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Southcoast Centers for Cancer Care Glossary

Better understand cancer care at Southcoast Health or learn new medical terminology by browsing our glossary below. If you still have questions or would like to set up a consultation, find a doctor near you or learn more about our Southcoast Centers for Cancer Care services and locations.

Adjuvant Therapy: Chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone therapy used to kill any remaining cancer cells left behind after surgery.

Anemia: A blood condition that occurs when red blood cell count drops significantly, making it difficult for the body to get enough oxygen to its tissues.

“Around the Clock”: Prescription medication to be taken throughout a 24-hour period, not just on an “as needed” basis.

“As Needed”: Prescription medication to be taken when symptoms are occasional.

Benign: A non-cancerous tumor. These tumors do not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors usually can be removed and are seldom a threat to life.

Biopsy: A surgical procedure in which a piece of tissue is removed by a needle or an incision and sent to pathology to determine if it is benign or malignant.

Blood Work: Laboratory tests of blood count and blood chemistry. Blood circulates throughout the body and blood tests can be used to assess the function of many organs including the bone marrow, kidneys and liver. It may also be used to check on the status of some tumors.

Bone Marrow: Material inside bones that produces blood cells.

Bone Marrow Harvest: A procedure done in the operating room under general anesthesia where a needle is inserted into the hip to pull stem cells out of the bone marrow. This procedure is repeated multiple times until enough cells are collected. The harvested cells are then frozen for future use (see stem cells).

Catheter: A tube inserted into through the body for evacuating fluids from, or injecting fluids into, body cavities. Made of elastic, elastic web, rubber, glass, metal or plastic.

Catheter (imbedded): Any catheter that is allowed to remain in place.

Chemotherapy: Drugs that fight cancer; treatment of illness by chemical means.

Clinical Trial: A study to evaluate the effectiveness of newly designed treatments.

Cold Sore: An infection of the lip or mouth caused by a type of herpes virus.

CT: Computed Tomography—a type of imaging (sometimes called a “cat” scan).

Grade: Low, intermediate or high designations indicating aggressiveness in cancer.

Hematologist: Physician specializing in the treatment of blood disorders.

Immune System: The system of the body that helps fight infections and cancer.

Laryngectomy: Removal of the larynx, the large upper end of the trachea below the root of the tongue. It is the organ of the voice.

Leukopheresis: A procedure to remove stem cells from the bloodstream by placing a needle in two different veins in the arms. Blood exits through one needle and is processed through a machine that removes the stem cells needed to re-grow the bone marrow. The remainder of blood is returned through the other vein. Treatment given through this process is called stem cell infusion.

Localized: Cancer affecting only the cells of a certain area.

Lymphatic System: The system including all structures involved in the transfer of lymph from the tissues to the bloodstream. It includes the lymph capillaries, lacteals, lymph nodes, lymph vessels and main lymph ducts.

Malignant: Cancerous tumors or cells. They can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs.

Mammography: An X-ray of the breast to detect growths in the breast.

Margins: The periphery or edges of the surgical resection around the tumor. Clear margins imply the tumor has been completely removed.

Medical Oncologist: Physician who specializes in chemotherapy for cancer.

Metastasis: Cancer cells carried in the blood and lymphatics to other sites in the body, where they may lodge and grow.

Mucositis: An inflammation of the lining of the mouth and throat.

Nadir: The period after chemotherapy treatment when blood counts drop to their lowest point.

Narcotic: A drug used for relieving pain.

Neo-Adjuvant Therapy: Chemotherapy given before surgery or radiotherapy.

Neoplastic Disorders: A cancerous disease.

Neutropenia: A blood condition that occurs when the white blood cell count drops significantly, making it difficult for the body to fight infection.

Neutrophils: Special white blood cells that fight infection.

Nutritionist: A person with special training in nutrition who can show patients how to improve their diet to improve their overall health.

On-Call Physician: A doctor from the Cancer Center who takes calls from patients after hours and on weekends. Other caregivers may also be on call after hours.

Ostomy: The surgically formed opening through the abdomen wall that serves as the exit for stool or urine.

Pain Emergency: Severe incapacitating pain that does not respond to regular doses of pain medication.

Pathologist: A specialist in diagnosing abnormal changes in tissues removed in surgical operations and biopsies.

Patient Navigator: The Cancer Center coordinator who coordinates appointments, answers questions.

PET Scan: PET (Positron Emission Tomography) is an imaging technique that uses a low-level radioactive substance (called a tracer) to look for tumors in the body.

PET/CT: PET and CT (Computed Tomography) scans are both standard imaging tools that physicians use to pinpoint disease states in the body. The CT scan provides information about the body’s anatomy such as size, shape and location. By combining these two scanning technologies, a PET/CT scan enables physicians to more accurately diagnose and identify cancer.

Phlebotomist: Person responsible for drawing blood from patients for laboratory tests.

Platelet: The type of blood cell required for blood to clot.

Primary Tumor Site: The spot where cancer first develops.

Prognosis: The expected outcome of a disease and chances for recovery.

Radiation: Cancer treatment that kills cancer cells by aiming an energy beam at the primary tumor site.

Radiation Oncologist: A physician specially trained to plan and monitor radiation therapy treatment of patients with cancer.

Radiation Therapy: Medical treatment involving an energy beam directed at a tumor.

Radiologist: A physician whose specialty is performing and interpreting various X-ray tests.

Recurrence: The development of cancerous cells in the same area or another area of the body after cancer treatment.

Red Blood Cell: The type of blood cell that carries oxygen.

Rescue Dose: Prescription medication to be taken for pain between fixed doses.

Sarcoma: A type of cancer that starts in bone or connective tissue.

Social Worker: A person trained to provide support, psychological counseling and information about community resources.

Stages of Cancer: The progression of cancer from mild to severe. Usually indicates if it has spread to deeper tissues or other parts of the body.

Staging: The process of learning about the extent of the tumor and whether the disease has spread from its original site to other parts of the body.

Stem Cells: The “parent” cells that produce the red cells, white cells and platelets that are found in the bone marrow and in the circulating blood.

Stem Cell Infusion: Treatment given through the process of leukopheresis.

Stereotactic Breast Biopsy: Method of sampling abnormalities found by mammography; an alternative to open or excisional biopsy.

Surgical Oncologist: A surgeon who specializes in cancer surgery.

Thrombocytopenia: A blood condition that occurs when the body’s platelet count becomes extremely low.

Thrush: A fungal infection of the mouth or throat which appears as a white coating.

Transfusion: Giving blood or a blood component into the bloodstream. (red cells, platelets, etc.).

Ultrasound: Uses sound waves to find abnormalities in the tissues of the body.

Vital Signs: The traditional signs of life: heart beat, body temperature, breathing rate and blood pressure.

X-Ray: High-energy radiation. Used in low doses to diagnose diseases and in high doses to treat cancer.