VCU Massey Cancer Center


Cancer Dictionary



  • abdomen

    area between the chest and the hips that contains the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen.

  • ablative therapy

    treatment that removes or destroys the function of an organ, such as surgical removal of an organ or some types of chemotherapy.

  • abnormality

    a health problem or feature not normally present in a healthy individual.

  • acquired mutations

    mutations in somatic cells that we are not born with, but that occur by chance over time. Acquired mutations are not present in all cells of the body, are not inherited, and are not passed down to our children.

  • actinic keratosis

    a precancerous condition of thick, scaly patches of skin.

  • acupressure

    a type of massage in which finger pressure is applied to particular points on the body.

  • acupuncture

    a pain relief technique of traditional Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted in the skin at particular points.

  • acute

    severe; sharp; begins quickly.

  • acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)

    a rapidly progressing cancer of the blood in which too many immature (not fully formed) lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, are found in the bone marrow, blood, spleen, liver, and other organs.

  • acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)

    a rapidly progressing cancer of the blood in which too many immature (not fully formed) granulocytes, a type of white blood cell, are found in the bone marrow and blood.

  • adenocarcinoma

    a cancer that develops in the lining or inner surface of some organs and have secretory characteristics, such as in the ducts or lobules of the breast.

  • adenoma

    benign growths that often appear on glands or in glandular tissue.

  • adjuvant therapy

    treatment used in addition to the primary treatment. Adjuvant therapy usually refers to hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy added after surgery to increase the chances of curing the disease or minimizing symptoms.

  • advance directives

    documents that a person can complete to ensure that healthcare choices are respected.

  • allogeneic bone marrow transplantation

    a procedure in which a person receives stem cells from a compatible donor.

  • alopecia

    a partial or complete loss of hair that may result from radiation therapy to the head, chemotherapy, skin disease, drug therapy, and natural causes.

  • alternative therapy

    a term referring to practices and products that are not considered to be part of conventional medicine and are used instead of conventional medicine.

  • amplification

    the production of many copies of a region of DNA.

  • anemia

    a blood disorder caused by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells).

  • anesthesia

    lack of normal sensation, especially the awareness of pain, which may be brought on by anesthetic drugs. General anesthesia causes loss of consciousness; local or regional anesthesia causes loss of feeling only to a specified area.

  • anesthesiologist

    a physician who specializes in administering medications or other agents that prevent or relieve pain, especially during surgery.

  • angiogenesis

    the natural body process of growing new blood vessels.

  • angiogram

    a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses dye to visualize all of the blood vessels in the brain to detect certain types of tumors.

  • angioma

    a benign tumor in the skin, which is made up of blood or lymph vessels.

  • anomaly

    a health problem or feature not normally present in a healthy individual; a deviation from the normal.

  • antacids

    medications that balance acids and gas in the stomach.

  • antibiotic

    chemical substances that are either produced from cultures of microorganisms or produced artificially for the purpose of killing other organisms that cause disease. Antibiotics may be needed along with the cancer treatment to prevent or treat infections.

  • anticholinergics

    medications that calm muscle spasms in the intestine.

  • anticipatory grief

    the deep emotional distress that occurs when someone has a prolonged illness and death is expected often by the patient as well as the family. Anticipatory grief can be just as painful and stressful as the actual death of the person.

  • antidiarrheals

    medications that help control diarrhea.

  • antiemetics

    medications that prevent and control nausea and vomiting.

  • antigen

    a substance that can trigger an immune response causing the production of antibodies as part of the body's defense against infection and disease.

  • antioxidant

    a substance that protects the body cells from damage caused by free radicals (by-products of the body's normal chemical processes).

  • antispasmodics

    medications that help reduce or stop muscle spasms in the intestines.

  • apheresis

    a procedure in which a patient's own blood is removed, particular fluid and cellular elements are extracted from the blood, then returned to the patient.

  • aplastic anemia

    one type of anemia that occurs when the bone marrow produces too few of all three types of blood cells: red cells, white cells, and platelets.

  • aspiration

    the withdrawal of fluid from the body.

  • asymptomatic

    to be without noticeable symptoms of disease.

  • atypical

    not usual; often refers to the appearance of precancerous or cancerous cells.

  • autologous bone marrow transplantation

    a procedure in which a patient's own bone marrow is removed, treated with anticancer drugs or radiation, then returned to the patient.

  • autopsy

    an examination of the organs and/or tissues of the body after death. An autopsy is often used to determine the cause of death, but may also be done to research the fatal disease for future diagnosis, treatment, and prevention strategies.

  • autosomal dominant inheritance

    a mutation or alteration in a gene that lies on one of the first 22 pairs of chromosomes, which, when present in one copy, causes a trait or disease to be expressed.

  • autosomal recessive inheritance

    a mutation or alteration in a gene that lies on one of the first 22 pairs of chromosomes, which, when present in two copies, causes a trait or disease to be expressed.

  • autosome

    any chromosome other than a sex chromosome; there are 22 pairs of these chromosomes.


  • barium

    a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray.

  • barium enema (Also called lower GI, or gastrointestinal, series.)

    a procedure that examines the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine. A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is given into the rectum as an enema. An x-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.

  • basal cell carcinoma

    the most common form of skin cancer; characterized by small, shiny, raised bumps on the skin that may bleed.

  • basal cells

    type of cells that are found in the outer layer of skin. Basal cells are responsible for producing the squamous cells in the skin.

  • benign

    cell growth that is not cancerous, does not invade nearby tissue, or spread to other parts of the body.

  • benign prostatic hyperplasia (Also called BPH or benign prostatic hypertrophy.)

    an enlargement of the prostate caused by disease or inflammation. It is not cancer, but its symptoms are often similar to those of prostate cancer.

  • bereavement

    the state of being bereaved; to be in a sad or lonely state due to a loss or death.

  • bilateral

    affecting both sides of the body. Bilateral breast cancer is cancer occurring in both breasts at the same time.

  • bile

    fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body.

  • bile acids

    acids made by the liver that work with bile to break down fats.

  • bile ducts

    tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder for storage and to the small intestine for use in digestion.

  • bilirubin

    a yellow-green color substance formed when hemoglobin breaks down. Bilirubin gives bile its color. Bilirubin is normally passed in stool. Too much bilirubin causes jaundice.

  • biochemical genetic testing

    a test to study specific enzymes or biochemical products (for example amino acids, organic acids) in the body.

  • biofeedback

    a form of mind control over the body that allows a person to reduce sensations of pain.

  • biologic response modifiers (Also called biologic therapy.)

    substances that boost the body's immune system to fight against cancer (i.e., interferon).

  • biological therapy (Also called immunotherapy, biotherapy, or biological response modifier therapy.)

    a therapy that uses the body's immune system, either directly or indirectly, to fight cancer or to lessen side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments (i.e., Interferon).

  • biopsy

    the removal of tissue for examination under a microscope.

  • birth defect

    a health problem present at birth.

  • bladder

    a triangle-shaped, hollow organ located in the lower abdomen that holds urine. It is held in place by ligaments that are attached to other organs and the pelvic bones. The bladder's walls relax and expand to store urine, and contract and flatten to empty urine through the urethra.

  • blasts

    immature blood cells.

  • blood

    the life-maintaining fluid which is made up of plasma, red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes), and platelets; blood circulates through the body's heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries; it carries away waste matter and carbon dioxide, and brings nourishment, electrolytes, hormones, vitamins, antibodies, heat, and oxygen to the tissues.

  • blood banking

    the process that takes place in the laboratory to ensure that the donated blood or blood products are safe, before they are used in blood transfusions and other medical procedures. Blood banking includes typing and cross matching the blood for transfusion and testing for infectious diseases.

  • blood plasma

    the fluid part of blood that contains nutrients, glucose, proteins, minerals, enzymes, and other substances.

  • bone marrow

    the soft, spongy tissue found inside bones. It is the medium for development and storage of about 95 percent of the body's blood cells.

  • bone marrow aspiration and biopsy

    the marrow may be removed by aspiration or a needle biopsy under local anesthesia. In aspiration biopsy, a fluid specimen, is removed from the bone marrow. In a needle biopsy, marrow cells (not fluid) are removed. These methods are often used together.

  • bone marrow transplant (BMT)

    the transfusion of healthy bone marrow cells into a person, after their own unhealthy bone marrow has been eliminated.

  • bone scans

    pictures or x-rays taken of the bone after a dye has been injected that is absorbed by bone tissue. These are used to detect tumors and bone abnormalities.

  • bone survey (skeletal)

    an x-ray of all the bones of the body; often done when looking for metastasis to the bones.

  • bowel

    another word for the small and large intestines.

  • bowel movement

    body wastes passed through the rectum and anus.

  • bowel prep

    process used to clean the colon with enemas and a special drink; used before surgery of the colon, colonoscopy, or barium x-ray.

  • brain scan

    an imaging method used to find abnormalities in the brain, including brain cancer and cancer that has spread to the brain from other places in the body.

  • BRCA1

    a gene (on chromosome 17), which, when altered, indicates an inherited susceptibility to breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer.

  • BRCA2

    a gene (on chromosome 13) which, when altered, indicates an inherited susceptibility to breast, ovarian, prostate cancer, and other cancer types.

  • breast self-examination (BSE)

    a method in which a woman examines her breasts and the surrounding areas for lumps or changes. A BSE should be performed once a month, usually at a time other than the days before, during, or immediately after the menstrual period.


  • CAM

    Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

  • cancer

    abnormal cells that divide without control, which can invade nearby tissues or spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

  • cancer care team

    the group of healthcare professionals who work together to find, treat, and care for people with cancer.

  • cancer cell

    a cell that divides and multiplies uncontrollably and has the potential to spread throughout the body, crowding out normal cells and tissue.

  • cancer susceptibility gene

    a gene, that when mutated, gives a person a risk for developing certain types of cancer(s) that is greater than the general population risk.

  • carbohydrates

    one of the three main classes of food and a source of energy. Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches found in breads, cereals, fruits, and vegetables, which, during digestion, carbohydrates are changed into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose is stored in the liver until cells need it for energy.

  • carcinogen

    an agent (chemical, physical, or viral) that may increase the risk of cancer. Examples include tobacco smoke and asbestos.

  • carcinoma

    cancer found in the epithelial tissue (tissue that covers the surfaces of organs, glands, or body structures).

  • carcinoma in situ

    cancer that is confined to the cells in which it first developed, and has not invaded the surrounding tissues (metastasized).

  • carotenoids

    substances found in yellow and orange vegetables and fruits and in dark, green vegetables.

  • carrier testing

    testing performed to determine whether a person carries one copy of an altered gene for a particular recessive disease.

  • catheter

    a tube inserted into body passageways or cavities to inject medication, withdraw fluids, or keeps a passage open.

  • cells

    basic working units of living systems, which contain DNA.

  • cervix

    the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) located between the bladder and the rectum. It forms a canal that opens into the vagina, which leads to the outside of the body.

  • chaplain

    a member of the healthcare team who provides spiritual counseling, support, and pastoral care. The hospital chaplain can also act as a liaison to local clergy.

  • chemotherapy

    the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells.

  • child life specialist

    a hospital staff member who has special training in the growth and development of children. A Child Life Specialist can help your child with play activities, relaxation and pain management skills, and help meet the educational and emotional needs of the entire family.

  • cholecystectomy

    operation to remove the gallbladder.

  • chromosome

    a structure in the nucleus of cells which contains genes. Humans usually have 23 pairs of chromosomes.

  • chronic

    referring to a disease or disorder that usually develops slowly and lasts for a long period of time.

  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

    a slowly progressing cancer of the blood in which too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, are produced by the bone marrow and by organs of the lymph system.

  • chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)

    a slowly progressing cancer of the blood in which too many white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.

  • clinical trial

    organized research studies that provide clinical data aimed at finding better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, or treat diseases.

  • codon

    a coding unit in a DNA sequence specifying amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

  • cold knife cone biopsy

    a procedure in which a laser or a surgical scalpel is used to remove a piece of tissue. This procedure requires the use of general anesthesia.

  • colectomy

    an operation to remove all or part of the colon.

  • colon polyps

    small, fleshy, mushroom-shaped growths in the colon.

  • colonoscope

    a long, lighted tube used to examine the entire length of the large intestine.

  • colonoscopic polypectomy

    removal of tumor-like growths (polyps) using a device inserted through a colonoscope.

  • colonoscopy

    a procedure that allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine, and can often help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding. It involves inserting a colonoscope, a long, flexible, lighted tube, in through the rectum up into the colon. The colonoscope allows the physician to see the lining of the colon, remove tissue for further examination, and possibly treat some problems that are detected.

  • colorectal cancer

    cancer of the colon (portion of the large intestine) and rectum (where the large intestine ends).

  • colostomy

    an operation that makes it possible for stool to leave the body after the rectum has been removed.

  • colposcopy (Also called colposcopic biopsy.)

    a procedure which uses an instrument with magnifying lenses, called a colposcope, to examine the cervix for abnormalities. If abnormal tissue is found, a biopsy is usually performed.

  • complementary therapy

    a term referring to practices and products that are not considered to be part of conventional medicine, but can be used with conventional medicine.

  • complete blood count (CBC)

    a measurement of size, number, and maturity of different blood cells in a specific volume of blood.

  • computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.)

    a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

  • cone biopsy (Also called conization.)

    a biopsy in which a larger cone-shaped piece of tissue is removed from the cervix by using the loop electrosurgical excision procedure or the cold knife cone biopsy procedure. The cone biopsy procedure may be used as a treatment for precancerous lesions and early cancers.

  • congenital

    present at birth.

  • congenital anomaly

    a health problem present at birth (not necessary genetic).

  • culdocentesis

    a screening test for ovarian cancer in which the fluid surrounding the ovaries is removed and tested.

  • cyst

    a deep lesion that is filled with pus or other contents.

  • cystoscope

    a lighted tube used to examine and treat the bladder.

  • cystoscopy (Also called cystourethroscopy.)

    an examination in which a scope, a flexible tube and viewing device, is inserted through the urethra to examine the bladder and urinary tract for structural abnormalities or obstructions, such as tumors or stones. Samples of the bladder tissue (called a biopsy) may be removed through the cystoscope for examination under a microscope in the laboratory.

  • cystourethrogram (Also called a voiding cystogram.)

    a specific x-ray that examines the urinary tract. A catheter (hollow tube) is placed in the urethra (tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) and the bladder is filled with a liquid dye. X-ray images will be taken as the bladder fills and empties. The images will show if there is any reverse flow of urine into the ureters and kidneys.

  • cytogenetics

    the study of chromosomal material.

  • cytokines

    proteins produced by the cells of the immune system that are involved in the immune response.


  • de novo

    new, not present previously in a family.

  • deletion

    when a part of a chromosome is missing, or part of the DNA code is missing.

  • diagnosis

    identifying a disease by its signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings.

  • diagnostic mammogram

    an x-ray of the breast used to diagnose unusual breast changes, such as a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. A diagnostic mammogram is also used to evaluate abnormalities detected on a screening mammogram.

  • diagnostic testing

    used to identify or confirm the diagnosis of a disease or a condition in a person or a family.

  • dialysis

    a medical procedure to remove wastes and additional fluid from the blood after the kidneys have stopped functioning.

  • diarrhea

    frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements.

  • digestants

    medications that aid or stimulate digestion.

  • digestion

    process the body uses to break down food into simple substances for energy, growth, and cell repair.

  • digestive tract

    the organs that are involved in digestion, including the mouth, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, and large intestine.

  • digital rectal exam (DRE)

    a procedure in which the physician inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to examine the rectum and the prostate gland for signs of cancer.

  • dilation and curettage (Also called D & C.)

    a minor operation in which the cervix is dilated (expanded) so that the cervical canal and uterine lining can be scraped with a curette (spoon-shaped instrument).

  • direct DNA studies

    studies which look directly at the gene in question for an error (mutation).

  • distention

    bloating or swelling; usually referring to the abdomen.

  • DNA

    deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecules in cells that carry genetic information.

  • do not resuscitate (DNR) order

    a formal request by a person or a person's family to not make extreme measures to save his/her life. A DNR order is usually reserved for a person near death or with a terminal illness that, even if resuscitated, would not have a high quality of life or a long period before death would occur despite resuscitative efforts. DNR orders can specify how much intervention is desired prior to death (i.e., do not use cardiac drugs, oxygen, chest compressions, etc.).

  • drug resistance

    refers to the ability of cancer cells to become resistant to the effects of the chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer.

  • dysphagia

    problems in swallowing food or liquid, usually caused by blockage or injury to the esophagus.

  • dysplasia

    abnormal development of tissue.

  • dyspnea

    difficulty or painful breathing.


  • edema

    swelling due to buildup of fluid.

  • electrochemotherapy

    uses a combination of chemotherapy and electrical pulses to treat cancer.

  • electrolyte

    an element that breaks up into ions when it is dissolved in water. Examples of electrolytes include: sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium. Monitoring the correct levels of electrolytes and replacement of fluids and electrolytes are part of care for many conditions.

  • endometrial biopsy

    a procedure in which a sample of tissue is obtained through a tube that is inserted into the uterus.

  • endometrial hyperplasia

    abnormal thickening of the endometrium caused by excessive cell growth.

  • endoscope

    a lighted tube used to examine the interior of a body cavity or organ.

  • endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

    a procedure that allows the physician to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas. The procedure combines x-ray and the use of an endoscope

  • endoscopy

    use of a very flexible tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is connected to a computer screen, allowing the physician to see inside the hollow organs, such as the uterus. Biopsy samples can be taken through the tube.

  • enteral nutrition or feeding

    using oral or tube feeding through the digestive tract to give nutrients to a patient who cannot take in, chew, or swallow food but who can digest and absorb nutrients.

  • enteroscopy

    examination of the small intestine with an endoscope.

  • enterostomy

    ostomy, or opening, into the intestine through the abdominal wall.

  • enzyme replacement therapy (ERT)

    replacing the enzyme which is missing or defective in a genetic disease.

  • epithelial cells

    cells found in the tissues that cover organs, glands, or body structures.

  • esophagogastroduodenoscopy (Also called EGD or upper endoscopy.)

    a procedure that allows the physician to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. A thin, flexible, lighted tube, called an endoscope, is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The endoscope allows the physician to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as to insert instruments through a scope for the removal of a sample of tissue for biopsy (if necessary).

  • esophagus

    an organ that connects the mouth to the stomach.

  • excisional

    cutting away cancerous tissue with a scalpel or other instruments to completely remove it and possibly some surrounding tissue. There are many types of excisional surgeries, each named for the particular area of the body in which they are performed, or the particular purpose for which they are performed.

  • expectant management or therapy

    watchful waiting or close monitoring of cancer (i.e., prostate) by a physician instead of immediate treatment.

  • extended banding chromosome study

    a study that involves stretching out the chromosomes to a greater length than usual allowing more detail of each small piece (band) of the chromosome material to be seen.

  • external radiation (external beam therapy)

    a treatment that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes.


  • false negative

    a test result that indicates a normal result when there actually is a problem.

  • false positive

    a test result that indicates there is a problem when, in fact, there is not a problem.

  • familial

    a clustering of disease in a family, with no specific inheritance pattern, but more cases than chance alone would predict.

  • familial cancer

    when there is a clustering of cancer cases in a family, but the features of hereditary cancer are not present.

  • familial polyposis

    an inherited disease that causes polyps in the colon. These polyps can lead to cancer.

  • fecal

    relating to the feces, the body's waste matter that is discharged from the intestines through the anus.

  • fecal occult blood test

    a test to check for hidden blood in stool.

  • first-degree relative

    a relative with whom you share one-half of your genes

  • founder effect

    when a particular gene mutation is present in a population at increased frequency because it was present in a small isolated group of founders, ancestors who gave rise to most of the individuals in the present day population.

  • free radicals

    highly reactive oxygen-free compounds created during normal body cell processes that can damage cells and cause DNA changes that result in cancer.


  • gastrectomy

    an operation in which part (subtotal or partial) or all (total) of the stomach is removed.

  • gastric

    relating to the stomach.

  • gastroenterologist

    a physician who specializes in digestive diseases.

  • gastroenterology

    the field of medicine concerned with the function and disorders of the digestive system.

  • gastrointestinal

    relating to the stomach and the intestines.

  • gastroscope

    a lighted tube used to examine the stomach.

  • gastrostomy

    an artificial opening from the stomach to a hole (stoma) in the abdomen where a feeding tube is inserted.

  • gene

    a segment of DNA that produces a protein product; genes determine traits that are passed from one generation to the next.

  • gene

    a segment of DNA that codes for a trait such as blood type or eye color, as well as susceptibility to certain diseases.

  • gene therapy

    a new type of treatment that is used to correct a genetic defect.

  • genetic

    determined by genes or chromosomes.

  • genetic counseling

    providing an assessment of heritable risk factors and information to patients and their relatives concerning the consequences of a disorder, the chance of developing or transmitting it, how to cope with it, and ways in which it can be prevented, treated, and managed.

  • genetic counseling

    providing an assessment of heritable risk factors and information to patients and their relatives concerning the consequences of a disorder, the probability of developing or transmitting it, and ways in which it can be prevented, treated, and managed. Genetic counseling is provided by a physician with specialized training in genetics, or a genetic counselor.

  • genetic testing

    tests performed to determine if a person has certain gene changes (mutations) or chromosome changes which are either known to increase cancer risk or which may be present in cells from a tumor.

  • germ cell

    the reproductive cells of the body (ova, or eggs, and sperm).

  • germ cell tumors

    tumors which are comprised of germ cells (cells that develop into the reproductive system).

  • germline mutation

    a DNA change present in the egg or sperm (germ cells) from which a person was conceived, and therefore usually present in all cells of the body.

  • grade

    the grade of a cancer reflects how abnormal it looks under the microscope. There are several grading systems for different types of cancer.

  • grading

    a process for classifying cancer cells to determine the growth rate of the tumor. The cancer cells are measured by how closely they look like normal cells.

  • graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)

    the condition that results when the immune cells of a transplant (usually of bone marrow) react against the tissues of the person receiving the transplant.

  • granulocytes

    a type of white blood cells. The different types of granulocytes include: basophils, eosinophils, and neutrophils.

  • grief

    the process that occurs as a result of a loss. Similar to bereavement, the loss may be a death of a loved one or of an ideal (divorce, job, home, etc.). Grief is the emotional and objective reactions to a loss of any type.

  • growth factor

    a naturally occurring protein that causes cells to grow and divide.


  • hematocrit

    the measurement of the percentage of red blood cells found in a specific volume of blood.

  • hematologist

    a physician who specializes in the functions and disorders of the blood.

  • hematology

    the scientific study of blood and blood-forming tissues.

  • hematopoiesis

    the process of producing and developing new blood cells.

  • hematuria

    blood in the urine.

  • hemoglobin

    a substance in the red blood cells that supplies oxygen to the cells of the body.

  • hemoglobin

    a type of protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to the tissues of the body.

  • hepatic

    related to the liver.

  • hepatobiliary scintigraphy

    an imaging technique of the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and upper part of the small intestine.

  • hepatoblastoma

    cancer that originates in the liver.

  • hepatologist

    a physician who specializes in liver diseases.

  • hepatology

    field of medicine concerned with the functions and disorders of the liver.

  • hereditary cancer family

    a family where multiple family members have the same or related cancers, often developing at a younger age than average, and showing a vertical pattern of inheritance. Hereditary cancer is due to a mutation in a cancer susceptibility gene that may or may not be identifiable with current technology.

  • Hodgkin's disease

    A type of lymphoma, a cancer in the lymphatic system; Hodgkin's disease causes the cells in the lymphatic system to abnormally reproduce, eventually making the body less able to fight infection. Steady enlargement of lymph glands, spleen, and other lymphatic tissue occurs.

  • hospice

    literal meaning a place of shelter. Today it refers to supportive care of a terminally ill patient.

  • Human Genome Project

    A government-funded research and technology project to sequence and map (identify) all of the human genes (~35,000) on the 46 chromosomes.

  • hyperplasia

    an abnormal or unusual increase in the number of cells present.

  • hysterectomy

    surgery to remove the uterus, including the cervix.

  • hysteroscopy

    visual examination of the canal of the cervix and the interior of the uterus using a viewing instrument (hysteroscope) inserted through the vagina.


  • ileostomy

    an operation that makes it possible for stool to leave the body after the colon and rectum are removed in which an opening is made in the abdomen and the bottom of the small intestine (ileum) attaches to it.

  • ileum

    lower end of the small intestine.

  • imaging studies

    methods used to produce a picture of internal body structures. Some imaging methods used to detect cancer include x-rays, CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound.

  • immune system

    the system composed of lymph fluid, lymph nodes, the lymphatic system, and white blood cells that are responsible for protecting the body against infection and disease.

  • immunocompromised

    an abnormal condition where one's ability to fight infection is decreased. This can be due to a disease process, certain medications, or a condition present at birth.

  • immunosuppression

    a state in which the ability of the body's immune system to respond is decreased. This condition may be present at birth, or it may be caused by certain infections (such as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV), or by certain cancer therapies, such as cancer cell killing (cytotoxic) drugs, radiation, and bone marrow transplantation.

  • immunotherapy

    treatments that promote or support the body's immune system response to a disease such as cancer.

  • implant

    a small amount of radioactive material placed in or near a cancer cell.

  • impotence (Also called erectile dysfunction.)

    the inability to achieve or maintain an erection.

  • incontinence

    the inability to control bowel and/or urine elimination.

  • indirect DNA studies

    studies that look at markers around the gene in question rather than looking directly at the gene itself; also called linkage studies.

  • inflammation

    the response of the tissues of the body to irritation or injury. The signs of inflammation are redness, heat, swelling, and pain.

  • informed consent

    a legal document that explains a course of treatment, the risks, benefits, and possible alternatives; the process by which patients agree to treatment.

  • inheritance

    used to describe how a trait or gene is passed from one generation to the next.

  • inherited cancer syndrome

    a description of the clinical symptoms associated with a mutation in a particular cancer susceptibility gene.

  • interferon

    a biological response modifier that stimulates the growth of certain disease-fighting blood cells in the immune system.

  • interleukin-2

    a biological response modifier that stimulates the growth of certain blood cells in the immune system that can fight cancer.

  • internal radiation (brachytherapy, implant radiation)

    radiation is given inside the body as close to the cancer as possible. Substances that produce radiation, called radioisotopes, may be swallowed, injected, or implanted directly into the tumor. Some of the radioactive implants are called seeds or capsules. Internal radiation involves giving a higher dose of radiation in a shorter time span than with external radiation. Some internal radiation treatments stay in the body temporarily. Other internal treatments stay in the body permanently, through the radioactive substance looses its radiation within a short period of time.

  • intracranial pressure (ICP)

    pressure caused by extra tissue or fluid in the brain.

  • intravenous pyelogram (IVP)

    a series of x-rays of the kidney, ureters, and bladder with the injection of a contrast dye into the vein

  • invasive cancer

    cancer that begins in one area and then spreads deeper into the tissues of that area.

  • isoflavone

    phytochemical found in soy protein.

  • isolated

    refers to an individual who is the only affected member of his/her family, either by chance or through a new (de novo) mutation.


  • jaundice

    yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes.


  • karyotype

    a picture of an individual's 46 chromosomes, lined up into 23 pairs, showing the number, size, and shape of each chromosome type.

  • kidney transplantation

    a procedure that places a healthy kidney from one person into a recipient's body.

  • kidneys

    a pair of bean-shaped organs located below the ribs toward the middle of the back.


  • lactase

    an enzyme in the small intestine needed to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products.

  • lactase deficiency

    lack of an enzyme made by the small intestine called lactase, which prevents the body from digesting lactose (a sugar found in milk and milk products) properly.

  • lactose

    sugar found in milk, which the body breaks down into galactose and glucose.

  • lactose intolerance

    inability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, because the body does not produce the lactase enzyme.

  • lactose tolerance test

    a test that checks the body's ability to digest lactose (a sugar found in milk and milk products).

  • laparoscope

    a long, thin tube with a camera lens attached that allows the physician to examine the organs inside the abdominal cavity

  • laparoscopy

    use of a viewing tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to examine the contents of the abdomen and remove tissue samples.

  • laparotomy

    a surgical incision into a cavity in the abdomen, usually performed using general or regional anesthesia.

  • large intestine

    part of the intestine that goes from the cecum to the rectum.

  • lesion

    an abnormal change in the structure of an organ or body part due to injury or disease.

  • leukemia

    a cancer of the blood-forming tissue. Leukemic cells look different than normal cells and do not function properly.

  • liver

    the largest organ in the body, which has many important functions, such as making bile, changing food into energy, and cleaning alcohol and poisons from the blood.

  • liver biopsy

    a procedure in which tissue samples from the liver are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope.

  • liver enzyme tests (Also called liver function tests.)

    blood tests to determine how well the liver and biliary system are functioning properly.

  • locally invasive tumor

    a tumor which can invade the tissues surrounding it by sending out fingers of cancerous cells into normal tissue.

  • loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP)

    a procedure that uses an electric wire loop to obtain a piece of tissue.

  • lower GI (gastrointestinal) series (Also called barium enema.)

    a procedure that examines the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine. A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is given into the rectum as an enema. An x-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.

  • lumbar puncture (Also called spinal tap.)

    a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

  • lumpectomy

    surgery to remove the cancerous lump and a portion of normal tissue around the breast cancer lump. The surgeon may also remove some of the lymph nodes under the arm to determine if the cancer has spread.

  • lycopene

    a carotenoid phytochemical that is found in ripe fruits, especially tomatoes.

  • lymph

    part of the lymphatic system; a thin, clear fluid that circulates through the lymphatic vessels and carries blood cells that fight infection and disease.

  • lymph nodes

    part of the lymphatic system; bean-shaped organs, found in the underarm, groin, neck, and abdomen, that act as filters for the lymph fluid as it passes through them.

  • lymph vessels

    part of the lymphatic system; thin tubes that carry lymph fluid throughout the body.

  • lymphangiogram (LAG)

    an imaging study that can detect cancer cells or abnormalities in the lymphatic system and structures. It involves a dye being injected to the lymph system.

  • lymphatic system

    part of the immune system; includes lymph, ducts, organs, lymph vessels, lymphocytes, and lymph nodes, whose function is to produce and carry white blood cells to fight disease and infection.

  • lymphedema

    a disorder in which lymph accumulates in the soft tissues, resulting in swelling. Lymphedema may be caused by inflammation, obstruction, or removal of the lymph nodes during surgery.

  • lymphocytes

    part of the lymphatic system; white blood cells that fight infection and disease.

  • lymphocytic leukemia

    a type of leukemia in which the cancer develops in the lymphocytes (lymphoid cells).

  • lymphoma

    cancer growing in the lymphatic system that produces white cells and cleans body fluids.


  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

    a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

  • malignant

    a term used to describe cancerous tumors which tend to grow rapidly, can invade and destroy nearby normal tissues, and can spread.

  • malignant melanoma

    a rare, but sometimes deadly, skin cancer that begins as a mole that turns cancerous.

  • mammogram

    low-dose x-ray of the breast used to detect small growths.

  • markers

    known DNA sequences used to track a gene in a family.

  • medical oncologist

    a physician who is specially trained to diagnose and treat cancer with chemotherapy and other medications.

  • meiosis

    the cell division process that eggs and sperm go through which halves the chromosome number from 46 to 23.

  • Mendel

    An Austrian monk who performed experiments on garden peas to understand inheritance patterns.

  • metabolism

    a term used to describe how the body converts food to energy, and then gets rid of waste products.

  • metastasis

    the spread of tumor cell in other areas of the body.

  • microsatellite instability (MSI)

    when microsatellites accumulate DNA errors in somatic cells, leading to a change in length (number of repeats).

  • microsatellites

    repeated sequences of DNA present in everyone, of a set length.

  • mismatch-repair gene

    a gene whose job is to correct naturally occurring spelling errors in DNA.

  • modified radical mastectomy

    the removal of the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and the overlying skin), some of the lymph nodes under the arm (also called the axillary lymph glands), and the lining over the chest muscles. In some cases, part of the chest wall muscles is also removed.

  • molecular heterogeneity

    when a disorder is caused by mutations in more than one gene, it is said to be molecularly heterogeneous.

  • molecule

    a chemical made of atoms, the basis for proteins and DNA.

  • moles

    small skin marks caused by pigment-producing cells in the skin.

  • monoclonal antibodies

    substances that can locate and bind to cancer cells wherever they are in the body.

  • mucositis (Also called stomatitis.)

    an irritation or ulceration of the lining (mucosa) of the digestive tract

  • mucous membrane

    a thin, moist, layer of tissue that covers or lines some parts of the body, such as the mouth, nose, and lungs.

  • multifactorial

    an inheritance pattern involving both genetic and environmental factors.

  • mutations

    a change in the usual DNA sequence of a particular gene that prevents the gene from working normally. Not all changes in genes are mutations. Some changes are beneficial, neutral, or normal variants (such as the changes that lead to different eye colors).

  • myelogenous leukemia

    a type of leukemia in which the cancer develops in the granulocytes or monocytes (myeloid cells).

  • myelogram

    an x-ray of the spine, similar to an angiogram.

  • myeloma

    cancer in the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell.

  • myeloproliferative disorders

    diseases in which the bone marrow produces too many of one of the three types of blood cells: red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all the tissues in the body; white blood cells, which fight infection; and platelets, which makes blood clot.


  • nasogastric (Also called an NG tube)

    a small tube that is passed through the nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach, where it is left so that the patient can be given nutrition.

  • National Cancer Institute

    The US government agency for cancer research and information.

  • nausea

    a feeling or sensation leading to the urge to vomit.

  • needle biopsy

    use of a needle to extract tissue, cells, or fluid for microscopic examination.

  • neoadjuvant therapy

    treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy which is given before the primary treatment.

  • neoplasia

    abnormal cell growth.

  • nephrectomy

    surgery to remove the kidney; the most common treatment for kidney cancer.

  • nephrologist

    a physician who specializes in diseases of the kidneys.

  • neuroblastoma

    cancer occurring in the nerve cells.

  • neuroma

    a tumor that starts in the nerve cells.

  • neurosurgeon

    a physician specializing in operations to treat disorders of the nervous system.

  • nodule

    a growth that may be either benign or malignant.

  • non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

    a type of lymphoma, a cancer in the lymphatic system; causes the cells in the lymphatic system to abnormally reproduce, eventually causing tumors to grow. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cells can also spread to other organs.


  • occult


  • oncogene

    a proto-oncogene that has been altered (mutated) such that it can promote tumor formation or cell growth.

  • oncologist

    a physician with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

  • oncology

    the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

  • oncology clinical nurse specialist

    a registered nurse with a Master's degree in oncology nursing who specializes in the care of cancer patients.

  • oncology social worker

    a health professional with a Master's degree in social work who is an expert in coordinating and providing non-medical care to patients.

  • Online Resources of Cancer Center

  • oophorectomy

    surgery to remove one or both ovaries.

  • ophthalmologist

    a physician who specializes in diseases of the eye.

  • orchiectomy (Also called castration.)

    the surgical removal of the testicles.

  • osteoid tissue

    pre-bone tissue; resembling bone.

  • osteosarcoma (Also called osteogenic sarcoma.)

    cancer which affects the bone.

  • ostomy

    an operation that makes it possible for stool to leave the body through an opening made in the abdomen; necessary when part or all of the intestines are removed. Colostomy and ileostomy are types of ostomies.


  • pain specialist

    oncologists, neurologists, anesthesiologists, neurosurgeons, and other physicians, nurses, or pharmacists who are experts in pain. A team of healthcare professionals may also be available to address issues of pain control.

  • palliative treatment

    treatment that relieves symptoms, such as pain, but is not expected to cure the disease. The main purpose is to improve the patient's quality of life.

  • palpation

    a physical examination in which one's hand is used to apply pressure to the surface of the body.

  • pancreas

    gland that makes enzymes for digestion and the hormone insulin.

  • Pap test (Also called Pap smear.)

    Test that involves microscopic examination of cells collected from the cervix, used to detect changes that may be cancer or may lead to cancer, and to show noncancerous conditions, such as infection or inflammation.

  • parenteral nutrition or feeding

    giving nutrients to a patient by a method that does not use the digestive tract, such as by injection.

  • partial (segmental) mastectomy

    surgery to remove the breast cancer and a larger portion of the normal breast tissue around the breast cancer. The surgeon may also remove the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor and some of the lymph nodes under the arm.

  • partial nephrectomy

    surgery to remove the kidney; only the part of the kidney that contains the tumor is removed.

  • pathologist

    a physician who specialized in the diagnosis and classification of diseases by laboratory tests such as examination of tissue and cells under the microscope. The pathologist determines whether a tumor is benign or cancerous and, if cancerous, the exact cell type and grade.

  • patient's rights

    a list of rights to ensure that the quality of care, respect, and decision-making processes will be honored by the company, individual, or institution that is providing the care.

  • pediatric oncologist

    a physician who specializes in cancers of children.

  • pediatrician

    a physician who specializes in the care of children.

  • pedigree

    a diagram of a family tree indicating the family members and their relationship to the person with an inherited disorder.

  • pelvic examination

    an internal examination of the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum.

  • penetrance

    a characteristic of a genotype; it refers to the chance that a clinical condition will occur when a particular genotype is present.

  • percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (Also called a PEG tube.)

    a tube inserted through the abdominal wall that rests on the stomach and is used to give nutrients to patients who cannot swallow.

  • percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC)

    a needle is introduced through the skin and into the liver where the dye (contrast) is deposited and the bile duct structures can be viewed by x-ray.

  • perforation

    hole in the wall of an organ.

  • perianal

    area around the anus.

  • perineal

    related to the perineum.

  • perineum

    area between the anus and the sex organs.

  • peripheral stem cell transplantation

    a process in which the stem cells (immature cells from which blood cells develop) are removed, treated with anticancer drugs, and frozen until they are returned to the patient.

  • physical therapist

    a health professional who uses exercises and other methods to restore or maintain the body's strength, mobility, and function.

  • phytochemical

    a chemical in plants that protects the plants against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

  • phytoestrogen

    a compound that has a weak activity relating to or caused by estrogen.

  • plasma

    the watery, liquid part of the blood in which the red blood cells, the white blood cells, and platelets are suspended.

  • platelet pheresis

    a procedure to remove extra platelets from the blood.

  • platelets

    cells found in the blood that are needed to help the blood to clot in order to control bleeding; often used in the treatment of leukemia and other forms of cancer.

  • pluripotent stem cell

    the most primitive, undeveloped blood cell.

  • polymorphism

    a common gene alteration seen in a certain percentage of the population, that may not be associated with disease.

  • polyp

    a growth that projects from the lining of a mucous membrane, such as the intestine.

  • polyposis

    an abnormal condition in which many polyps are present.

  • precancerous

    a term referring to a condition that may become cancerous or malignant.

  • predictive genetic testing

    determines the chances that a healthy individual with or without a family history of a certain disease might develop that disease.

  • preimplantation studies

    used following in vitro fertilization to diagnose a genetic disease or condition in an embryo before it is implanted into the mother's uterus.

  • prenatal diagnosis

    used to diagnose a genetic disease or condition in the developing fetus.

  • presymptomatic genetic testing

    used to determine whether persons who have a family history of a disease, but no current symptoms, have the gene alteration associated with the disease.

  • primary site

    the place where cancer begins. Primary cancer is named after the organ in which it starts. For example, cancer that starts in the kidney is always kidney cancer even if it spreads (metastasizes) to other organs such as bones or lungs.

  • primary tumor

    the original tumor.

  • proctectomy

    an operation to remove the rectum.

  • proctoscope

    short, rigid metal tube used to look into the rectum and anus.

  • proctoscopy

    looking into the rectum and anus with a proctoscope.

  • prognosis

    a forecast about the probably outcome of a disease, especially the chances for recovery.

  • prostatalgia

    pain in the prostate gland.

  • prostate

    a sex gland in men. It is about the size of a walnut, and surrounds the neck of the bladder and urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. It is partly muscular and partly glandular, with ducts opening into the prostatic portion of the urethra. It is made up of three lobes: a center lobe with one lobe on each side.

  • prostate acid phosphatase (PAP)

    an enzyme produced by the prostate that is elevated in some patients when prostate cancer has spread beyond the prostate.

  • prostatectomy

    surgical procedure for the partial or complete removal of the prostate.

  • prostate-specific antigen (PSA)

    an antigen made by the prostate gland and found in the blood; may indicate cancer in the prostate gland.

  • prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test

    a blood test used to help detect prostate cancer by measuring a substance called prostate-specific antigen produced by the prostate.

  • prostatism

    any condition of the prostate that causes interference with the flow of urine from the bladder.

  • prostatitis

    an inflamed condition of the prostate gland that may be accompanied by discomfort, pain, frequent urination, infrequent urination, and, sometimes, fever.

  • protein

    a molecule, made from amino acids, that performs activities in the cell for the body to function normally.

  • protein truncation studies

    a way to look at gene products, rather than the gene itself; testing involves looking at the protein a gene makes to determine if it is shorter than normal.

  • proteinuria

    high levels of protein in the urine.

  • protocol

    a formal outline or plan, such as a description of what treatments a patient will receive and exactly when each should be given.

  • proto-oncogene

    a normal gene responsible for promoting regulated cell growth.

  • pruritus

    itching of the skin.


  • radiation colitis

    damage to the colon from radiation therapy.

  • radiation enteritis

    damage to the small intestine from radiation therapy.

  • radiation oncologist

    a physician who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

  • radiation therapy

    treatment with high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill or shrink cancer cells. The radiation may come from outside of the body (external radiation) or from radioactive materials placed directly in the tumor (internal or implant radiation).

  • radical mastectomy

    surgery to remove the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and the overlying skin), the lymph nodes under the arm, also called the axillary lymph glands, and the chest muscles.

  • radical prostatectomy

    surgery to remove the prostate along with the two seminal vesicle glands attached to the prostate.

  • radical retropubic prostatectomy

    an operation to remove the entire prostate gland and seminal vesicles through the lower abdomen.

  • radioisotopes

    materials that produce radiation.

  • radiologist

    a physician with special training in diagnosing diseases by interpreting x-rays and other types of imaging studies, for example, CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging.

  • rectum

    lower end of the large intestine, leading to the anus.

  • red blood cells (Also called erythrocytes or RBCs.)

    blood cells that mainly help transport oxygen to all the tissues in the body.

  • reduced penetrance

    when a person has a mutation but does not show any signs of disease (since hemochromatosis has reduced penetrance, this can also occur in recessive conditions).

  • reflux

    an abnormal backward flow of a fluid.

  • regimen

    a strict, regulated plan (such as diet, exercise, or other activity) designed to reach certain goals. In cancer treatment, a plan to treat cancer.

  • relapse

    reappearance of cancer after a disease-free period.

  • remission

    complete or partial disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer in response to treatment; the period during which a disease is under control. A remission may not be a cure.

  • renal angiography (Also called renal arteriography.)

    a series of x-rays of the renal blood vessels with the injection of a contrast dye into a catheter, which is placed into the blood vessels of the kidney; to detect any signs of blockage or abnormalities affecting the blood supply to the kidneys.

  • renal ultrasound

    a non-invasive test in which a transducer is passed over the kidney producing sound waves which bounce off of the kidney, transmitting a picture of the organ on a video screen. The test is used to determine the size and shape of the kidney, and to detect a mass, kidney stone, cyst, or other obstruction or abnormalities.

  • retinoblastoma

    cancer of the retina (back of the eye).

  • rhabdomyosarcoma

    a cancerous tumor that originates in the soft tissues of the body such as muscle, tendons, and connective tissue.

  • right to refuse treatment

    options for treatment are offered that may extend the child's life but not provide a cure; the family has the right to refuse this type of treatment.

  • risk factor

    anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease, such as cancer.


  • salpingectomy

    surgical removal of one or both fallopian tubes.

  • salpingo-oophorectomy

    surgery to remove the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

  • sarcoma

    a malignant tumor growing from connective tissues, such as cartilage, fat, muscle, or bone.

  • screening

    a process of checking for a disease when there are no symptoms present.

  • screening mammogram

    an x-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer.

  • scrotum

    the bag of skin that holds the testicles.

  • secondary tumor

    a tumor that forms as a result of spread (metastasis) of cancer from the place where it started.

  • second-degree relative

    a relative with whom you share one-fourth of your genes, such as your half-siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and grandparents.

  • sex chromosomes

    the 23rd pair of human chromosomes which determine gender; females have two X chromosomes; males have one X and one Y chromosome.

  • sibling

    brother or sister.

  • side effects

    unwanted effects of treatment such as hair loss caused by chemotherapy and fatigue caused by radiation therapy.

  • sigmoidoscope

    a short, lighted tube used to examine the sigmoid colon and rectum.

  • small intestine

    the section of the digestive tract between the stomach and the large intestine. Most of digestion occurs here as nutrients are absorbed from food.

  • social worker

    a member of the healthcare team who provides counseling services and support. A social worker helps individuals and their families deal with various problems which arises from coping with a difficulty, illness, or hospitalization. A social worker can provide information and referral to various agencies who can assist with many issues such as counseling, housing, legal, and financial aid.

  • somatic mutation

    a DNA change present in body cells other than the egg or sperm (germ cells).

  • SPF

    Sun Protection Factor.

  • spinal tap (Also called lumbar puncture.)

    a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

  • splenectomy

    surgery to remove the spleen.

  • sporadic cancer

    term that is sometimes used to differentiate cancers occurring in people who do not have a mutation that confers increased susceptibility to cancer from cancers occurring in people who are known to carry a mutation. Cancer developing in people who do not carry a high-risk mutation is referred to as sporadic cancer. Sporadic is also sometimes used to describe cancer occurring in individuals without a family history of cancer.

  • sputum

    mucus coughed up from the lungs.

  • squamous cell carcinoma

    a form of skin cancer that affects about 20 percent of patients with skin cancer. This highly treatable cancer is characterized by red, scaly skin that becomes an open sore.

  • squamous cells (Also called keratinocytes.)

    the primary cell types found in the epidermis, the outer layer of skin.

  • staging

    the process of determining whether cancer has spread and, if so, how far. There is more than one system for staging.

  • stem cells

    formative cells; cells that replicate themselves when they divide and also create cells that turn into other types of cells. It is the stem cells that are needed in bone marrow transplant.

  • stomatitis (Also called mucositis.)

    an irritation or ulceration of the lining (mucosa) of the digestive tract

  • stricture

    a narrowed area.

  • subcutis

    the deepest layer of skin; also known as the subcutaneous layer.

  • surgical oncologist

    a physician who specializes in using surgery to treat cancer.

  • syndrome

    a collection of traits, symptoms, and/or abnormalities in an individual which usually has a single underlying cause.

  • syngeneic bone marrow transplantation

    an allogeneic transplant from an identical twin.

  • systemic treatment or therapy

    treatment or therapy that reaches and affects cells throughout the body.


  • tamoxifen

    a drug used in hormone therapy to treat breast cancer by blocking the effects of estrogen.

  • testis

    one of the pair of male gonads that produce semen; suspended in the scrotum by the spermatic cords.

  • testosterone

    male sex hormone produced mostly by the testicles, although a small amount is made by the adrenal glands.

  • third-degree relative

    a relative with whom you share one-eighth of your genes such as your first cousins.

  • threshold

    a term used to describe the level of liability genes and environmental triggers needed to cause expression of a multifactorial disorder; the level may differ between males and females.

  • thrombosis

    coagulation of the blood within the circulatory system; the blocking of blood flow.

  • tissue

    a group or layer of cells that together perform specific functions.

  • topical chemotherapy

    chemotherapy given as a cream or lotion placed on the skin to kill cancer cells.

  • total (or simple) mastectomy

    surgery to remove the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and most of the overlying skin) and may also remove some of the lymph nodes under the arm, also called the axillary lymph glands.

  • total hysterectomy

    the removal of the uterus, including the cervix; the fallopian tubes and the ovaries remain.

  • total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy

    the entire uterus, fallopian tubes, and the ovaries are surgically removed.

  • total parenteral nutrition (TPN)

    persons undergoing treatment for cancer sometimes need TPN to help meet their nutritional needs. TPN is a special mixture of glucose, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals that are given through an intravenous line (IV) into the veins. Many people call this intravenous feedings.

  • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation ( Also called TENS.)

    a procedure in which electrodes placed on a person's back give off an electric signal that stimulates nerve cells through the skin. The numb-like feeling that results can help some people overcome pain.

  • transrectal ultrasound of the prostate

    a test using sound wave echoes to create an image of an organ or gland to visually inspect for abnormal conditions like gland enlargement, nodules, penetration of tumor through capsule of the gland and/or invasion of seminal vesicles. It may also be used for guidance of needle biopsies of the prostate gland and guiding the nitrogen probes in cryosurgery.

  • transurethral hyperthermia

    an investigative procedure that uses heat, usually provided by microwaves, to shrink the prostate.

  • transurethral incision of the prostate (TUIP)

    a procedure that widens the urethra by making some small cuts in the bladder neck, where the urethra joins the bladder, and in the prostate gland itself.

  • transurethral laser incision of the prostate (TULIP)

    the use of laser through the urethra that melts the tissue.

  • transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP)

    a surgical procedure by which portions of the prostate gland are removed through the penis.

  • transurethral surgery

    surgery in which no external incision is needed. For prostate transurethral surgery, the surgeon reaches the prostate by inserting an instrument through the urethra. See below for different types of transurethral surgery.

  • transvaginal ultrasound (Also called ultrasonography.)

    an ultrasound test using a small instrument, called a transducer, that is placed in the vagina.

  • tumor

    an abnormal lump or mass of tissue. Tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

  • tumor marker

    a substance that may be found in elevated amounts in the blood, urine, or body tissues that may indicate cancer is present.

  • tumor suppressor genes

    genes that slow down cell division or cause cells to die at the appropriate time. Alterations of these genes can lead to too much cell growth and development of cancer.


  • ulceration

    a process in which the skin or mucous membrane has been broken, tissue has disintegrated, and pus may have formed.

  • ulcerative colitis

    a condition in which the lining of the colon is inflamed.

  • ultrasound (Also called sonography.)

    a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels.

  • ultraviolet radiation

    invisible rays that come from the sun. UV radiation can damage the skin and cause melanoma and other types of skin cancer.

  • umbilical cord blood transplant

    a bone marrow transplant using stem cells from cord blood.

  • unilateral

    affecting one side of the body. For example, unilateral kidney cancer occurs in one kidney only.

  • upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (Also called barium swallow.)

    a diagnostic test that examines the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is swallowed. X-rays are then taken to evaluate the digestive organs.

  • upper GI endoscopy

    looking into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum with an endoscope.

  • urea

    the nitrogen part of urine produced from the breakdown of protein.

  • ureters

    two narrow tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

  • urethra

    narrow channel through which urine passes from the bladder out of the body.

  • urinalysis

    laboratory examination of urine for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, infection, or excessive protein.

  • urinary incontinence

    the loss of bladder control.

  • urologist

    a physician who specializes in treating problems of the urinary tract in males and females.

  • urology

    the branch of medicine concerned with the urinary tract in both genders, and with the genital tract or reproductive system in the male.

  • uterus

    also called the womb, the uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a woman's lower abdomen, between the bladder and the rectum.


  • vagina (Also called the birth canal.)

    the passageway through which fluid passes out of the body during menstrual periods. The vagina connects the cervix (the opening of the womb, or uterus) and the vulva (the external genitalia).

  • vaginal hysterectomy

    the uterus is removed through the vaginal opening.

  • variable expression

    when a gene does not produce the same clinical features in all people; some people have milder or more severe symptoms than others.

  • ventricle peritoneal shunt (Also called VP shunt.)

    used to drain excess fluid from around the brain in order to reduce pressure.


  • watchful waiting

    close monitoring of prostate cancer by a physician instead of immediate treatment. Also called expectant management.

  • white blood cells (Also called leukocytes or WBCs.)

    blood cells involved in the destruction of viruses, bacteria, and fungi which cause infection.

  • Wilms tumor

    A cancerous tumor originating in the cells of the kidney.


  • X chromosome

    One of the two sex chromosomes, X and Y.

  • X-linked inheritance

    Pattern of inheritance associated with a mutation or alteration of a gene that lies on the X chromosome, one of the sex chromosomes. If the mutation is recessive, the condition is seen more commonly in males (who only have one X) than females. Often you see a pattern of unaffected females having affected sons and maternal uncles.

  • x-ray

    a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.


  • Y chromosome

    One of the two sex chromosomes, X and Y.