Breast Health Glossary

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ablative therapy - treatment that removes or destroys the function of an organ, as in surgical removal of the ovaries or the administration of some types of chemotherapy that causes the ovaries to stop functioning.

adenocarcinoma - cancer that starts in the glandular tissue, such as in the ducts or lobules of the breast.

adenoma - benign growth starting in the glandular tissue. (See also fibroadenoma.)

adjuvant therapy - radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy given after surgery for the removal of cancer as a safety factor to kill any cancer cells that cannot be seen.

adrenal gland - one adrenal gland is located near each kidney; the main function is to produce hormones that regulate metabolism and control fluid balance and blood pressure; they also produce small amounts of "male" hormones (androgens) and "female" hormones (estrogens and progesterone).

advanced cancer - stage of cancer in which the disease has spread from the primary site to other parts of the body; when the cancer has spread only to the surrounding areas, it is called locally advanced; when it has spread further by traveling through the bloodstream, it is called metastatic.

allogeneic transplant - the transfer of bone marrow from one person to another.

alopecia- hair loss; often occurs as a result of chemotherapy or less commonly, when radiation therapy is given to the head.

American Cancer Society - An organization that supports research, educational materials and programs, and offers many other services to cancer patients and their families.

androgen - male sex hormone; may be used to treat recurrent breast cancer to oppose the activity of estrogen, thereby slowing growth of the cancer.

anesthesia- loss of feeling or sensation as a result of drugs or gases. General anesthesia causes loss of consciousness; local or regional anesthesia causes loss of feeling only to a specified area.

aneuploid - see ploidy.

antibiotic - chemical substances, produced by living organisms or synthesized (created) in laboratories, for the purpose of killing other organisms that cause disease; some cancer therapies interfere with the body's ability to fight off infection (they suppress the immune system), so antibiotics may be needed along with the cancer treatment to prevent or treat infections.

antibody- protein in the blood that defends against invading foreign agents, such as bacteria; invading agents contain certain chemical substances called antigens - each antibody works against a specific antigen.

antiemetic - drug that prevents or relieves nausea and vomiting (emesis), which are common side effects of chemotherapy.

antiestrogen - substance (for example, the drug tamoxifen) that blocks the effects of estrogen on tumors; used to treat breast cancers that depend on estrogen for growth.

antigen- chemical substance that causes the body's immune system to react; reaction often involves production of antibodies.

antimetabolites - substances that interfere with the body's chemical processes, such as creating proteins, DNA, and other chemicals needed for cell growth and reproduction; in cancer treatment, antimetabolite drugs disrupt DNA production, which in turn prevents cell division and growth of tumors.

areola - dark area of skin that surrounds the nipple of the breast.

aspirate - see needle aspiration.

asymptomatic- to be without noticeable symptoms of disease.

atypical - not usual; abnormal; often refers to the appearance of precancerous or cancerous cells. (See also hyperplasia.)

autologous transplant - a procedure in which a patient's own bone marrow is removed, treated with anticancer drugs or radiation, then returned to the patient.

axilla - armpit.

axillary dissection - a surgical procedure in which the lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary nodes) are removed and examined to find out if breast cancer has spread to those nodes and to remove any cancerous lymph nodes.


benign- not cancer; not malignant; main types of benign breast problems are fibroadenomas and fibrocystic changes.

bilateral - affecting both sides of the body; for example, bilateral breast cancer is cancer occurring in both breasts at the same time (synchronous) or at different times (metachronous).

biologic response modifiers - substances that boost the body's immune system to fight against cancer. (See also interferon.)

biopsy- procedure in which tissue samples are removed from the body for examination of their appearance under a microscope to find out if cancer or other abnormal cells are present; can be done with a needle or by surgery.

bone marrow transplant- a complex treatment that may be used when breast cancer is advanced or has recurred; bone marrow transplant makes it possible to use very high doses of chemotherapy that would otherwise be impossible.

bone scan- an imaging method that gives important information about the bones, including the location of cancer that may have spread to the bones.

brain scan - an imaging method used to find abnormalities in the brain, including brain cancer and cancer that has spread to the brain from other places in the body.

BRCA1 - gene, 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.

BRCA2 - gene, which, when damaged or mutated, places a woman at a much higher risk for developing breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer than the general population.

breast cancer- cancer that starts in the breast.

breast conservation therapy - surgery to remove a breast cancer and a small amount of benign tissue around the cancer without removing any other part of the breast. This procedure is also called lumpectomy, segmental excision, limited breast surgery, or tylectomy. (See also lumpectomy.)

breast implant- a manufactured sac that is filled with silicone gel (a synthetic material) or saline (sterile saltwater); sac is surgically inserted to increase breast size or restore the contour of a breast after mastectomy. Because of concern about possible (but unproven) side effects of silicone, silicone implants are presently available only to women who agree to participate in a clinical trial in which side effects are carefully monitored.

breast reconstruction- surgery that rebuild a breast mound after mastectomy.

breast self-examination (BSE)- technique of checking one's own breasts for lumps or suspicious changes; recommended for all women over age 20, to be done once a month, usually at a time other than the days before, during, or immediately after her menstrual period.

breast specialist - term describing health care professionals who have a dedicated interest in breast health. While they may acquire specialized knowledge in this area, medical licensing boards do not certify a specialty in breast care.

biological therapy (also immunotherapy or BRM (biological response modifier therapy) - therapy used to get the patient's own body to restore natural defenses against disease.


carcinoma - cancer found in body tissues that cover or line surfaces of organs, glands, or body structures.

chemotherapy (also systemic treatment) - drugs used to kill cancer cells.

clinical trials - research studies that involve patients.


estrogen - a female hormone.

excisional biopsy- surgery to remove tissue for examination.


hormones - chemicals produced by glands in the body to control actions of some cells and organs.

hormone therapy- therapy used to change the way hormones work in the body.


intraductal papilloma - small, non-cancerous tumor that grows in a milk duct of the breast.

invasive cancer - cancer that begins in one area and then spreads deeper into the tissues of that area.


lobe - a part of the breast.

lobule - a subdivision of a lobe in the breast.

lumpectomy- surgery to remove abnormal breast tissue.

lymph nodes - small organs located in the lymphatic system.


malignant - cancerous cells that can invade other parts of the body.

mammogram- a low-dose x-ray of the breast.

mastectomy- surgery to remove portions or all of the breast.

metastasize- when cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.

modified radical mastectomy- the removal of the breast, some lymph nodes in the armpit, the lining of the chest muscles, and sometimes part of the chest wall muscles.


National Cancer Institute - the US government agency for cancer research and information.

neoadjuvant therapy - chemotherapy given before surgery or radiation therapy.


oncologist - a physician who specializes in treating cancer, including surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, pediatric oncologist, gynecologic oncologist, and medical oncologist.

ovaries - female reproductive organs that produce hormones.


pelvic exam - a physician examination of the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum.

progesterone - a hormone found in women.

prognosis - the expected outcome after treatment of a disease.

partial mastectomy - surgery to remove a portion of the breast.

peripheral stem cell transplantation - a process in which the stem cells (immature cells from which blood cells develop) are removed, treated with anticancer drugs, and frozen until they are returned to the patient.


radical mastectomy - surgery to remove the breast, chest muscles, and all lymph nodes in the armpit area.

radiation therapy- therapy that used high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. May be external radiation by an x-ray machine that sends the x-ray through the skin, or internal radiation by putting radioisotopes into the body through thin plastic tubes.

radioisotopes - materials that produce radiation.


segmental mastectomy- surgery to remove a portion of the breast.

simple mastectomy - surgery to remove the whole breast and sometimes lymph nodes in the armpit area.

stage - the measurement of the extent of the cancer.

systemic treatment or therapy - treatment or therapy that reaches and affects cells throughout the body.


tamoxifen- a drug used in hormone therapy.

total mastectomy - surgery to remove the whole breast and sometimes lymph nodes in the armpit area.