Quick Glossary: Cancer Words You Hear In The Doctor’s Office

When it comes to your health, knowledge is power. There are various medical terms you need to know in order to take better care of yourself. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it can be overwhelming. Apart from the feelings you have to deal with, you’ll also be bombarded with new words you’ve never had to use before. To understand the process of diagnosis and treatment of cancer, here are common terms to familiarize with:

Abnormal Growths – The mention of abnormal growths could refer to various things – from a polyp in your colon to a tumor. These can be harmless and cancer-free. In some cases, they may be malignant or cancerous. They can also pertain to “precancerous” growths which could eventually turn into cancer.

Adjuvant Therapy – Your doctor says the surgery to take out your tumor was a success, but then refers you to another professional to consider more rehabilitation – called adjuvant therapy. This is often used after primary treatments to target microscopic bits of cancer that could still be lurking in your system. This is to decrease your risk of having the same disease again. 

Your physician could also recommend something before your main treatment to make it more effective. That’s called neoadjuvant.

Advance Directive – If, in any case, you are not able to make medical decisions, giving an advance directive sets what kind of care you want and don’t want to receive. This also includes living wills and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders.

Antiemetic – This type of drug is prescribed to help with vomiting and nausea that are side effects of other medication. You may have to take more than one. Antiemetic drugs are usually pills taken right before or after therapy. If you’re in the hospital, they may administer this directly in a vein.

Benign – Any cell abnormality, growth, or tumor that is not cancerous. It will not invade deeper tissues and other parts of the body. The outlook is good for most benign tumors, but they can be serious if they press on vital structures such as nerves or blood vessels.

Biologic Therapy – Also known as immunotherapy, this form of treatment is designed to stimulate or restore your immune system’s ability to fight disease. It involves the use of substances called biological response modifiers (BRMs). The body normally generates these substances in small amounts in response to infection. Using modern laboratory strategies, scientists can produce BRMs in larger quantities for use in the treatment of cancer.

Biomarker – Your doctor may order a test to look for certain molecules in your tissues, blood, or other body fluids. It is to help for tumor markers that are usually made by cancer cells. This will allow your physician to see if your cancer has spread and figure out the best treatments for you. 

Biopsy – A small sample of cells or tissue your physician takes from you. He or she might use a thin, flexible tube designed to hold special tools or a needle (the size varies on what part of your body is getting the biopsy). There will be anesthetic to prevent the patient from feeling any pain.

Carcinogen – This has been a buzzword in recent news stories. A carcinogen is something that raises your odds of developing cancer – whether it be substance in the air, in foods and drinks, or in products you use. Tobacco smoke is one example. So are ultraviolet rays and asbestos. The chance you’ll get cancer because you were exposed to a carcinogen depends on many factors, including your genes and how long you were in contact with the substance.

Chemotherapy – Treatment that uses special medicines to target and kill cancer cells.

Clinical Trial – Research studies that involve actual patients. They focus on prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment. They help find better ways to manage diseases.

 “-ectomy” – A word that ends with “-ectomy” describes a procedure to take out some or all of a body part. For example, in a nephrectomy, the surgeon removes a kidney. A mastectomy removes breast tissue. An oophorectomy takes out an ovary. 

Grade – This describes the appearance of the cancerous cells under a microscope. In general, a lower grade indicates a type of cancer that is slow to develop. Meanwhile, a higher grade reveals a faster-growing one.  

Metastasis –Cancer metastasizes when it spreads to a different body part from where it started. The malignant cells break away from the primary tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Let’s say, your breast cancer spreads to your lungs. It will still be called breast cancer and not lung cancer. Doctors also call this “advanced” or “stage 4.”

Oncologist – A physician specializing in cancer and its treatment.

Palliative Care – The goal of palliative care is to improve the patient’s quality of life. It specializes in easing the stress and suffering from the symptoms of serious illnesses such as cancer. This therapy treats depression, pain, fatigue, anxiety, and any other factors that may be causing distress.  

Recurrence – The development of cancer cells after treatment. This may happen in the same area as the main cancer or in another part of the body.

Remission – Your tests are negative, and the symptoms of cancer have disappeared. However, that doesn’t mean you’re completely cured of the disease. Traces of cancer may still be in your body and it could lead to something serious again. Remission can be partial or complete, depending on the number of cancer cells remaining.

Stage – A way to refer to the status of cancer. It’s based on factors like the disease’s location and size, the grade or how abnormal it looks, the type of cell affected, and whether it has spread to other organs.

These are just a few of the terms you may hear in your doctor’s office if you have cancer. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor if there is any word you don’t understand. You can also check out helpful resources at your local cancer clinic. The National Cancer Institute lists more than 8,000 words in their online dictionary to help everyone understand each concept. 

Click here for our blog Disclaimer.