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Learn more about cancer care, as well as our services and team, through our library of information and guidance tools.

Advance Directives

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Cancer Terms

Acute: Refers to symptoms that start and worsen quickly but do not last over a long period of time

Benign: Refers to a tumor that is not cancerous. The tumor does not usually invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.

Biopsy: The removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. Other tests can suggest that cancer is present, but only a biopsy can make a definite diagnosis. Learn more about what to expect during a biopsy.

Bone marrow: The soft, spongy tissue found in the center of large bones where blood cells are formed.

Cancer: A group of more than 100 different diseases that can begin almost anywhere in the body; characterized by abnormal cell growth and the ability to invade nearby tissues. Learn more about the basics of cancer.

Carcinoma: Cancer that starts in skin or tissues that line the inside or cover the outside of internal organs.

Cells: The basic units that make up the human body.

Chemoprevention: The use of natural, synthetic (made in a laboratory), or biologic (from a living source) substances to reverse, slow down, or prevent the development of cancer. Learn more about chemoprevention.

Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Learn more about chemotherapy.

Chronic: Refers to a disease or condition that persists, often slowly, over a long period of time.

Imaging test: A procedure that creates pictures of internal body parts, tissues, or organs to make a diagnosis, plan treatment, check whether treatment is working, or observe a disease over time.

In situ: In place. Refers to cancer that has not spread to nearby tissue (also called non-invasive cancer).

Invasive cancer: Cancer that has spread outside the layer of tissue in which it started and has the potential to grow into other tissues or parts of the body (also called infiltrating cancer).

Laboratory test: A procedure that evaluates a sample of blood, urine, or other substance from the body to make a diagnosis, plan treatment, check whether treatment is working, or observe a disease over time.

Leukemia: A cancer of the blood. Leukemia begins when normal white blood cells change and grow uncontrollably.

Localized cancer: Cancer that is confined to the area where it started and has not spread to other parts of the body.

Lymph nodes: Tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection, which is a part of the lymphatic system.

Lymphatic system: A network of small vessels, ducts, and organs that carry fluid to and from the bloodstream and body tissues. Through the lymphatic system, cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Lymphoma: A cancer of the lymphatic system. Lymphoma begins when cells in the lymph system change and grow uncontrollably and may form a tumor.

Malignant: Refers to a tumor that is cancerous. It may invade nearby healthy tissue or spread to other parts of the body.

Mass: A lump in the body

Metastasis: The spread of cancer from the place where the cancer began to another part of the body; cancer cells can break away from the primary tumor and travel through the blood or the lymphatic system to the lymph nodes, brain, lungs, bones, liver, or other organs.

Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in treating people with cancer. The five main types of oncologists are medical, surgical, radiation, gynecologic, and pediatric oncologists. Learn more about the types of oncologists.

Oncology: The study of cancer

Pathologist: A doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease

Polyp: A growth of normal tissue that usually sticks out from the lining of an organ, such as the colon.

Precancerous: Refers to cells that have the potential to become cancerous. Also called pre-malignant.

Predisposition: A tendency to develop a disease that can be triggered under certain conditions. For example, a genetic predisposition to cancer increases a person’s risk of developing cancer, it is not certain that the person will develop it. Learn more about genetics.

Primary cancer: Describes the original cancer

Prognosis: Chance of recovery; a prediction of the outcome of a disease. Learn more about survival statistics used to estimate a patient’s prognosis.

Sarcoma: A cancer that develops in the tissues that support and connect the body, such as fat and muscle. Learn more about sarcoma.

Screening: The process of checking whether a person has a disease or has an increased chance of developing a disease when the person has no symptoms

Secondary cancer: Describes either a new primary cancer (a different type of cancer) that develops after treatment for the first type of cancer, or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body from the place where it started (see metastasis, above)

Stage: A way of describing cancer, such as where it is located, whether or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting the functions of other organs in the body. Learn more about staging.

Tumor: A mass formed when normal cells begin to change and grow uncontrollably. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body).

Treatment Terms

Adjuvant therapy: Treatment given after the main treatment to reduce the chance of cancer coming back by killing any remaining cancer cells. It usually refers to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and/or immunotherapy given after surgery.

Alternative medicine: Therapies and products used to treat cancer without conventional (standard) treatments. Learn more about complementary and alternative medicine.

Bone marrow transplant: A medical procedure in which diseased bone marrow is replaced by healthy bone marrow from a volunteer donor. Learn more about bone marrow transplantation.

Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Learn more about chemotherapy.

Clinical trial: A research study that tests new treatments and/or prevention methods to find out whether they are safe, effective, and possibly better than the current standard of care (the best known treatment). Learn more about clinical trials.

Complementary medicine: A diverse group of treatments, techniques, and products that are used in addition to conventional treatments (also called integrative medicine). Learn more about complementary and alternative medicine.

Hormone therapy: Treatment that removes, blocks, or adds hormones to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells (also called hormonal therapy or endocrine therapy)

Immunotherapy: Treatment that is designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer (also called biologic therapy). It uses materials either made by the body or in a laboratory to bolster, target, or restore immune system function. Learn more about immunotherapy.

Neoadjuvant therapy: Treatment given before the main treatment. It may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy given before surgery to shrink a tumor so that it is easier to remove.

Palliative care: Palliative care is any form of treatment that concentrates on reducing a patient’s symptoms or treatment side effects, improving quality of life, and supporting patients and their families (also called supportive care). Learn more about palliative care.

Protocol: A formal, written action plan for how a clinical trial will be carried out. It states the goals and timeline of the study, who is eligible to participate, what treatments and tests will be given and how often, and what information will be gathered.

Radiation therapy: The use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells (also called radiotherapy). The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, which is radiation given from a machine outside the body. When radiation treatment is given using implants near the cancer cells, it is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. Proton therapy uses beams of high-energy protons to precisely deliver uniform radiation dose to the tumor site, with unique physical properties to control depth, position and the exact point at which the beam stops inside the body. Learn more about radiation therapy.

Regimen: A treatment plan that includes which treatments and procedures will be done, medications and their doses, the schedule of treatments, and how long the treatment will last

Standard of care: Care that experts agree or guidelines show is the most appropriate and/or effective for a specific disease

Surgery: The removal of cancerous tissue from the body through an operation. Learn more about cancer surgery.

Targeted treatment: Treatment that targets specific genes, proteins, or other molecules that contribute to cancer growth and survival. Learn more about targeted treatments.