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Glossary of Terms

The following glossary is taken from Advanced Breast Cancer: A Guide to Living with Metastatic Disease, 2nd Edition by Musa Mayer, copyright 1998, published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. For book orders/information, call 1-800-998-9938. Permission is granted to print and distribute this glossary for noncommercial use as long as the above source is included. The information in this glossary is meant to educate and should not be used as an alternative for professional medical care. Please Note: The use of italics indicates that a term is defined under its own entry in this glossary.


See autologous bone marrow transplant.
Occurring suddenly or in a short space of time, as opposed to chronic.
A general term for a cancer formed from glandular tissue, including breast cancer.
Refers to surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal or other treatment used in, after, and in addition to primary cancer treatment. Most often used to refer to chemotherapy.
Alkaline Phosphatase Test
A tumor marker test that assists in diagnosis of bone and liver metastases.
Characteristic of one group of chemotherapy drugs, referring to a particular way in which these drugs interfere with cell growth and reproduction. Cytoxan is a common alkylating agent.
The medical name for the hair loss that accompanies cancer treatment, as a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Stopping of menstruation, usually as a result of chemotherapy.
A general term for a drug that relieves pain.
A male hormone, sometimes used in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.
Anecdotal Evidence
Reports of individual cases. While often providing interesting leads, case reports do not provide scientific evidence, in and of themselves. Such evidence comes from clinical trials.
A lowered red-blood-cell count, often the result of chemotherapy. Lowered oxygenation in anemia results in symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, loss of energy, skin pallor.
A process by which cancerous tumors send out chemical signals to induce the growth of blood vessels to feed the tumor.
Loss of appetite, caused by treatment or the cancer itself.
Referring to a new class of substances that inhibit the chemical signals sent by tumors to create their own blood supply.
A drug used to relieve feelings of depression, despair and hopelessness.
A drug that reduces or eliminates nausea and vomiting. Common examples are: Compazine, Decadron, Zofran, Kytril, Marinol, Ativan.
A class of drugs, e.g., tamoxifen that bind with estrogen receptors to prevent tumor growth in cases of hormonally sensitive cancer.
A substance that the immune system recognizes as foreign to the body.
Characteristic of one group of chemotherapy drugs, referring to the way it disrupts cell reproduction. Examples: 5-FU and methotrexate.
Programmed cell death, a process occurring in normal body cells.
Aromatase Inhibitors
These drugs—for example, anastrozole (Arimidex)—inhibit an enzyme called aromatase, which regulates estrogen production in the adrenal glands.
Fluid accumulation in the abdomen, usually a result of cancer present in the liver or other tissue. Fluid in the chest is called effusion. See also pleural effusion.
Drawing fluid into a hollow needle, usually done for testing.
Autologous Bone Marrow Transplant (ABMT)
A rescue procedure, now largely replaced by peripheral stem cell transplant, whereby the patient's own bone marrow is removed, stored and returned following high-dose chemotherapy. This latter term is often used to describe the entire procedure.
Axillary Dissection
A diagnostic procedure involving removal or sampling of the axillary lymph nodes in the armpit, done with breast cancer surgery to determine the Stage of the disease.
Biological Response Modifiers
These act to boost the immune system. Examples are: antibodies, monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, colony stimulating factors.
Microscopic examination of tumor tissue taken from the body for evidence of the presence of cancer cells, done by a pathologist. Apart from identifying the presence and type of cancer, tissue or cells may be processed for a number of different kinds of studies.
A class of drugs that slow bone loss later in life and strengthen bones damaged by metastases.
Blood-Brain Barrier
The thin membrane that protects the spinal fluid and brain from toxic substances. It can interfere with the use of some chemotherapies in treating tumors in the central nervous system.
See bone marrow transplantation; high-dose chemotherapy.
Bone Cancer
True primary bone cancer is a sarcoma, and is relatively rare. This is not the same as bone metastases, spread from cancers elsewhere in the body, most commonly from breast, lung, thyroid, prostate and kidney cancers.
Bone Marrow
Located in the center of the bone, this spongy material is really an important organ system of the body, and is where all the red blood cells (erythrocytes), most of the white blood cells (leukocytes), and all the platelets (thrombocytes) are made. Primitive stem cells in the bone marrow are the progenitors for all the blood cells in the body.
Bone Marrow Biopsy
A test used to determine the presence of cancer cells in the bone marrow. Usually done in a doctor's office under a local anesthetic, it involves inserting a hollow needle into one of the large bones, usually the hip. The term aspiration is used sometimes when a smaller sample is taken.
Bone Marrow Depression (or Suppression)
A side effect of chemotherapy treatment, where the bone marrow isn't able to make a normal number of red and white blood cells, and platelets.
Bone Marrow Harvest and Transplantation
Bone marrow withdrawn, or "harvested," from the patient herself (autologous) under general anesthesia, is frozen, and later transplanted (re-introduced into the blood stream) to support the patient's own bone marrow, that has been severely compromised by high-dose chemotherapy (HDC). Peripheral, or circulating stem cells gathered through a process called "pheresis" are now more commonly used in most autologous transplants. See also autologous bone marrow transplant and high-dose chemotherapy.
Bone Metastasis
Spread of cancer to the bone, a common site of metastatic breast cancer. Most commonly presents with pain, and can be confirmed by CT Scan, MRI and x-ray studies. Sometimes a biopsy is done to confirm the diagnosis. Treatments include radiation and chemo-hormonal therapy.
Bone Scan
A harmless radioactive tracer substance is injected prior to this test to give a picture of the entire skeleton, showing areas of increased "uptake" of the radioactive substance, such as bone metastases where cells are dividing rapidly. "Hot spots" that show up on a bone scan may also be caused by arthritis, infection or injury.
Brain Metastasis
Spread of cancer to the brain, another site of metastatic breast cancer. Symptoms may include headaches, visual disturbances, vomiting, seizures, loss of balances and other neurological signs. Diagnosed through CT Scans and MRI, and most often treated with radiation therapy.
Two genes that have recently been shown to be associated with a high rate of familial breast cancer.
Breast Calcifications
Small flecks of calcium in the breast, visible on mammograms, that may be signs of cancer, in a small number of cases.
CA 15-3
A tumor marker that can be monitored in the majority of patients with metastatic breast cancer, indicating the progression, regression or stability of the disease. Like all the tumor markers, it can be assessed from a blood sample.
CA 27-29
A tumor marker similar to CA 15-3 above, used to monitor disease progression in metastatic breast cancer. Also known as the Truquant test.
CA 125
A tumor marker used to monitor ovarian cancer, highly predictive of recurrence for most ovarian cancer patients.
A so-called "wasting syndrome" that often accompanies the very advanced stages of cancer, characterized by weight loss, emaciation, weakness and fatigue, and loss of appetite.
Cancer Cell
A cell that divides and reproduces abnormally, with uncontrolled growth, and that may spread to other parts of the body.
A chronic disorder of the heart muscle, which can result in heart failure, embolism, enlargement or arrhythmias.
Cathepsin D
A protein secreted by breast cancer cells, thought to indicate a poorer prognosis.
CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen)
A monoclonal tumor marker sometimes used to monitor breast cancer patients. Because it can also indicate other cancers and certain inflammatory conditions, it is not considered specific enough to be the sole indicator.
Cerebrospinal fluid
Fluid which surrounds and bathes the brain and spinal cord and provides a cushion from shocks.
Process by which chemotherapy drugs are delivered by infusion directly to the area where the tumor is, sometimes used in treating liver metastases.
Chemoresistance or Chemoinsensitivity
In time, cancer cells develop the capacity to withstand and expel chemotherapy drugs, and are said to be chemoresistant or chemoinsensitive.
Chemosensitivity Testing
Experimental in-vitro (in the laboratory) testing of tumor tissue to show its response to various cancer drugs. While it is extremely promising, many physicians feel this testing process is not yet accurate enough for general use.
Drugs or chemicals that enhance chemotherapy's effects.
A general term used to refer to drugs that act in different ways to kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells by interrupting the cell cycle of reproduction. These drugs are called systemic treatments, because they act throughout the body, as opposed to localized treatments, like surgery or radiation, that act only on a particular tumor and surrounding tissue. Different types of drugs are active against different phases in cancer cell reproduction, one reason that combination chemotherapy is often more effective than single agent chemotherapy. Different types of chemotherapy include: alkylating agents, antimetabolites, antibiotics, alkaloids, hormones and others. These drugs may be administered orally, by injection or infusion into a muscle or vein (often through an indwelling catheter), or into body cavities or organs, the spinal fluid, or applied topically, as with some treatments for inflammatory breast cancer. Chemotherapy may be offered on many different schedules, from daily or by continuous infusion to weekly, biweekly or monthly, according to the method and dosage that scientific studies have shown is most effective. Since it affects all rapidly dividing cells, chemotherapy can have many side effects, including bone marrow depression, stomatitis, neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, anemia, alopecia, anorexia, fatigue, infection, and nausea and vomiting.
A repeating or constant condition, lasting a long time.
Clinical Trial
See Phase I clinical trial; Phase II clinical trial; Phase III clinical trial.
Colony-Stimulating Factors (CSF)
Also called "growth factors," these are natural substances that stimulate the bone marrow's production of white and red blood cells and platelets. In recent years, the use of these factors has made higher, more effective doses of chemotherapy safer, since they foster more rapid recovery of the bone marrow. In common use are G-CSF (Neupogen), which stimulates white-blood-cell production and erythropoetin (Epogen), which stimulates red-blood-cell production. Still in clinical trials is thrombopoetin, which stimulates the production of platelets, or clotting factors.
Combination Chemotherapy
Using more than one kind of chemotherapy drug is often more effective than a single agent, because each drug acts in a different way on the cancer reproductive process, making it less likely that some cells that are resistant to treatment will survive, or that cells that do survive can repair the damage.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
A blood test that gives results of white and red cell counts, platelets, hemoglobin and other factors.
Comprehensive Cancer Centers
Medical centers designated by the National Cancer Institute share a number of characteristics–strong clinical and laboratory research programs, including conducting clinical studies and trials, ongoing training of cancer physicians and other clinical staff, and community programs in prevention, information and outreach. The Cancer Information Service of the NCI will supply an up-to-date list of these facilities at (800) 4-CANCER.
Consolidation Strategies
Attempts to further eradicate cancer at previous tumor sites by means of treatment.
Continuous Infusion
A drug or drugs that need to be administered continuously, for example, some kinds of chemotherapy or medications to control pain, can be given through an infusion pump worn by patients 24 hours a day.
CT Scan (also called CAT Scan)
Computerized axial tomography, a diagnostic test, is a computerized x-ray that shows cross sections, giving doctors a three-dimensional view of the entire body. It is much more detailed than x-rays, and can visualize minutely detailed structures anywhere in the body. It usually does not require injection of a contrast medium.
The study of cells.
A substance that causes cells to die.
The degree to which a cancer cell resembles a normal cell. In general, poorly differentiated cancer cells are more aggressive.
The part of every body cell that carries our genetic information.
Dose-Response Ratio
The concept that treatment effectiveness increases with higher doses of chemotherapy drugs.
Doubling Time
The time it takes cancer cells to reproduce themselves, and tumors to double in size. The range of doubling time for breast cancer cells is from 23 to 209 days.
Drug Resistance
When cancer cells are insensitive to cancer drugs, either initially or as a result of prior treatment, they are said to be resistant. "Cross-resistance" occurs when cancers develop resistance to a drug after exposure to a related drug.
Shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing.
A swelling because of an accumulation of fluid in body tissues, often a result of some hormonal therapies. See also lymphedema.
An accumulation of fluid in the body cavities, with metastatic breast cancer most commonly manifested by apleural effusion, where fluid accumulates in the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs. This can be relieved by thoracentesis where the fluid is drained through a hollow needle, and biopsied for evidence of malignant cells.
See red blood cells.
Epogen, Procrit. A growth factor that promotes the red blood cell count and reduces the need for transfusions.
Estrogen Dependent
A tumor that grows, or grows more rapidly, in the presence of estrogen. Considered a positive indicator, as it permits hormonal treatment for control of the tumor, increasing options for treatment.
Estrogen Receptor Positive (or Negative)
This is often written as ER+ or ER- and is a measure of the degree to which a given tumor is dependent upon estrogen for its growth, measured by an Estrogen receptor assay (ERA). The number of hormone receptors on the tumor are measured to determine this. See also progesterone receptors.
Leakage of an intravenous drug into the surrounding tissue.
A feeling of extreme tiredness, weariness, or exhaustion, common in metastatic breast cancer patients in connection with treatments or undiagnosed cancer progression. Anemia from metastases to the bone marrow and other causes, tissue repair following radiation treatment, bone marrow depression associated with chemotherapy treatment, inadequate nutrition, depression and anxiety are some of the important causes.
First-line Treatment
First treatment given following adjuvant treatment, when there is a recurrence.
Flow Cytometry
A test of cancer cells to determine the number that are in the S-Phase or dividing stage, and to look at the DNA content, called "ploidy." These factors are correlated to aggressiveness of tumor growth.
Neupogen, or granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, that helps the white cells recover rapidly following chemotherapy treatments.
The fundamental unit of DNA that contains inherited characteristics.
Growth Factors
See colony-stimulating factors.
A physician specializing in blood diseases. Many medical oncologists are hematologists.
Also known as c-erB-2, this gene is thought to contribute to some breast cancers. Anti-HER-2/neu humanized monoclonal antibody has completed clinical trials and is expected to be approved by the FDA.
The anti-HER-2/neu drug developed to treat breast cancer patients who over-express HER-2/neu.
Referring to the fact that there are many different types of cells with differing properties in any breast cancer.
High-Dose Chemotherapy
A form of treatment, still in clinical trials, used with high-risk (Stage III) and metastatic breast cancer patients in which the goal is to eradicate all the cancer cells in the body by using very high doses of chemotherapy, so high that without the use of growth factors and transplantation of the patient's own stem cells, patients would not survive the treatment. Also referred to by the rescue procedures such as bone marrow transplant (BMT) or autologous bone marrow transplant (ABMT).
First begun in England, these programs, usually home-based, provide services by a team of professionals for the care of terminally ill patients and their families. The goal is to improve quality of life, relieve pain and other troublesome symptoms and make the dying process easier for patient and family.
Also called total perenteral nutrition (TPN), this means giving nutrition intravenously, for patients unable to eat normally.
Bone loss from progressing bone metastases can result in higher levels of calcium in the blood, causing this metabolic disorder, characterized by fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea, anorexia, constipation, and, in severe, cases disorientation and coma. New medications like Aredia are used in its treatment.
Immune System
A multi-faceted, incompletely understood system which functions to protect the body from any foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, toxins and cancers.
A lowered resistance to disease, often because of chemotherapy treatments.
Experimental treatments that attempt to use the body's own defenses to control the cancer. Also known as immunomodulation.
Induction Chemotherapy
Treatment given prior to high-dose chemotherapy. The purpose is two-fold: to assess the patient's response to treatment before administering very high doses, and to decrease the tumor burden, the amount of cancer in the body, prior to high-dose chemotherapy, thus giving the best chance for remission.
Indwelling Catheter
A tube which is threaded through a large chest vein to the heart so that blood can be drawn and drugs, including those for chemotherapy and medications for other purposes, can be given without needing to repeatedly find a vein. Indwelling catheters can be either the external type or subcutaneous (under the skin). This latter type is generally called a port.
Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma
The most common form of invasive breast cancer.
Infiltrating Lobular Carcinoma
Less common, this breast cancer originates in the lobules, rather than the ducts of the breast.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer
An aggressive form of breast cancer, occurring in about one percent of all diagnoses, that rapidly spreads into the lymphatic channels in the breast, causing the tissue to appear reddened and swollen, resembling a rash or infection.
Informed Consent
The legal right of a patient to be informed by medical personnel about a treatment or a procedure before giving consent to undergo it. With experimental treatments and most surgical procedures, this is put into writing.
Administering drugs into a vein or artery slowly, over a period of time, sometimes using a pump. Note: Both infusion and injection can be intraarterial, into an artery; intramuscular, into a muscle; intraperitoneal, into the abdominal cavity; intrapleural, into the space around the lungs; intrathecal, into the spinal fluid; or intravenous, into a vein.
Administering drugs into a vein or artery all at once. See the note under infusion.
In vitro
Literally, "in glass." Taking place outside the body, in a laboratory.
In vivo
Taking place in the body, or in another living organism.
A general term indicating a change in the structure of any body tissue, often used as a synonym for cancer.
Decrease in the white cell count in the blood.
Liver Metastases
Breast cancer can metastasize to the liver, which often presents as being enlarged or tender, and can be diagnosed by a liver scan, ultrasound, CT Scan and alkaline phosphatase tests.
Liver Scan
A radioactive tracer is injected into the bloodstream that enhances the x-ray picture of the liver.
Lung Metastases
Because all the blood is filtered through the lungs, breast cancer also spreads to the lung and pleura surrounding the lung. Shortness of breath and a persistent cough are among the symptoms. Scans and x-ray are commonly used for diagnosis, although sometimes a lung biopsy may be advised for definitive diagnosis.
Lymph Nodes
Small, bean-shaped organs that filter bacteria and cancer cells circulating in the lymphatic system. When the axillary lymph nodes are positive in breast cancer, this is an indicator that the disease has already begun to spread beyond the breast.
Lymphatic System
The collection of ducts, lymph nodes, and other organs that drain the tissue fluid called lymph into the bloodstream.
Women who have had the axillary lymph nodes sampled or removed at the time of lumpectomy or mastectomy, or who have had the axillary area radiated, may at any time later develop this condition, caused by damage to the lymphatic system's capacity to move lymphatic fluid. The hand, arm and tissues of the upper chest can become swollen and painful. While it can be controlled with the use of compression sleeves and a massage technique called manual lymphatic drainage, it cannot be cured. Lymphedema can also occur in the feet and legs as a result of node removal in the groin or pelvic area.
A state of extreme tiredness and loss of well-being.
Another term for cancer, less commonly used.
The spread of a cancer from the part of the body where it originally appeared (the primary site) to another part (the metastatic site, or secondary tumor).
Molecular Biology
A relatively new field of scientific investigation where the basic structure of the cancer cell is being studied.
Monoclonal Antibody
An antibody drawn to cancer cells specifically, used to target treatments. An example is the HER-2/neu monoclonal antibody, currently in clinical trials.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
A computerized body-imaging process, using radio waves and powerful magnets to provide three-dimensional images of the body. It is higher definition than a CT Scan and considered safer, because it does not use radiation or contrast dyes.
See stomatitis.
The lowest point in white cell, red cell, and platelet counts following treatment, often occurring ten days to two weeks following chemotherapy or radiation. Patients are often cautioned to be extra careful with exposure to infection and avoiding anything that could cause bleeding during this time. Sometimes, growth factors are given to encourage the bone marrow to regenerate cells more rapidly.
Necrosis or Necrotic
Referring to tissue that has died.
See G-CSF.
A low white-blood-cell count of neutrophils, the cells most crucial in the body's fight against infection, usually caused by chemotherapy drugs. This is a potentially serious complication, and patients should avoid exposure to situations that may put them at risk.
One of a number of genes believed to be responsible for the uncontrolled cell growth of cancers.
A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Medical oncologists treat patients with chemotherapy and hormones and usually coordinate patient care. Radiation oncologists specialize in the use of radiation and nuclear medicine treatments. Surgical oncologists are most likely to be involved in primary cancer treatment of localized disease.
Surgical removal of the ovaries, it used to be a common treatment for metastatic breast cancer prior to the newer estrogen and progesterone antagonists.
Surgical removal of the testicles in male breast cancer patients, no longer much used with the hormonal treatments available.
A type of bone metastasis in which there is abnormal bone growth. Both osteolytic and osteoblastic lesions can occur in the same person.
A type of bone metastasis in which the bone is eaten away, producing a characteristic "moth-eaten" appearance. Untreated, there is a likelihood of fractures over time. See also osteoblastic.
Ovarian Ablation
Surgery, radiation or drug treatment to stop ovarian production as a treatment for breast cancer. Not as frequently done, with the newer hormonal drugs.
A "gatekeeper" gene for many cancers. When this gene is mutated, cells tend to grow without normal controls.
Paget's Disease
About three percent of breast cancer patients have this form of the disease, involving the nipple.
That which relieves pain and other symptoms of disease, or controls the disease, without likelihood of cure. In palliative care, the patient's quality of life is paramount.
A doctor who specializes in the interpretation of cellular changes in disease.
Peripheral Stem Cell Support or Transplant
Reinfusion of a patient's own stem cells, following high-dose chemotherapy.
Phase I Clinical Trial
Following in vitro and animal testing, this is the first level of the clinical trials procedure by which new drugs or combinations of drugs are tested and approved in human beings. A small number of patients are given a new treatment. The focus is on determining safety, dosage and short-term effectiveness.
Phase II Clinical Trial
The second level of clinical trials testing in human beings. A larger number of participants are enrolled than Phase I. Phase II trials also focus on effectiveness and on chronic side effects over a longer period.
Phase III Clinical Trial
The final level of clinical trials testing. Here, there is a comparison of experimental treatments with an established testing treatment for safety, effectiveness, dosage and side effects. Usually such trials are multi-centric and involve large number of patients. Optimally, they are "blinded" so that neither researchers nor patients know which treatment they are receiving. This is not always possible.
Photo-dynamic Therapy (PDT)
A new therapy whereby a light source activates targeted delivery of a chemotherapy drug. Used with skin metastases.
Physician's Data Query (PDQ)
A database maintained by the National Cancer Institute providing the latest treatment information. See Appendix B, "Resources," for more information.
An harmless or inert substance used in place of an active drug, to offer comfort or to compare for effectiveness. It is an established clinical fact that placebos show some success, probably as a result of patient expectations. This mechanism is as yet poorly understood. Because of this placebo effect, the best clinical trials are "blinded," meaning that neither patients nor researchers know which treatment is being administered until the conclusion of the study. Clinical trials where a new treatment is being tested against established treatments do not use placebos.
Disc-shaped blood cell which aids in blood clotting.
The membranous lining around the lungs.
Pleural Effusion
Fluid that has accumulated around the lungs in the pleural cavity, often the result of metastatic spread of cancer to the lungs. See also effusion.
See combination chemotherapy.
Port (Infuse-a-Port, Mediport or Port-a-cath)
A device implanted beneath the skin with a catheter threaded through a large vein to the heart, it permits medications to be given and blood to be drawn without having to find a vein. The entrance to the port is covered with a rubber septum, into which a needle can be inserted through the chest. While ports don't carry the same risk for infection as external catheters, they must be flushed periodically to avoid the formation of blood clots.
Primary Breast Cancer
In breast cancer, the primary cancer occurs in the breast, the site from which metastatic, or secondary cancer can spread.
See erythropoietin.
Progesterone Receptor Positive (or Negative)
This is often written as PR+ or PR- and is a measure of the degree to which a given tumor is dependent upon progesterone for its growth. The number of hormone receptors on the tumor are measured to determine this. See also estrogen receptors.
The expected or probable outcome of a disease, usually based on statistical analysis of large groups of patients.
The treatment outline or plan. In research, a study designed to answer a treatment hypothesis under controlled conditions.
To indicate the position in which a clinical observation, such as a tumor, may be found, doctors divide the part of the body, for example, the breast or abdomen, into four quarters. For example, breast cancer is most commonly found in the upper, outer quadrant of the breast. To visualize this, think of lines that cross at the nipple, defining the four areas: inner, outer, upper and lower.
Radiation Oncologist
A physician who specializes in the treatment of cancer with high energy x-rays. A radiologist, by contast, is expert in the diagnosis of diseases through the use of x-rays.
Radiation Simulation
Before radiation treatment starts, the location, dosage and precise positioning of the body are done.
Radiation Treatment
In metastatic breast cancer patients, radiation treatment is most often used to control bone metastases, but can be used to treat other isolated areas of tumor as well. Side effects include fatigue and loss of appetite, and inflammation of the surrounding tissue.
In research studies and clinical trials, this means that patients are chosen at random by a computer to receive an experimental treatment or to be in a control group that receives conventional treatment against which the experimental treatment is being tested.
RAS Inhibitors
Substances that inhibit the activity of the RAS oncogene, which promotes cancer growth.
The reappearance of the disease. In breast cancer, recurrence following primary breast cancer can be local (in the same place), regional (in surrounding tissue) or metastatic (in some other part of the body).
Red Blood Cells (erythrocytes)
These blood cells circulate oxygen breathed in through the lungs throughout the body.
Regional Recurrence
The cancer reoccurs in nearby tissue, for example in lymph nodes or on the chest wall.
A decrease in the disease or its symptoms.
Another term for the reintroduction of preserved stem cells or bone marrow following high-dose chemotherapy.
The recurrence of the cancer after a disease-free period.
This term is used to describe a decrease or disappearance of the cancer, for any period of time. In clinical trials, a partial remission (PR) means a decrease in observed illness by at least 50 percent, and a complete remission (CR) means no measurable evidence of cancer is present in the body.
Rescue (as in Stem Cell Rescue)
The infusion of a substance to restore or preserve a patient's bone marrow following chemotherapy. Most commonly used with stem cells, bone marrow, and leukovorin, a derivative of Vitamin A that protects the body from the effects of large doses of methotrexate, an anticancer drug.
Substances that induce cell differentiation in cancer treatment. Also known as retinoic acid.
Risk/Benefit Ratio
Initially examined in the process of setting up clinical trials, this term is now widely used as a way of conceptualizing the pros and cons of a particular procedure or treatment.
Second-Line Treatment
Second treatment given after first-line treatment has failed. This may be followed by third-line, fourth-line, and so forth. Treatment efficacy tends to decrease with each exposure, as the cancer mutates to become chemoresistant.
Second Opinion
An expert consultation to confirm treatment or suggest alternatives at times when treatment decisions may be indicated. Most good doctors encourage their patients to seek second opinions. Many physicians work on a team basis, where they regularly consult with other physicians as a routine part of their practice. Metastatic breast cancer patients frequently seek second opinions from nationally recognized specialists at major cancer centers, and/or from pathologists.
SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results)
This is the National Cancer Institute's primary method for tracking, gathering and reporting cancer incidence and mortality. Statistics are published periodically on incidence and mortality for all cancers.
Side Effect
A secondary and undesired result of treatment that can be painful, unpleasant or potentially harmful.
When first diagnosed, all breast cancers are classified according to their stage, to determine the most effective treatments. Stage I means that the cancer is no bigger than 2 centimeters and has not spread beyond the breast. Stage II means a 2 to 5 centimeter cancer with or without spread to lymph nodes under the arm, or a smaller tumor with spread to axillary lymph nodes. Stage IIIA means either a 2 to 5 centimeter tumor where the cancer has grown beyond the axillary lymph nodes to surrounding structures, or a larger than 5 centimeter tumor with spread to the axillary nodes. Stage IIIB means that the cancer has spread to regional tissue such as the skin, chest wall, muscles or the lymph nodes along the clavicle. Stage IV connotes spread to distant sites, such as bone, lung, liver, brain, and other sites. Stage IV breast cancer represents around 10 percent of diagnosed cases.
Stem Cells
Cells from which all blood cells develop.
Stereotactic Radiosurgery
Focused, multiple low-intensity beams of radiation programmed to converge on a tumor site in the brain that may be inaccessible to surgery. Also referred to as "gamma knife" surgery.
Mouth sores from chemotherapy treatments, also called mucositis.
Supraclavicular Lymph Nodes
Located above the collar bone, they are a frequent site for the spread of regional disease.
Systemic Treatment
A treatment like chemotherapy or hormonal therapy that affects the whole body, or system, as opposed to localized treatment, such as surgery or radiation.
Now used infrequently, to describe far-advanced metastatic disease where there is a very limited time before death anticipated.
A pleural tap, where fluid is removed from the chest cavity with a long, hollow needle. This is done either for diagnostic purposes, or to relieve shortness of breath and pain caused by fluid accumulation. Often the fluid returns, however, which can be resolved by a process known as "schlerosing" the lining of the lung.
A potentially serious complication of chemotherapy and radiation, as well as in certain types of cancer, involving a drop in the level of platelets, the blood cells responsible for clotting. People with this condition must avoid any situation that could result in bleeding, internal or external.
Tumor Board
A hospital-based panel of medical experts that makes treatment recommendations in difficult cases.
Tumor Marker
One of several substances in the body that usually increases with tumor growth, and decreases with tumor regression. Examples for breast cancer are CEA and CA 27-29 or CA 15-3.
Tumor-suppresser Gene
One of a number of genes responsible for controlling cell growth in the body. If damaged or mutated, this can lead to cancer.
Term meaning the internal organs of the abdominal cavity.
White Blood Cells
Cells that help the body fight infection and disease.
Short length high-energy electromagnetic waves used both diagnostically and for treatment of disease. In lower doses, they permit the visualization of parts of the body to monitor disease, and in higher doses they are used for treatment, most commonly in metastatic breast cancer to control and stabilize bone metastases. See radiation treatment.

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