Glossary of cancer terms

Abdominal: To do with the abdomen, the part of the body between the chest and the hips. Your abdomen contains organs such as your stomach, liver and intestines

Abnormal: Not normal

Acute: Occurring suddenly, or sharply over a short period of time

Adenocarcinoma (Add-inn-oh - car-sin-oh-ma): Refers to a cancer that arises from cells of glandular (secretory) tissue

Adjuvant chemotherapy (Ah-jeu-vent): Refers to any therapy used after primary treatment to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring

Adrenal gland tumours:  Cancer of your adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands are located above your kidneys. These glands make hormones that control important parts of your body such as your blood pressure and heart rate 

AFP - Alpha-fetoprotein: A protein that is sometimes present in the bloodstream of patients who have testicular cancer

Aggressive: In medical terms, aggressive means fast growing

ALL: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia

AML: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia

Allogenic: This term is often used to describe a type of bone marrow transplant whereby cells are taken from a relative to give to the patient

Alopecia (Ah-low-pee-sha): Loss of hair. Alopecia may be caused by taking certain drugs (cytotoxic drugs). It may also be caused by radiotherapy to the head. If alopecia occurs because of treatment, the hair usually grows back when the treatment stops.

Alternative therapies: These are therapies that are used instead of medical treatment.

Anaemia (Ah-knee-mee-ah): Low red blood cell count

Analgesia: Painkillers

Angiogenesis: The generation of blood vessels

Angiogenesis inhibitors: Anti-angiogenesis treatment is the use of drugs or other substances to stop tumours from developing new blood vessels. Without a blood supply, cancer cells cannot multiply and spread

Anorexia: Loss of appetite for food

Antibiotics: Drugs used to fight bacterial infections

Anticoagulants: Drugs used to thin the blood and prevent clots

Anti-emetics: Anti-sickness drugs

Antifungals: Drugs used to fight fungal infections

Anxiety: Feelings of fear, dread or uneasiness. Many cancer patients experience anxiety

Artery: Blood vessels that pump oxygenated blood away from the heart around the body

Asbestos (Ass-bess-toss): Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral that is mined for its heat-resistant properties. Certain asbestos fibres are carcinogenic when inhaled, causing a cancer of the lining of the lung known as mesothelioma

Ascites (Ah-site-ease): An abnormal build up of immunoglobulin (antibody) rich fluid in the abdomen

Ataxia: Clumsiness, dizziness, lack of co-ordination

Atypical: Not normal or typical

Autograft: This term is often used to describe a type of bone marrow transplant whereby the patient’s own cells are used in treatment

Axillary: Meaning the armpit area

BCC - Basal cell carcinoma: Refers to cancer that arises from cells at the base of the skin. The vast majority of basal cell carcinomas are slow growing and do not spread.

bd (or) bid: Medical notation for twice a day.

Benign (Bee-nine): A non-cancerous growth. A growth of cells that do not spread to other tissues.

Biological therapies (targeted therapies): Biological therapies use substances that occur naturally in the body to destroy cancer cells. The main types of biological therapies are monoclonal antibodies, cancer growth inhibitors, angiogenesis inhibitors, gene therapy and vaccines

Biopsy (Buy-op-sea): A biopsy is a procedure that involves obtaining a tissue specimen for microscopic analysis to establish a precise diagnosis. It may be done using a needle or during surgery

Bone marrow: The soft, spongy tissue found in the centre of most large bones that produces white cells, red cells and platelets

Bone marrow transplant: A procedure to replace bone marrow that has been destroyed by cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy

Bone tumours: There are lots of different types of bone tumours including osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, chondrosarcoma, spindle cell sarcoma, chordoma and angiosarcoma

BPH - Benign prostatic hyperplasia: A condition where the prostate gland grows abnormally large but is non cancerous

BRAC1 / BRAC2: Genes which, when damaged (mutated), places a woman at greater risk of developing breast and /or ovarian cancer, compared with women who do not have the mutation

Brachytherapy (Brake-eee-a-therapy): A type of radiotherapy where radioactive pellets, wires or fine needles are temporarily implanted within or close to a tumour. This is done to deliver the radiation directly to the tumour while minimising the damage to surrounding normal tissue

Brain tumours: There are lots of different types of brain tumours, the most common type are gliomas. Other common brain tumours in adults include astrocytomas, meningiomas and oligodendrogliomas. Common brain tumours in children include medulloblastomas, astrocytomas, ependymomas and brain stem gliomas

Breast Check: This is a government-funded programme providing breast screening to women aged 50– 64. The women are offered a free mammogram on an area-by-area basis every 2 years.

Breast prosthesis: This is a term used to describe an artificial breast form that may be worn inside your bra following breast surgery

Ca125: A type of blood test most commonly used to monitor patients with ovarian cancer

Ca153: A type of blood test most commonly used to monitor patients with breast cancer

Ca199: A type of blood test most commonly used to monitor patients with pancreatic cancer

Cachexia (Ka-hex-ee-ah): A profound state of general ill health characterised by malnutrition and loss of weight

Cancer growth inhibitors: Cancer cells need to communicate with each other to grow and multiply; they do this through a series of chemical reactions. Drugs called cancer growth inhibitors interrupt the communication process and in this way prevent the cancer from developing

Carcinogenic (Car-sin-o-jen-ick): Cancer causing

Carcinogens: A range of substances that are known to cause cancer including asbestos, ionising and UV radiation and tobacco

Carcinoma: Cancer that starts to grow in the skin or in the tissue that covers internal organs

Carcinoma in situ: Abnormal cells that have not spread from where they first developed. These cells sometimes develop into cancer

Cardiac: Relating to the heart

CEA - carcinoembryonic antigen: This is a type of blood test most commonly used to monitor patients with bowel cancer

Cellulitis: Inflammation of the skin

Cervicalcheck: The National Cervical Screening Programme provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60. A smear test is a simple procedure that only takes minutes and is the most effective way to detect changes in the cells of the cervix

Chemotherapy (Key-mow-therr-a-pee): Term used to describe giving medicine or drugs to treat an illness. Chemotherapy most often refers to anticancer drugs

CIN (Sin) - Cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia: This is the name given to abnormal cells occurring in the cervix which are not cancerous but may lead to cancer if left untreated

CLL: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia

Clinical trial: Clinical trials are research studies that try to find new or better ways of treating or diagnosing cancer or reducing side-effects

CML: Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia

Colostomy (Co-loss-toe-me): A colostomy is the term used to describe the opening formed by an operation where the open end of a part of the large bowel is diverted to the surface of the abdomen and secured there to form a new exit for waste matter

Complementary therapies: These are therapies that complement current medical therapies but do not replace them

Cyst: A non-cancerous growth, normally filled with fluid

Daffodil Centres: Irish Cancer Society cancer resource centres staffed by nurses and volunteers in 13 hospitals across the country 

Dietitian: A healthcare professional who focuses on nutrition

Distress: An unpleasant emotional experience of a psychological, social, and / or spiritual nature that may interfere with the ability to cope with cancer

Depression: A mental health illness whereby the patient experiences feelings of sadness, despair and loss of interest in life

DNA: The genetic information inside cells

Dysfunction: Not working normally

Dysphasia: Difficulty speaking

Dyspnoea: Difficulty breathing

DVT - Deep venous thrombosis: A blood clot deep in a vein, normally in the leg

EGFR - Epidermal growth factor receptor: A protein found on the surface of some cancer cells

Endocrine: To do with hormones

Endocrine tumours: These tumours include pancreatic cancer, parathyroid gland tumours, pituitary gland tumours  and thyroid cancer

ENT: Ear, nose and throat

Epstein Barr virus: A virus which can increase a person’s risk of developing some types of lymphoma

Erectile dysfunction (ED): Problems having an erection, this can be caused by some treatments for prostate cancer

FAP - Familial adenomatous polyposis: A genetic condition where hundreds or thousands of polyps develop in the large bowel (colon). If left untreated, they can develop into cancer. FAP is passed on between families (inherited) and it is very rare

FBC - Full blood count: A measure of the number of platelets, red and white blood cells

Fertility: The ability to have children

Fibroma: A benign (non-cancerous) tumour which consists of fibrous tissues or connective tissue

Financial support programmes:  The Irish Cancer Society's financial support programmes offer relief to families experiencing financial difficulty due to a cancer diagnosis

Fractionation: This is the term used to describe giving radiation over a number of sessions (fractions), rather than one large dose during a single session.

Gastroenterology: To do with the digestive system

Genetics: The study of genes and heredity

Gene therapy: An experimental treatment that involves inserting a normal gene into a cancerous cell to kill the cell or to slow down the growth of cancer.

Grading: The procedure of examining a cancer cell under a microscope and finding out how slowly or quickly it will grow and spread

Gynaecology: To do with the female reproductive system

Haemangioblastoma: A rare type of tumour that develops from blood vessel cells

Haematologist (Heem-a-tol-a-gist): A doctor specialising in disorders of the blood including cancer

Haemoglobin: Red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body.

HD / HL: Hodgkin Disease / Hodgkin Lymphoma

Helicobacter pylori: A bacteria which causes problems in the digestive system such as stomach ulcers. If left untreated, helicobacter pylori can increase your risk of stomach cancers

Hepatitis B & C virus: These are viruses that affect the liver and can increase your risk of liver cancer

Hereditary: Passed from parents to children through your genes

HER2 (Her-two) - Human epidermal growth factor receptor type 2: A cell surface receptor found to be over expressed in certain forms of aggressive breast cancer

Hickman line: This is the name given to a special type of intravenous line that is inserted into a large vein in the neck. A Hickman line or catheter may stay in place for several months allowing drugs to be given or samples of blood to be drawn off

Histopathology: Histopathology is the science concerned with the study of microscopic changes in diseased tissues

HIV - Human immunodeficiency virus: Having HIV can increase your risk of some types of lymphoma

HNPC - Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer: This is a genetic condition that is passed on between families. It is also known as Lynch syndrome. People with HNPC can be at an increased risk for some cancers, such as bowel cancer

Hormonal therapy: Sometimes when cancer develops certain hormones stimulate the cancer cells to grow. Hormone therapies stop the hormone being released or prevent it acting on the cancer cells

HPV - Human papilloma virus: A virus responsible for the growth of soft wart-like growths on the genitalia. Certain types of HPV are linked with the development of cervical cancer. HPV is most commonly transmitted via sexual intercourse

HRT - Hormone replacement therapy: This is commonly used to treat the symptoms of menopause

Hyperfractionated: Radiotherapy given a number of times in smaller doses, rather than one large dose

Hyperplasia: Overgrowth of the cells of any tissue

Hypertrophy: An enlargement of the cells of any tissue

HSE - Health Service Executive: The organisation which runs all of the public health services in Ireland.

Ileostomy ( ILL-ee-os-toe-me): An operation where the open end of a part of the small intestine (ileum) is diverted to the surface of the abdomen and secured there to form a new exit for waste matter

Immune system: The body’s defence against infection

IMRT - Intensity-modulated radiotherapy: This advanced radiotherapy technique can shape the radiotherapy beams so that different doses of radiotherapy can be delivered to different areas

Incidence: This refers to the frequency, or how often a cancer is diagnosed

Inguinal (In-gyne-al): Refers to the groin region

Inpatient: When a patient is admitted to hospital and has to stay overnight

Intravenous (In-tra-veen-ee-us): Refers to the administration of medicine directly into a vein

Invasive cancer: This means that the cancer has grown beyond the tissues that it started in and has spread to surrounding healthy tissue

Laparoscopy: A minimally invasive surgical technique, where a small incision is made and a camera is used to direct surgery inside the body

Lesion: Any pathological change in a tissue, sometimes cancerous

Li-Fraumeni syndrome: An inherited condition that can increase the risk of developing one or more types of cancer including breast cancer, brain cancer, osteosarcoma and other sarcomas

Lymphoedema (limp-fh-oh-dee-ma): This is the term used to describe a side-effect sometimes arising from the surgical removal of lymph nodes or damage to lymph channels caused by radiotherapy or surgery. With lymphoedema, fluid cannot drain effectively from the surrounding tissue, and this can cause swelling and discomfort

Malignant (Ma-lig-nant): This term is used to describe cancer cells that are capable of invading surrounding tissues and travelling to distant parts of the body

Margins: ‘Clear margins’ is a term surgeons often use to explain that the tissue they removed during surgery contains the cancer cells. This means the surgeon is happy that they removed all of the cancer

Mass: An abnormal growth that can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign)

MDT - Multi-disciplinary team meeting: This refers to a meeting of lots of different types of healthcare professionals to discuss a patient's case

Memory loss: Some patients lose their memory because of their cancer or as a side-effect of their cancer treatment. Memory loss can be short or long term

Menopause: Transition in a women’s body when her ovaries stop producing eggs and her body stops producing female hormones. Post-menopausal women can no longer have children

Mesothelioma (Me-soo-thee-lee-oma): This is a cancer of cells that line the lung, known as the pleura, and is often linked to exposure to a certain type of naturally occurring asbestos fibres

Metastases (met-ass-tass-is): Also known as secondary tumours or mets, metastases are cancerous growths at sites distant from the main tumour, that have resulted due to cancer cells migrating

Micrometastases: Metastasis that may only be identified by using microscopy and / or pathological staining techniques

Monoclonal antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies are antibodies made in a laboratory. They aim to destroy some types of cancer cells while causing minimum damage to normal cells

Morbidity: This refers to the state of being ill or quality of life

Mortality: This refers to the number of deaths occurring in a particular time period

Multiple endocrine neoplasia 1 (MEN1)  / Multiple endocrine neoplasia 2 (MEN2): Rare genetic disorders of the endocrine system which can increase your risk of developing endocrine cancers

Myelodysplasia: This refers to a group of disorders where the bone marrow does not function normally. Some myelodysplastic disorders can lead to the development of leukaemia

Myelosuppression: This term refers to the effect that some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, have on the bone marrow

Nausea (Knaw-sea-ah): Feeling sick in your stomach

NCCP - National Cancer Control Programme: A programme within the HSE that controls cancer care in the public health system

NCRI - National Cancer Registry of Ireland: A registry which collects cancer statistics

NCSS - National Cancer Screening Service: The service encompasses the national breast screening programme (Breast Check) and the national cervical screening programme (CervicalCheck). The NCSS is currently preparing for the introduction of a colorectal cancer screening programme

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: Chemotherapy given before surgery to reduce a large tumour so that it is more surgically manageable

Neoplasm (Knee-o-plas-im): Term for a tumour which may be benign or cancerous

Neuroendocrine tumours: These tumours are rare and occur in the endocrine system, including carcinoid and GEPs - Gastroenteropancreatic tumours

Neuro-oncology: To do with brain tumours

Neutropenia: A lower than normal amount of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. Your white blood cells can be affected by your cancer treatment, eg. chemotherapy

Night Nursing: The Irish Cancer Society provides a Night Nursing service for critically ill patients with cancer in their home. Night Nurses sit with the patient through the night, providing nursing care, practical support and reassurance.

NHL: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

NSAID: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

NSCLC: Non Small Cell Lung Cancer

NTPF - National Treatment Purchase Fund: One of the initiatives outlined in the Health Strategy to reduce long-term waiting lists

Oedema (Oh-dee-ma): Swelling caused by fluid

Oncologist (On-call-o-gist): A doctor specialising in treating cancer

Oncology (On-call-o-g ): The study of tumours or cancer

opd: Medical notation for once per day

Opioid: Type of painkiller to treat moderate to severe pain. Opioids are sometimes referred to as narcotics

Orthopaedic: To do with the bones

OT - Occupational therapist: Healthcare professionals concerned with helping people with disabilities to achieve their maximum level of independence

Outpatient: Attending hospital for an appointment, test or treatment and going home afterwards

Palliative care (Pall-eee-at-ive): Treatment aimed at relieving symptoms and improving quality of life rather than cure

Pathology: The study and diagnosis of diseases

PE - Pulmonary embolism: A clot in the lung

Peripheral blood stem cell transplant: Blood is drawn from a patient and passed through a cell separator. This collects stem cells, and returns the rest of the blood back to the patient

Pelvic: In medical terms this refers to the lower part of your abdomen, between your hips

Peripheral neuropathy: Peripheral neuropathy is damage to your peripheral nerves. The damage is mainly in the nerves to the hands and feet

Petechiae (Pet-a-shay): Tiny hemorrhages from small blood vessels just beneath the skin surface. They appear when the blood count (platelet) is low

PICC line - Peripherally inserted central catheter: A thin tube inserted into a vein in your arm that is guided all the way to a vein near your heart, called the vena cava. PICC lines are left in place for weeks or months and can be used to take blood samples and administer drugs and fluids

Photodynamic therapy (PDT): This treatment uses laser or other light sources to destroy cancer cells

Physiotherapist: A healthcare professional concerned with maximising a patient’s function and movement

Platelet: Tiny fragments of blood cells that help form clots and prevent bleeding

po - per oral: Medical abbreviation to indicate that a medicine is to be administered by mouth

Progression: In medical terms this means that the cancer has spread

Prosthesis (Pross-thee-sis): An artificial replacement

Protocol: A treatment plan for how, when and what dose of treatment to give

PSA - Prostate specific antigen: PSA is a substance produced by the prostate. Men with prostate cancer tend to have higher levels of this protein in their blood

Psycho-oncology: This is a specialty concerned with the psychological aspects of cancer for patients and their families

Pulmonary: To do with the lungs

qd: Medical notation for once per day

qid: Medical notation for four times daily

Radiation (Ray-dee-a-shone): Radiation is a term used to describe how energy may move through space. It may move by either electromagnetic radiation like X-rays, sunlight and gamma rays or by sub-atomic particles like protons, electrons or neutrons. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) is responsible for regulating the use of ionising radiation in Ireland

Radiofrequency ablation: A new type of cancer treatment that uses heat to destroy cancer cells

Radiotherapy (Radio-therr-a-pee): The use of high-energy beams of radiation to treat cancer, as cancer cells are more susceptible to damage by radiation than ordinary cells

Radium: A naturally occurring radioactive element, no longer used in radiotherapy, as safer and more intense sources have been discovered

Radon (Ray-don): A radioactive gas released from granite deposits in certain geographical locations. Exposure to radon is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. Radon can leak into buildings through the floor and may accumulate inside. Domestic radon emissions can be measured by contacting the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland

RBCs - Red blood cells: These blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen around the body via a network of veins and arteries

Reccurence / Relapse: In medical terms this means that a cancer has come back

Remission: A period of good health where there is no detectable evidence of cancer

Renal: To do with the kidneys

Resection: Surgery to remove tissue or part of an organ

Response: In medical terms this refers to whether or not a cancer treatment is working, how well it is ‘responding’ to the treatment

Respiratory: To do with the lungs and airways

RLB - renal liver bone: This is a type of blood test commonly used to check the function of the liver, the kidneys and the bones. It is also referred to as an U&E

SCC - Squamous cell carcinoma: Refers to cancer that arises from cells close to the surface of the epithelium (layer of cells lining the exterior of an organ, eg skin)

SCLC: Small Cell Lung Cancer

Secondary cancer: Also known as metastases or mets, secondary cancers are cancerous growths at sites distant from the main tumour, that have resulted due to cancer cells migrating

Side-effect: A term commonly used to describe the effects a treatment has other than the effect it is intended to have

Social worker: A healthcare professional concerned with the social needs of a patient

Specialist: This term is commonly used to describe a doctor who works in the hospital setting and specialises in a certain area of the body or disease

Speech and language therapist: A healthcare professional that is concerned with speech and language difficulties

Spinal cord compression: A medical emergency when the spinal cord is compressed by a tumour. It requires swift diagnosis and treatment to prevent long-term disability

Staging: The process of assessing the size of a tumour and whether or not it has spread from its original site

Stem cell: A specific type of cell responsible for the production of platelets, red and white blood cells

Stereotactic radiotherapy: This treatment uses smaller radiation beams than standard radiotherapy. The beams are targeted at the tumour from several different angles which combine to give a high dose of radiation to the tumour

Stoma: A term commonly used to describe an opening, eg. a colostomy, an ileostomy, a urostomy and a tracheostomy

Stomatitis: Inflammation of the tissues in the mouth

Symptom: In medical terms a symptom is a sign that there is something wrong with a particular area of the body

Targeted therapies: Targeted therapies use substances that occur naturally in the body to destroy cancer cells. The main types of biological therapies are monoclonal antibodies, cancer growth inhibitors, angiogenesis inhibitors, gene therapy and vaccines

Thorax / thoracic: To do with the chest, the area of the body between the head and the abdomen

Thromocytopenia: Low number of platelets in the blood

Topical: Refers to the surface of the body. Topical preparations or medicines usually come in ointment or cream form

Travel2Care: Travel2Care is a transportation assistance fund which has been made available by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) to patients travelling to the designated cancer care centres or approved satellite centre and is administered by the Irish Cancer Society

Tumour: An excessive growth of cells resulting in an abnormal mass. A tumour may be either benign or cancerous

Tumour lysis syndrome: A life-threatening emergency that can occur when a tumour breaks down very fast in response to treatment characterised by metabolic abnormalities

Tumour marker: A substance sometimes found in an increased amount in the blood, other body fluids, or tissues and which may suggest the presence of some types of cancer. Also called biomarkers

Urinary incontinence: The uncontrolled leakage of urine

Urology: To do with urinary system, including the kidneys, bladder and prostate

Urostomy (U-row-os-toe-me): This is the term used to describe the opening created by an operation, where the waste matter from the kidneys is diverted to the surface of the abdomen and secured there to form a new exit for waste matter (urine)

UVA: About 95% of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth is UVA. Regular exposure to high doses of UVA can age your skin and cause skin cancer

UVB: About 5% of radiation that reaches the earth’s surface is UVB. UVB penetrates into the epidermis. It is more dangerous to the skin and eyes than UVA. It burns your skin, causes skin cancer and eye damage. UVB is associated with the development of malignant melanoma

Vaccines: A drug that causes the immune system to respond to an infection or tumour

VEGF - Vascular endothelial growth factor: This is a protein produced in increased amounts by cancer cells to promote the growth of vascular tissue

Vein: A blood vessel that carries blood from the body back to the heart

VIN - Vulval intraepithelial neoplasia: A precancerous condition that can occur on the skin of the vulva

VHL - Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome: VHL is a rare hereditary disease in which affected individuals are genetically disposed to develop certain types of tumours and cysts in multiple organs, most of which are benign

WBCs - White blood cells: Usually referred to as lymphocytes, they are responsible for fighting infection

XP - Xeroderma pigmentosum (Zero-derma, Pig-men-toe-sum): Individuals with XP are less able to repair damage caused to their skin by the sun's UV rays, and so have a high risk of developing skin cancers including melanoma