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The Komen Mission:
To eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease by advancing research, education, screening, and treatment.

Glossary of Terms

The following are terms you may hear or read while educating yourself about breast health or dealing with breast cancer. This is not a complete list of medical terms. If you have any questions about terms not listed here, ask your health-care provider.

Glossary of Terms by First Letter


Alternative therapies: therapies not necessarily proven by scientific studies such as use of nutritional supplements.

Adjuvant therapy: treatment given in addition to surgery, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

Anemia: a decreased number of red blood cells, which may cause fatigue.

Anesthesia: drugs given before and during surgery so as not to feel discomfort.

Antiemetics: medicines that prevent or control nausea and vomiting.

Antiestrogen: a substance that blocks the effects of estrogen on tumors. Antiestrogens are used to treat breast cancers that depend on estrogen for growth, i.e. Tamoxifin.

Areola: the circular area around the nipple of the breast. The areola is typically darker than the rest of the breast.

Aspiration: fluid is drawn from a cyst with a needle and syringe.

Axilla: the armpit.

Axillary lymph nodes: the lymph nodes in the armpit.

Axillary lymph node dissection: surgery to remove some of the lymph nodes from the armpit.

Benign: a growth that is NOT cancerous.

Biologic therapy: cancer treatment that works by targeting specific cellular flaws associated with cancer cell growth.

Biopsy: removal of a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope to see if cancer is present.
Bone marrow transplant: cells are removed from the patient’s bone marrow and given back to them after they received high doses of chemotherapy.

Bone Scan: used to detect possible bone metastasis.

Breast conserving surgery: a portion of the breast is removed by either lumpectomy or partial mastectomy, usually followed by radiation therapy.

Breast reconstruction: surgery to rebuild a breast after mastectomy with either implants or tissue from another part of the body.

Breast self-examination( BSE): examination of one’s breasts for changes. Any change detected should be brought to the attention of a health-care provider.

Calcifications: calcium deposits in the breast, which can be benign or malignant.

Carcinoma in situ:
DCIS - cancer that remains within the walls of the duct.
LCIS - is a noninvasive growth limited to the milk lobules. It is NOT cancer, but is a warning sign of increased risk of developing breast cancer.

CEA - Carcinoembryonic antigen: a blood test to determine if treatment is effective. Not used for screening.

Chemotherapy: treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Complementary treatment: therapies such as acupuncture, visualization, meditation, Tai Chi and yoga, used in addition to traditional Western treatment.

Clinical breast examination (CBE): breast examination by a medical professional.

Clinical trials: research studies to test new drugs or procedures on patients to compare current standard treatments with others that may be equal or better.

CAT SCAN (Computerized Axial Tomography Scan): a scan in which multiple x rays are taken of all or part of the body to produce an image of internal organs. Except for the injection of a dye, needed in some but not all cases, this is a painless procedure.

Core biopsy: removal of a piece of tissue with a needle, which is examined under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.The patient is given a local anesthetic before a core biopsy is done.

Cyst: a fluid-filled mass that is usually benign. The fluid can be removed for analysis.

Ductal carcinoma: cancer that is found in the ducts and tissue of the breast.

Ducts: channels in the breast that carry milk to the nipple.

Estrogen: A female hormone produced primarily by the ovaries, and in small amounts by the adrenal gland. Estrogen may promote the growth of cancer cells.

Excisional biopsy: surgery to remove a tumor or mass which is then studied under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.

Fibroadenoma: a type of benign breast tumor composed of fibrous and glandular tissue. These usually occur in young women.

Fibrocystic breast: a term used to describe various benign breast conditions.

Fine needle aspiration: a type of biopsy in which cells are removed using a needle and syringe. The cells are studied under a microscope to see if cancer is present.

Genetic risk counseling and testing: a method to determine an individual’s risk of disease by examining the history and genetic material of the family. Genetic testing may involve giving a blood sample.

Health-care team: a group of different health professionals who provide care and service to the patient.

Her-2/neu: a gene that produces a type of receptor that helps cell growth. Breast cancer cells with too many Her-2/neu receptors tend to be fast growing.

Hormone therapy: treatment of cancer by removing, blocking or adding hormones.

Hospice: supportive care not to extend life, but to control symptoms and improve the quality of life of a patient in the end stages of their disease. Hospice care is usually provided in patient’s home.

Hyperplasia: abnormal increase in the number of cells in tissue. It is a benign condition.

Imaging: technology to produce pictures of the inside of the body, including mammogram, ultra-sound, CAT scan, MRI and X ray.

Implant: a silicone or saline- filled sac inserted under the chest muscle to restore breast shape after mastectomy.

Inflammatory breast cancer: an aggressive form of breast cancer that causes the breast to appear reddened and swollen, resembling a rash or infection. Accounts for only 1% of
breast cancers.

Invasive cancer: cancer that has spread from the duct or lobe into surrounding tissue in the breast.

Lattisimous dorsi flap: a type of reconstruction done after mastectomy, using muscle and skin from the back.

Lobular carcinoma: cancer that arises in the lobules of the breast.

Lobules: milk-producing glands within the breast.

Localized breast cancer: cancer that is confined to the breast.

Lumpectomy: surgery to remove a breast tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue.

Lymphedema: swelling of the arm and hand caused by excess fluid that collects after lymph nodes are removed by surgery or after radiation treatment.

Lymphatic system: tissue and organs that produce and store lymphocytes, and the channels that carry the lymph fluid.

Lymph nodes: small structures throughout the body that filter out and destroy bacteria and toxic substances. The lymph nodes are connected by a system of vessels called lymphatics. The lymph nodes can collect cancer cells.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): an imaging technique that uses a powerful magnet to transmit radio waves through the body. The images appear on a computer screen as well as on film. The procedure is painless.

Malignant: cancer or cancerous.

Mammogram: a low-dose radiation x ray technique designed to detect changes in breast tissue which may be breast cancer.

partial or segmental mastectomy - surgery to remove the tumor and a small amount of surrounding breast tissue. Sometimes lymph nodes in the armpit are removed at the same time.

total or simple mastectomy - removal of only the breast tissue. Sometimes the lymph nodes in the armpit are removed at the same time.

modified radical mastectomy - all the breast tissue is removed, including the lining of the chest muscle and the underarm lymph nodes.

Medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and hormones to treat cancer.

Metastatic: cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Menopause: a time in a woman’s life when monthly cycles of menstruation cease forever and the level of hormones produced by the ovaries decreases.

Monoclonal antibody: a type of antibody, produced in a laboratory, which seeks out and attaches to foreign bodies, such as cancer cells.

Neo-adjuvant chemotherapy: chemotherapy given before surgery to reduce the size of a tumor.

Oncologist: a doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer.

Oophorectomy: surgery to remove the ovaries.

Ovary: reproductive organ in the female pelvis. Ovaries are the primary source of estrogen.

Palliative treatment: therapy that relieves symptoms, such as pain, but does not cure the disease.

Pathologist: a doctor who examines tissue and cells under a microscope to decide if they are normal cells or cancer cells.

Pet scan: a body scan that indicates areas of possible cancer activity.

Plastic and reconstructive surgeon: a doctor who can rebuild (reconstruct) a breast.

Port-a-cath: a catheter that is surgically implanted under the skin for chemotherapy infusion and blood draws.

Prognosis: a prediction about the possible outcome of a disease.

Prosthesis: an external breast form that fits into a bra after mastectomy.

Radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer or its symptoms.

Radiologist: a doctor who reads mammograms and performs other tests such as x rays or ultrasound.

Radiation therapy: treatment with high-energy rays to reduce the size of a cancer before surgery or to destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery.

Reconstruction: surgery to rebuild or reconstruct a breast.

Recurrence: reappearance of cancer.

Remission: a term used to describe a decrease or disappearance of cancer for any
period of time.

Risk factors: anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer.

Screening: search for disease before there are symptoms in the hope of finding it early and at a more treatable phase. Screening includes breast self-exam, clinical breast exam and mammography.

Second opinion: seeking the advice of another medical doctor with similar credentials to assist in the decision-making process.

Sentinel lymph node procedure: the tumor site is injected with a blue dye and/or a radioisotope which flows to the sentinel node. This node is removed and examined by a pathologist. If there are no cancer cells in the sentinel node, no further nodes are removed.

S-phase fraction (SPF): the percentage of cells that are replicating their DNA. DNA replication usually indicates that a cell is getting ready to split into two cells. A low SPF indicates a slow-growing tumor; a high SPF indicates a rapidly growing tumor.

Stage: the extent of the cancer. Stage is determined by the size of the tumor and the presence or absence of cancer cells in the lymph nodes or at other body sites.

Stem cell: immature cells in the bone marrow and blood that produce new bone marrow and blood cells.

Stereotactic: image-guided procedure that helps locate breast abnormalities and obtain tissue samples for diagnosis.

Surgeon: a doctor who performs biopsies and other surgical procedures such as removal of a lump (lumpectomy) or a breast (mastectomy).

Support groups: people with a common experience, such as a breast cancer diagnosis, who meet to discuss their personal experiences and to support and educate each other.

Systemic therapy: treatment, such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy, that affects the entire body.

Tamoxifin: a hormone blocker used to treat breast cancer.

Tram Flap (Transverse Rectus Abdominus Muscle Flap): reconstruction with tissue from the stomach that is used to replace a breast that has been removed by mastectomy.

Tumor: an abnormal growth of cells which is either benign or malignant.

Tumor marker: levels in the blood that are monitored to determine if cancer cells are
present. An elevated level may also be caused by other conditions.

Ultrasound: an imaging technique that uses sound waves to distinguish between breast cysts and tumors.

X rays: a type of radiation. Low doses of X rays are used to diagnose disease; high doses of x rays are used to treat cancer. The term is frequently used to refer to the picture created with x rays.