Glossary of Cancer Related Terms


Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)

A viral disease that destroys the body's ability to fight infections, leaving the body susceptible to many other diseases.


A sudden onset of symptoms or disease.


See Carcinoma.


A benign tumor made up of glandular tissue. For example, an adenoma of the pituitary gland may cause it to produce abnormal amounts of hormones.

Adrenal glands

Two small organs near the kidneys that release hormones.

AFP (Alpha fetoprotein)

A tumor marker.


The loss of hair, which may include all body hair as well as scalp hair.


Any drug that relieves pain. Aspirin and acetaminophen are mild analgesics.


A condition in which a decreased number of red blood cells may cause symptoms including tiredness, shortness of breath, and weakness.


The loss of appetite.


A substance formed by the body to help defend it against infection.

Antiemetic agent

A drug that prevents or controls nausea and vomiting.

Antifungal agent

A drug used to treat fungal infections.


Any substance that causes the body to produce natural antibodies.

Antineoplastic agent

A drug that prevents, kills, or blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells.


An irregular heartbeat.


The process of removing fluid or tissue, or both, from a specific area.


A condition in which the body's immune system mistakenly fights and rejects the body's own tissues.


The armpit.

Axillary nodes

Lymph nodes - also called lymph glands ­ found in the armpit (axilla).


Barium enema

The use of a milky solution (barium sulfate) given by an enema to allow x-ray examination of the lower intestinal tract.

Barium swallow

The use of a milky solution (barium sulfate) given orally to allow x-ray examination of the upper intestinal tract.

Benign growth

A swelling or growth that is not cancerous and does not spread from one part of the body to another.


The surgical removal of tissue for microscopic examination to aid in diagnosis.

Blood cells

Minute structures produced in the bone marrow; they consist of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Blood count

The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in a sample of blood.

Bone marrow

The spongy material found inside the bones. Most blood cells are made in the bone marrow.

Bone marrow biopsy and aspiration

The procedure by which a needle is inserted into a bone to withdraw a sample of bone marrow.

Bone marrow suppression

A decrease in the production of blood cells.

Bone marrow transplant

The infusion of bone marrow into a patient who has been treated with high dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Patients may use their own marrow, which in some cases has been frozen.


The infusion of bone marrow from one individual (donor) to another.


The infusion of a patient's own bone marrow previously removed and stored.


The infusion of bone marrow from one identical twin into another.

Bone scan

A picture of the bones using a radioactive dye that shows any injury, disease, or healing. This is a valuable test to determine if cancer has spread to the bone, if anticancer therapy has been successful, and if affected bony areas are healing.

Breast self-examination (BSE)

A manual self-examination of the breasts.


The insertion of a flexible, lighted tube through the mouth into the lungs to examine the lungs and airways.



A group of diseases in which malignant cells grow out of control and spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer in situ

The stage where the cancer is still confined to the tissue in which it started.


A common fungal infection.


A substance that causes cancer. For example, nicotine in cigarettes is a carcinogen that causes lung cancer.


A type of cancer that starts in the skin or the lining of organs.


A malignant tumor arising from glandular tissue.

Basal cell carcinoma

The most common type of skin cancer.

Bronchogenic carcinoma

A cancer originating in the lungs or airways.

Cervical carcinoma

A cancer of the cervix (the neck of the uterus).

Endometrial carcinoma

A cancer of the lining of the uterus.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Cancer arising from the skin or the surfaces of other structures, such as the mouth, cervix, or lungs.


An enlargement of the heart.

CAT scan (CT scan)

A test using computers and x-rays to create images of various parts of the body.

CEA (Carcinoembryonic antigen )

A blood tumor marker.


The inflammation of an area of the skin (epithelial layer).

Central venous catheter

A special intravenous tubing that is surgically inserted into a large vein near the heart and exits from the chest or abdomen. The catheter allows medications, fluids, or blood products to be given and blood samples to be taken. (Examples of types of central venous catheters are Broviac, Groshong, Hickman, etc.)

Cervical nodes

Lymph nodes in the neck.


The treatment of cancer with drugs.

Adjuvant chemotherapy

Chemotherapy given to kill any remaining cancer cells, usually after all detectable tumor is removed by surgery or radiotherapy.

Combination chemotherapy

The use of more than one drug during cancer treatment.


Persisting over a long period of time.


A procedure to look at the colon or large bowel through a lighted, flexible tube.

Colony-stimulating factor (CSF)

An injectable substance used to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more cells.


A surgical procedure by which an opening is created between the colon and the outside of the abdomen to allow stool to be emptied into a collection bag.


Examination of the vagina and cervix with an instrument called a colposcope.

Congestive heart failure

A buildup of fluid in the lungs or extremities, or both (especially the legs). This occurs if the heart cannot pump the blood adequately.


An accumulation of fluid or semisolid material within a sac.


An inflammation of the bladder.

Source: National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute No implicit or explicit endorsement of any company is implied.