast cancer with a margin of healthy tissue. Sometimes called breast-conserving surgery or lumpectomy.
Xeloda See Capecitabine.
X-ray Used to produce images of dense tissues in the body such as bone or lungs.
Zoladex See Goserelin.
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