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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


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.