Glossary Of Breast Cancer Terms

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—Eleanor Roosevelt

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acini -- The sac-like part of the milk-producing glands in the breast. These are also called lobules.

adenocarcinoma -- Cancer that starts in the glands, such as in the lobules of the breast.

adenoma -- A benign growth that may or may not transform to cancer. (See also fibroadenoma).

adjuvant therapy -- Treatment that is added to increase the effectiveness of a primary therapy. It usually refers to chemotherapy or radiation added after surgery to increase the chances of curing the disease or keeping it in check locally.

adrenal gland -- A gland near the kidney. It produces adrenaline, cortisone (in very small amounts), androgen (the 'male' hormone), progestin, and possibly estrogen (the 'female' hormone; most estrogen is produced in the ovaries).

advanced cancer -- A stage of cancer in which the disease has spread from the primary site to other parts of the body, directly or by traveling through the network of lymph glands (lymphatics) or in the bloodstream. When the cancer has spread only to the surrounding areas, it is called locally advanced.

alopecia hair loss -- This often occurs as a results of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to the head.

alternative treatment -- See therapy.

androgen -- A male sex hormone, such as testosterone. Androgens may be used to treat recurrence of breast cancer. Their effect is to block the activity of estrogen, which "feeds" some cancers.

anesthesia -- The loss of feeling or sensation as a result of drugs or gases. General anesthesia causes loss of consciousness ("puts you to sleep"). Local anesthesia numbs only a specified area.

aneuploid -- See ploidy.

antibiotic -- The word means "destructive of life." Antibiotics are 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 protect against or kill infectious diseases.

antibody -- A protein in the blood that defends against invading foreign agents, such as a virus. The invading agent is called an antigen. Each antibody works against a specific antigen. (See also antigen.)

antiemetic -- A drug that prevents or relieves nausea and vomiting, which are common side effects from many chemotherapies. Antiemetic drugs are now used before, during or after chemotherapy. Granisetron and ondansetron are examples of antiemetic drugs.

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

antigen -- An invading foreign agent, such as a virus that causes antibodies to form. (See also antibodies.)

antimetabolites -- Antimetabolites are substances that interfere with the body's metabolic processes, such as burning calories or division of cells to form new cells. In treating cancer, antimetabolite drugs disrupt DNA production, which in turn prevents cell division and growth of tumors. (See also DNA.)

areola -- The dark area of flesh that encircles the nipple of the breast. aspirate -- Removal of fluid or cells from a breast lump. (See also needle aspiration.)

asymptomatic -- To be without noticeable signs or symptoms of disease. Many cancers can develop and grow without producing symptoms, especially in the early stages. Detection tests, such as mammography, try to discover developing cancers at the asymptomatic stage, when the chances for cure are usually highest. (See also screening.)

atypical -- Not usual; abnormal. Cancer is the result of atypical cell division.

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.


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

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 -- A class of compounds that are produced in the body. Among the roles they play, biologic response modifiers boost the body's immune system to fight against cancer. (See also interferon.)

biopsy -- A 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. The biopsy 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. The bone marrow transplant, which was first proved successful in treating leukemia, makes it possible to use exceedingly high doses of chemotherapy that would otherwise be impossible. Autologous bone marrow transplant means that the patient's own bone marrow is used. When this is not possible, it becomes necessary to find a donor whose biologic characteristics (such as blood type) match or very closely match the patient's. A portion of the patient's or donor's bone marrow is withdrawn, cleansed, treated and stored. The patient is then given high doses of chemotherapy that kill the cancer cells but also destroy the remaining bone marrow, thus robbing the body of its natural ability to fight infection. The cleansed and stored marrow is given by transfusion (transplanted) to rescue the patient's immune defenses. Although this method has been widely reported by the media, and it has given good results in many people, it is not yet scientifically proven to be effective in breast cancer. It is a risky procedure that involves a lengthy and expensive hospital stay that may not be covered by the patient's health insurance. The best place to have a bone marrow transplant is in a clinical trial at a comprehensive cancer center or other facility that has the technical skill and experience to perform it safely.

bone scan -- An imaging method that gives important information about the growth and health of bones, including the location of cancer that may have spread to the bones. It can be done as an outpatient procedure and is painless, except for the needle stick when a low-dose radioactive dye is injected into a vein. Images are taken to see where the dye accumulates, indicating an abnormality.

bone (skeletal) survey -- X-rays of the entire skeleton.

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. This procedure can be done in an outpatient clinic. It is painless, except for the needle stick when a radioactive dye is injected into a vein. The images taken will show the path of the dye and places where it accumulates, indicating an abnormality.

BRCA1 -- A gene located on the short arm of chromosome 17. When this gene is damaged (mutated), it places a woman at greater risk of developing breast and / or ovarian cancer, compared with women who do not have the mutation. In a woman with a BRCA1 mutation, the risk of developing breast cancer by age 50% is 58%, compared with 2% in the general population. A person who has this mutated gene has a 50% chance of passing on the gene to each of her children. A genetic test is available at a few universities in the United States, but only for women who are known to be at risk because several women in their family have had breast cancer at an early age (before menopause; women in this group also tend to have bilateral breast cancer) or ovarian cancer. Scientists are working on a blood test that can be used to detect BRCA1 mutations in the general population, but this test is still several years away.

breast augmentation surgery to increase the size of the breast -- (See also breast implant and mammaplasty.)

breast cancer -- Cancer that starts in the breast. How rapidly it grows, whether it will spread (metastasize) or not, and what the outcome will be varies, depending on many factors, including the type of cancer, where it begins, how soon it was detected, whether it is estrogen-receptor positive or negative, and whether it responds to the type of treatment chosen. Some of the factors that contribute to the course of breast cancer are still unknown, but one area that is under study is the effect of diet. The main types of breast cancer are ductal carcinoma in situ, infiltrating ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma, lobular carcinoma in situ, medullary carcinoma, and Paget's disease of the nipple (see definitions under these headings). (See also estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor.)

breast conservation therapy -- Surgery to remove a breast cancer and a small amount of 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. The method may require an axillary dissection and / or radiation therapy in addition to the breast conservation surgery. (See also lumpectomy.)

breast implant -- A manufactured sac that is filled with silicone gel (a synthetic material containing silicon) or saline (sterile saltwater). The sac is surgically inserted to increase breast size or restore the appearance of a breast after mastectomy. Because of concern about possible (but as yet 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 rebuilds the breast contour after mastectomy. A breast implant or the woman's own tissue provides the contour. If desired, the nipple and areola may also be re-created. Reconstruction can be done at the time of mastectomy or any time later. (See also mammaplasty.)

breast self-exam (BSE) -- A technique of checking one's own breasts for lumps or suspicious changes. The method is 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.

How to do a self-breast exam -- Click here for graphic. Click here for video.

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


calcifications -- Tiny calcium deposits within the breast, singly or in clusters, often found by mammography. These are also called microcalcifications. They are a sign of change within the breast that may be monitored by additional, periodic mammography, or by immediate or delayed biopsy.

cancer -- A general term for more than 100 diseases in which abnormal or malignant cells develop. Some exist quietly within the body for years without causing a problem (this happens frequently with prostate cancer). Others are aggressive, rapidly forming tumors that may invade and destroy surrounding tissue. If cancer spreads, it usually travels through the lymph system or bloodstream to distant areas of the body.

cancer care team -- The group of health professionals who cooperate in the diagnosis, planning, treatment, after-care, and counselling of people with cancer. The team may include any or all of the following and others: primary care physician and / or gynecologist, nurse, pathologist, oncology specialists (medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, hematologist), surgeon, oncology nurse specialist, oncology social worker. Whether the team is linked formally or informally, there is usually one person who takes the job of "referee" (See also case manager).

cancer cell -- A cell that divides and reproduces abnormally and can spread throughout the body. (See metastasis.)

cancer-related checkup -- A routine health examination for cancer in persons without obvious signs or symptoms of cancer. The goal of the cancer-related check-up is to find the disease, if it exists, at an early stage, when chances for cure are greatest. Clinical breast examination, Pap smears and skin examinations are examples of methods used in cancer-related check-ups. (See also detection.)

capsule formation -- Scar tissue that may form around a breast (or other type of) implant as the body tries to "wall off" or encapsulate the foreign object. Sometimes called a contracture.

carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) -- CEA is an antigen produced by some types of tumors, including some breast cancers and colon cancers. A blood test can determine whether CEA is present, indicating that tumors are present and active. In some, but not all, cases of breast cancer that has spread (metastasized), the CEA test helps determine whether the treatment method is working. The CEA test is not useful for routine cancer-related check-ups.

carcinogen -- Any substance that causes cancer or helps cancer grow. For example, asbestos is a carcinogen. It has been proven to dramatically increase the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke.

carcinoma -- A malignant tumor that begins in the lining (epithelial) cells of organs. Carcinomas can occur in almost any part of the body. At least 80% of all cancers are carcinomas, and almost all breast cancers are carcinomas.

carcinoma in situ -- An early stage of cancer, in which the tumor is still only in the structures of the organ where it first developed, and the disease has not invaded other parts of the organ or spread (metastasized). Most in situ carcinomas are highly curable.

case manager -- The member of a cancer care team -- usually a nurse or oncology nurse specialist -- who "referees" by coordinating all of the patient's care and needs throughout diagnosis, treatment and recovery. The case manager is a new concept that provides a guide through the complex system of health care by helping cut through red tape, getting responses to questions, managing crises and connecting the patient and family to needed resources.

CAT scan -- See computerized axial tomography.

CEA -- See carcinoembryonic antigen.

cell -- The basic unit of which all living things are made. Cells carry out basic life processes. Organs are clusters of cells that have developed specialized tasks. In scientific language, cytecell, and therefore cytology is the study of cells, cytotoxic means "toxic to cells," an erythrocyte is a red blood cell, and so on. Cells replace themselves by splitting and forming new cells (mitosis), and it is this process that is disrupted in cancer. chemoprevention. Prevention or reversal of disease using drugs, chemicals, vitamins or minerals. While this idea is not ready for widespread use, it is a very promising area of study. The Breast Cancer Prevention Trial is one such study, in which the drug tamoxifen is being tried to see if it will prevent breast cancer.

chemotherapy -- Treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used in addition to surgery or radiation or to treat cancer that has come back (recurred). (See also adjuvant therapy.)

clinical trials -- Research studies to test new drugs or procedures or to compare current, standard treatments (medications, procedures) with others that may be equal or better.

computerized axial tomography -- A scan procedure in which multiple X-rays are taken of all or part of the body to produce an image of internal organs. The X-ray images are converted to cross-sectional images on a computer screen, where abnormalities are highlighted. Except for injection of a dye (needed in some but not all cases), this is a painless procedure that can be performed in an outpatient clinic. It is usually referred to as a "CAT" scan. contracture -- A capsule or shell of tight, scar-like fibers that may form around a breast implant. (See also capsule formation.)

cyst -- A fluid-filled mass that is usually harmless (begnign). The fluid can be removed fro analysis (See needle aspiration).

cytology -- The study or examination of cells: their origin, structure, function and pathology to determine whether they are cancerous or benign. (See also pathology.)


detection -- Finding disease. Early detection means that the disease is found at an early stage, before it has grown large or spread to other sites. (Note: Many forms of cancer can develop to an advanced stage without presenting symptoms. Ovarian and pancreatic cancers are very difficult to detect.) Mammography is the principal way to detect breast cancer early. A mammogram can show a developing breast tumor before it can be felt by the woman herself or even by a highly skilled health professional. Women participate in early detection by performing monthly breast self-examination, getting medical attention immediately for any suspicious lumps or discomfort in the breast, and having mammograms on the schedule recommended in the American Cancer Society guidelines.

diagnosis -- Identifying a disease by its signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings. The earlier a diagnosis of cancer is made, the better the chance for cure.

diaphanography -- Also called transillumination, this is a method of examining the breast. It is used primarily in younger women (40 years of age or less), for whom mammography is not appropriate. The technique uses bright light to illuminate inner structures, in much the same way that children observe the blood and bones in their hands with a flashlight. It has limitations and by itself is not an adequate method of examination for suspicious lumps or thickenings in the breast.

dimpling -- A pucker or indentation of the skin; on the breast, it may be a sign of cancer.

dissection -- Surgery to divide, separate, or remove tissues. (See also axillary dissection.)

DNA -- Abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. One of two acids (the other is RNA) found in the nucleus of all cells. DNA holds genetic information on cell growth, division, and function.

doubling time -- The time it takes for a cell to divide and double itself. The doubling time of breast cancer cells depends on many things, such as the type of tumor, the resistance of the individual's body, and the location in which it tries to grow. A single cell needs 30 doublings to reach noticeable size (1 cm) -- a billion cells. Cancers vary in doubling time from 8 to 600 days, averaging 100 to 120 days. Thus, a cancer may be present for many years before it can be felt. (See also cell.)

duct -- A pathway. In the breast, a passage through which milk passes from the lobule (which makes the milk) to the nipple.

duct ectasia -- Widening of the ducts of the breast, often related to a breast inflammation called periductal mastitis. Duct ectasia is a benign (not cancerous) condition. Symptoms of this condition are a nipple discharge, swelling, dimpling (retraction) of the nipple, or a lump that can be felt.

ductal carcinoma in situ -- Cancer cells that started in the milk passages (ducts) and have not penetrated the duct walls into the surrounding tissue. This is a highly curable form of breast cancer that is treated with surgery or surgery plus radiation therapy. edema -- Build-up of fluid in the tissues, resulting in swelling. Edema of the arm can occur after radical mastectomy, axillary dissection of lymph nodes, or radiation therapy, due to treatment or removal of the lymph channels.

ductal papillomas -- Small, finger-like, non-cancerous growths in the breast ducts that cause a bloody nipple discharge. These are most often found in women 45 to 50 years of age. When many papillomas exist, breast cancer risk is slightly increased.

dysplasia -- An abnormality in size, appearance, and organization of adult cells, but this condition is not cancer. A biopsy is needed for diagnosis.


endocrine glands -- Glands that release hormones into the bloodstream. The ovaries are one type of endocrine gland.

endocrine therapy -- Manipulation of hormones for therapeutic purposes. (See also hormone therapy.)

epidemiology -- The study of factors that have an impact on health and how they relate to one another by collecting and analyzing statistical data. In the field of cancer, epidemiologists are studying how many people can cancer; who gets specific types of cancer; and what factors (such as environment, job hazards, individual characteristics, family patterns, and personal habits, including smoking, diet, and lifestyle) play a part in the development of cancer.

estrogen -- A female sex hormone produced primarily in the ovaries, possibly in the adrenal cortex, and produced in men in the testis (in much smaller amounts than in women). In women, levels of estrogen fluctuate on nature's carefully orchestrated schedule, regulating the development of secondary sex characteristics, including breasts; regulating the monthly cycle of menstruation; and preparing the body for fertilization and reproduction. In breast cancer, estrogen may feed the growth of cancer cells. (See estrogen receptor, estrogen replacement therapy.)

estrogen receptor assay -- A test to see if a breast tumor's cells are nourished by estrogen (estrogen receptor positive) or not (estrogen-receptor negative). (See also progesterone receptor.)

estrogen replacement therapy -- The use of estrogen (exogenous estrogen, i.e., estrogen not produced by the body; estrogen from other sources) to replace estrogen that the body would normally produce, but has ceased to produce because of natural or induced menopause. This type of hormone therapy is often prescribed to alleviate discomforts of menopause and has been shown to provide protective effects against heart disease and osteoporosis in women. Since estrogen nourishes some types of breast cancer, scientists are working on the question of whether estrogen replacement therapy increases breast cancer risk. (See also estrogen, menopause, osteoporosis.)

etiology -- Study of the cause of disease. In cancer, there are probably many etiologies, although research is showing that genetics are a major factor in many cancers.

extended radical mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

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fascia -- A sheet or thin band of fibrous tissue that covers muscles and various organs of the body.

fat necrosis -- The death of fat cells, usually following injury. Fat necrosis is a benign condition, but it can cause a lump, pulling of the skin, or skin changes that can be confused with breast cancer.

fibroadenoma -- An adenoma in the breast, composed of fibrous tissue. On clinical examination or breast self-examination, it feels like a firm lump. These usually occur in young women and are benign.

fibrocystic changes -- A term that describes certain benign changes in the breast; also called fibrocystic disease or benign breast disease. Symptoms of this condition are breast swelling or pain. Signs that a physician can observe on clinical breast examination are the presence of nodularity (nodules), lumpiness, and sometimes, nipple discharge. Although these symptoms mimic breast cancer, microscopic examination of breast tissue will show that there is no cancer.

fibrosis -- Formation of fibrous (tough or scar) tissue. This can occur anywhere in the body.

fine needle aspiration -- See needle aspiration.

five-year survival -- To survive cancer for five years after treatment of the disease. This is a "milestone" for most cancer patients, indicating that treatment was successful.

flow cytometry -- A test on tumor tissue to see how aggressive the cancer is.

frozen section -- Microscopic examination of a specimen of tissue that has been quick-frozen. This method gives a quick diagnosis, sometimes while the surgeon is waiting to complete a procedure. The diagnosis is confirmed in a few days by a more detailed study called a permanent section. (See also permanent section.)


galactocele -- Clogged milk duct; a cyst filled with milk. It may occur in the breast during breastfeeding.

genes -- A segment or unit of DNA that contains information on hereditary characteristics such as hair color, eye color, and height. Women who have the BRCA1 gene have an inherited (genetic) tendency to develop breast cancer.

genetic -- Related to the genes. (See also genes.)

glands -- Organs that produce and release chemicals used locally or elsewhere in the body. This term is often used incorrectly to mean lymph nodes.

Graphic stress telethermometry (GST) -- A method of measuring surface heat from a distance. Some have used this method, plus computer analysis of heat patterns in the breast, to measure breast cancer risk. This is not a reliable method and is not in standard practice.


Halsted radical mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

hematologist -- A physician who specializes in diagnosis and treatment of conditions that arise in the blood and blood-forming tissues, including bone marrow.

hematoma -- A collection of blood outside a blood vessel caused by a leak or injury; for example, the bruise that may appear after blood is drawn for lab work. Hematomas that occur in the breast after injury may feel like a lump. As with other breast lumps, it's important to have this checked to be sure that it is indeed a hematoma and not a more serious problem.

hereditary cancer syndrome -- One or several types of conditions associated with cancers that occur within multiple family members, because of an inherited, mutated gene.

high risk -- Having a higher risk of developing cancer, compared with the general population. Some of the factors that can place a person at higher risk are heredity (a family history of breast cancer increases risk of breast cancer), lifestyle choices (smoking increases risk of lung cancer), and the environment (exposure to sunlight increases risk of skin cancer). (See also risk factor.)

hormone -- A chemical substance that is released into the body by the endocrine glands, such as the thyroid or ovaries. The substance travels through the bloodstream and sets in motion various body functions. For example, prolactin, which is produced in the pituitary gland, begins and sustains the production of milk in the breast after childbirth.

hormone receptor assay -- A test to see whether a breast tumor is affected by hormones or if it can be treated with hormones. (See also estrogen receptor assay, progesterone receptor assay.)

hormone replacement therapy -- See estrogen replacement therapy.

hyperplasia -- An abnormal increase in the number of cells in a specific area, such as the lining of the breast ducts. This overgrowth may be due to hormonal stimulation, injury or continuous irritation. By itself, hyperplasia is not cancerous, but when the proliferating cells are atypical (unlike normal cells), the risk of cancer developing is greater.

hysterectomy -- An operation to remove the uterus, via the abdomen or the vagina. Total hysterectomy means that the ovaries were also removed. (See also oophorectomy.)


imaging -- Any method used to produce an image of internal body structures. Some imaging methods used to detect cancer or metastasis of cancer are x-rays (a breast x-ray is called a mammogram), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), bone scans, scintigraphy, computerized axial tomography (CAT scans), and ultrasonography. (See also bone scan, computerized axial tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasonography.)

immune system -- The complex system by which the body resists invasion by a foreign substance such as bacterial infection or a transplanted organ. See antibody, antigen.

immunocytochemistry -- A method of detecting cancer in tissues. Monoclonal antibodies are used to stain the tissues and cells before examination under a microscope. (See also monoclonal antibodies.)

immunology -- Study of how the body resists disease or invasion by foreign substances. Knowledge gained in this field is important to understanding how and why cancers develop. Many cancer treatments are based on the principles of immunology. (See also immunotherapy.)

immunosuppression -- A naturally occurring or induced state in which the ability of the body's immune system to respond is decreased. Certain cancer therapies, including cytotoxic (cancer-cell killing) drugs, radiation, and bone marrow transplant cause immunosuppression.

immunotherapy -- Treatments that provoke or support the body's immune system response to a disease, such as cancer. This approach to treatment is still largely experimental.

infiltrating ductal carcinoma -- A cancer that starts in the milk passages (ducts) of the breast and then breaks through the duct wall, where it invades the fatty tissue of the breast. When it reaches this point, it has the potential to spread (metastasize) elsewhere in the breast, as well as to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and lymphatic system. Infiltrating ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 80% of breast malignancies.

infraclavicular nodes -- Lymph nodes located beneath the clavicle (collar bone); a part of the network of axillary (armpit) nodes.

interferon -- A protein produced by cells. interferon helps regulate the body's defense system (immune response), boosting activity when a threat, such as a virus, is detected. Scientists have learned that interferon helps fight against cancer, so it is used with some chemotherapies and in bone marrow transplants. Interferon can be made artificiallv in large amounts.

internal mammary nodes -- Lymph nodes beneath the breast bone on each side. The Iymph glands of the breast drain into the internal mammary nodes.

intraductal papilloma -- A benign tumor that starts in the ductal system of the breast. It can cause discharge from the nipple. A woman with papillomatosis (multiple intraductal papillomas) is at increased risk of developing breast cancer.

intravenous (IV) -- A method of supplying fluids and medications, using a needle inserted in a vein.

invasive cancer -- Cancer that has invaded surrounding tissue and spread to distant parts of the body.

invasive lobular carcinoma -- A cancer that arises in the milk-producing glands (lobules) of the breast and then breaks through the lobule walls. From this site, it may then spread elsewhere in the breast. About 15% of mvas1ve breast cancers 1S invasive lobular carcinoma. It is often difficult to detect by physical examination or even by mammography. Up to 25% of women with this type of cancer will at some point develop an additional cancer in the opposite breast.




lactation -- Production of milk in the breast.

lattisimus dorsi flap procedure -- A method of breast reconstruction that uses the long flat muscle of the back, by rotating it to the chest area.

leukemia -- Cancer of the organs that form the blood, such as lymph nodes and bone marrow. People with leukemia often have a noticeable increase in leukocytes (white blood cells). Leukemia can develop as a consequence of some types of breast cancer therapy.

limited breast surgery -- Also called lumpectomy, segmental excision, and tylectomy. It removes the breast cancer and a small amount of tissue around the cancer, but preserves most of the breast. It is almost always combined with axillary lymph node removal and is followed by radiation therapy. (See also lumpectomy.)

linear accelerator -- A machine used in radiation therapy to treat cancer. It generates gamma rays and electron beams.

lobes -- In the breast, groups of glands that produce milk.

lobular carcinoma in situ -- A very early type of breast cancer that develops within the milk-producing glands (lobules) of the breast and does not penetrate through the wall of the lobules. Researchers think that lobular carcinoma in situ does not eventually become an invasive lobular cancer; rather, having this type of cancer places a woman at increased risk of developing an invasive breast cancer later in life. For this reason, it's important for women with lobular carcinoma in situ to have a physical examination three or four times a year and an annual mammogram.

lobular carcinoma (of the breast -- infiltrating or invasive) -- A type of breast cancer that starts within the lobules. It may be multicentric (occurring in multiple lobules). Compared with other types of breast cancer, this type has a higher chance of occurring in the opposite breast, as well. It can often be difficult to diagnose, even with careful physical examination or mammography.

local excision -- Removal of a lesion or tumor that is confined to one area.

localized breast cancer -- A cancer that arose in the breast and is confined to the breast.

lump -- Any kind of mass that can be felt in the breast or elsewhere in the body.

lumpectomy -- Surgery to remove the tumor and a small amount of surrounding normal tissue. (See also mastectomy, two-step procedure.)

lymph -- Clear fluid that passes within the lymphatic system and contains cells known as lymphocytes. These cells fight infections. They have a lesser role in fighting cancer.

lymph nodes -- Small masses of bean-shaped tissue, located along the lymphatic vessels, that remove waste and fluids from lymph and act as filters of impurities in the body. (See also lymph.)

lymphatic system -- The tissues and organs (including bone marrow, spleen, thymus, and lymph nodes) that produce and store lymphocytes (cells that fight infection) and the channels that carry the lymph fluid. The entire lymphatic system is an important part of the body's immune system. lymphedema -- Swelling in the arm caused by excess fluid that collects after lymph nodes and vessels are removed by surgery or treated by radiation. This condition is usually painful and can be persistent.

lymphoma -- Tumor made up of lymph node tissue, from an abnormal production of immature lymphocytes (a form of white blood cells). About 5% of all cancers are lymphomas. One form is Hodgkin's disease. Lymphoma can occur as a result of some types of cancer therapies.


magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) -- A method of obtaining cross-sectional images of the interior structures of the body. Whereas x-rays are obtained by beaming radiation through the body and onto a film, MRI uses a powerful magnet and transmits radio waves through the body, and the images appear on a computer screen as well as on film. Like x-rays, the procedure is physically painless, but some people find it psychologically uncomfortable to be in the small core of the MRI machine. Sedatives may be prescribed if this is a problem.

malignant tumor -- A mass of cancer cells that may invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body. See cancer.

mammaplasty, mammoplasty -- Plastic surgery to reconstruct the breast or to change the shape, size, or position of the breast. Reduction mammaplasty reduces the size of the breast. Augmentation mammaplasty enlarges a woman's breast, usually with implants.

mammogram, mammography -- An x-ray of the breast; the principal method of detection of breast cancer in women over 40. Mammography is performed on a special type of x-ray machine that is used only for this purpose. It has two plates. The lower plate is metal and has a drawer for the film cassette. The bare breast is placed on this plate. The upper plate, which is clear plastic, is lowered onto the breast. Thus compressed, it is possible to obtain a clear image of the interior structures of the breast (mammogram). The compression is maintained for only a few seconds -- long enough for the technician to go to the control panel and snap the image. The procedure is then repeated with the other breast. A mammogram can show a developing breast tumor before it is large enough to be felt by a woman or even by a highly skilled health professional.

mastectomy -- Surgery to remove all or part of the breast. Extended radical mastectomy removes the breast, skin, pectoral muscles (both major and minor), and all axillary and internal mammary lymph nodes on the same side. Halsted radical mastectomy removes the breast, skin, both pectoral muscles, and all axillary lymph nodes on the same side. Modified radical mastectomy removes the breast, skin, nipple, areola, and most of the axillary lymph nodes on the same side, leaving the chest muscles intact. Partial mastectomy removes less than the whole breast, taking only part of the breast in which the cancer occurs and a margin of healthy breast tissue surrounding the tumor. (See also lumpectomy.) Prophylactic mastectomy is removal of the interior of one or both breasts, before any evidence of cancer can be found, for the purpose of preventing cancer. This procedure is sometimes recommended for women at very high risk of breast cancer, but its efficacy is not proven. Quadrantectomy is a partial mastectomy in which the quarter of the breast that contains tumor is removed. Segmental mastectomy is a partial mastectomy. Simple mastectomy is a term once used to describe what is now called total mastectomy. Total mastectomy removes only the breast.

mastitis -- Inflammation or infection of the breast.

mastopexy -- Surgery to lift a breast that sags.

medical oncologist -- See oncologist.

medullary carcinoma -- A special type of infiltrating breast cancer in which the tumor appears well-defined, with obvious boundaries between tumor tissue and normal tissue. About 5% of breast cancers are medullary carcinomas. The outlook (prognosis) for this kind of cancer is considered to be better than averave.

menarche -- The first menstrual period. Early menarche (before age 12) is a risk factor for breast cancer, possibly because the earlier a woman's periods begin, the longer the exposure to estrogen.

menopause -- The time in a woman's life when monthly cycles of menstruation cease forever and the level of hormones produced by the ovaries decreases. Menopause usually occurs in the late 40s or early 50s, but it can also be induced by surgical removal of the ovaries (oophorectomy) or the ovaries and uterus (total hysterectomy), or by some chemotherapies that destroy ovarian function. Among such chemotherapies are some that are used for breast cancer. (See also estrogen replacement therapy.)

metachronous -- At different times. (See also bilateral.)

metastasis -- The spread of cancer cells to distant areas of the body by way of the lymph system or bloodstream.

microcalcifications -- See calcifications.

micrometastases -- The spread of cancer cells in groups so small that they can only be seen under a microscope.

modified radical mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

monoclonal antibodies -- Antibodies manufactured in the laboratory and designed to seek out specific foreign agents (antigens) on cancer cells as targets. Monoclonal antibodies are being studied for their potential to "deliver" chemotherapy and radiotherapy directly to a cancer, thus killing the cancer cell and not harming healthy tissue. Other studies are being done to see if monoclonal antibodies can be produced to detect or locate small groups of cancer cells. (See also antibody, antigen.)

multicentric breast cancer -- Breast cancer occurring in multiple areas of a breast.


needle aspiration -- Removal of fluid from a cyst, or cells from a tumor. In this procedure, a needle and syringe (like those used to give injections) is used to pierce the skin, reach the cyst or tumor, and with suction, draw up (aspirate) specimens for biopsy analysis. If the needle is thin, the procedure is called fine needle aspiration or "FNA." If a needle with a large bore (or core) is used, the procedure is called a core biopsy.

needle biopsy -- See needle aspiration.

needle localization -- A procedure used to do a breast needle biopsy when the lump is difficult to locate or in areas that look suspicious on the x-ray but do not have a distinct lump. After an injection of local anesthesia to numb the area, a thin needle is inserted into the breast. X-rays are taken and used to guide the wire to the area to be biopsied. A tiny hook on the end of the wire holds it in place. Then a hypodermic needle (like the type used to give injections) is injected, using the path of the wire as a guide, and the biopsy is completed. (See also needle aspiration.)

neoplasm -- Any abnormal growth; neoplasms may be benign or malignant. Cancer is a malignant neoplasm.

nipple -- The tip of the breast; the pigmented projection in the middle of the areola. The nipple contains the opening of milk ducts from the breast.

nipple discharge -- Any fluid coming from the nipple. It may be clear, milky, bloody, tan, gray, or green.

nodal status -- A count of the number of lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary nodes) to which cancer has spread (node-positive) or has not spread (node-negative). The number and site of positive axillary nodes help forecast the risk of cancer recurrence.

node -- Lymph glands. (See also axillary node.)

nodule -- A small, solid lump that can be located by touch.

Nolvadex -- Trade name for tamoxifen, an antiestrogen drug commonly used in breast cancer therapy. (See also antiestrogen, tamoxifen.)

noncancerous -- Benign; not malignant; no cancer is present.

normal hormonal changes -- Changes in breast and other tissues that are caused by fluctations in levels of female hormones during the menstrual cycle.

nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) -- A method of taking images of the interior structures of the body. (See also magnetic resonance imaging.)

nuclear medicine scan -- A method for viewing internal organs such as the brain, liver, or bone, in which small amounts of a radioactive substance (isotope) are injected into the bloodstream. The isotope is concentrated in organs that absorb it, where it can be traced and used to produce an image of the organ. Except for the injection, this method of imaging is painless.

nucleus -- The powerhouse at the center of a cell where the cell's important activities are carried out. DNA is housed and replicated in the nucleus.

nulliparous -- A woman who has never given birth to a child.

nurse practitioner -- A nurse who has completed the RN (registered nurse) degree and then takes highly specialized training. Nurse practitioners can work with or without the supervision of a physician. They take on additional duties in diagnosis and treatment of patients and in many states they may write prescriptions. (See also oncology nurse specialist.)


oncogene -- A type of gene found in the chromosomes of tumor cells. When these genes are "turned on" (activated), they initiate and continue conversion of normal cells to cancer cells.

oncologist -- A doctor who is specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Medical oncologists specialize in the use of drugs and chemotherapy to treat cancer. Radiation oncologists specialize in the use of x-rays (radiation) to kill tumors. Medical and radiation oncologists often cooperate in giving complicated treatments.

oncology nurse specialist -- A nurse who has taken highly specialized training in the field of cancer, after completing the RN (registered nurse) degree. Oncology nurse specialists may mix and administer treatments, monitor patients, prescribe and provide aftercare, and teach and counsel patients and their families. Many oncology nurse specialists are also certified nurse practitioners. (See also case manager, nurse practitioner.)

oncology social worker -- A person with a master's degree in social work who has specialized in the field of cancer. The oncology social worker provides counselling and assistance to people with cancer and their families, especially in dealing with the crises that can result from cancer but are not medical, such as financial problems, housing when treatments must be taken at a facility far away from home, and child care.

one-step procedure -- Surgery in which a breast treatment (such as mastectomy, if the diagnosis is indeed breast cancer) is performed in a single operation. The patient is given general anesthesia and does not know until awakened if the diagnosis was cancer or surgery was performed. Once the only option in breast cancer, the one-step procedure is now rarely used. (See also two-step procedure.)

oophorectomy (ovariectomy) -- Surgery to remove the ovaries.

osteoporosis -- Break-down or disintegration of bone, resulting in diminished and porous bone mass. Osteoporosis can result from cancer (including breast cancer) that has spread to the bones), some cancer therapies, and estrogen deficiency (estrogen is an important participant in maintaining bone). Osteoporosis can cause pain, deformity (especially of the spine), pathologic fractures (fractures caused by weakened bone), or traumatic fractures (for example, wrist or hip fracture from a fall). (See also estrogen replacement therapy.)

ovary -- Reproductive organ in the female pelvic region. Normally a woman has two ovaries. They contain the eggs (ova) that, joined with sperm, result in pregnancy. Ovaries are also the primary site of production of estrogen (See also estrogen.)


Paget's disease of the nipple -- A form of breast cancer that begins in the milk passages (ducts) and involves the skin of the nipple and areola. A sign of Paget's disease is a crusting, scaly, red, inflamed tissue (dermatitis) lesion on the nipple. With true Paget's disease, cancer is usually also present within the breast. This is a rare type of breast cancer that occurs in only 1% of cases. If no lump can be felt, it generally has a good outcome (prognosis).

palliative treatment -- Therapy that relieves symptoms, such as pain, but does not cure the disease. Its main purpose is to improve the quality of life.

palpation -- Using the hands to examine. A palpable mass in the breast is one that can be felt.

partial mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

pathologist -- A physician who specializes in the identification of abnormalities and disease by examining body tissue under a microscope and organs. The pathologist determines whether a lump is benign or cancerous.

pathology -- The study of disease. Examination of body tissues and organs under a microscope for evidence of disease. Any tumor thought to be cancer must be diagnosed by examination under a microscope.

pectoral muscles -- Muscles attached to the front of the chest wall and upper arms. The larger group is called pectoralis major, and a smaller group is called pectoralis minor. Because these muscles are in close proximity to the breast, they may become involved in breast cancer or surgery to treat it.

permanent section -- Preparation of tissue for microscopic examination. The tissue is soaked for up to 12 hours in formaldehyde, processed in various chemicals overnight, then sliced very thin and stained. It provides clear definition of the specimen so that the presence or absence of cancer can be determined. (See also frozen section.)

pigment -- A class of substances that provide color, including in the human body. The areola and nipple of the breast are pigmented with melanin. Normally a brownish tint, melanin in these areas of the breast can range from pale pink to deep brown.

placebo -- An inert, inactive substance, sometimes called a"sugar pill." A placebo may be used in clinical trials to compare the effects of a given treatment against no treatment.

ploidy -- A measure of the amount of DNA contained in a cell. Ploidy is a characteristic (marker) that helps determine how cancerous a tumor's cells are, compared with healthy cells. Most cancer cells are aneuploid (an'-u-ploid), which means there is an abnormal amount of DNA in them.

precancerous -- See premalignant.

predisposition -- Susceptibility to a disease that can be triggered under certain conditions. For example, some women have a family history of breast cancer and are therefore predisposed (but not necessarily destined) to develop breast cancer.

premalignant -- Abnormal changes in cells that may, but not always, become cancer. Most of these early lesions respond well to treatment and result in cure. Also called precancerous.

prevalence -- A measure of the proportion of persons in the population with a particular disease at a specified time.

prevention -- Avoiding the occurrence of an event, such as development of cancer, by avoiding things known to cause cancer and participating in activities that can or might prevent cancer. For example, avoiding smoking can prevent lung cancer, and taking tamoxifen may prevent breast cancer in women who are at high risk for the disease.

primary cancer -- The site where cancer begins. Primary cancer is usually named after the organ in which it starts (for example, breast cancer).

progesterone -- A female sex hormone released by the ovaries to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and the breasts for milk production (lactation).

progesterone receptor assay -- A test that shows whether a breast cancer depends on progesterone for growth. Progesterone receptors are tested along with estrogen receptors for more complete information on the hormone sensitivity of a cancer, and how best to treat it. (See also estrogen receptor.)

prognosis -- A prediction of the course of disease; the prospects for the cure of the patient. For example, women with breast cancer that was detected early and received prompt treatment have a good prognosis.

prolactin -- A hormone released from the pituitary gland that prompts milk production (lactation.)

prophylactic mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

prosthesis -- An artificial form, such as a breast pros-quadrantectomy. See mastectomy.

protocol -- A formalized outline or plan.


quadrantectomy -- See mastectomy.


radiation oncologist -- See oncologist.

radical (Halsted or standard) mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

radioactive implant -- A source of high-dose radiation that is temporarily placed right into and around a cancer to kill the cancer cells.

radioisotope -- An isotope (portion of an atom) that is radioactive. In certain imaging procedures, radioisotopes are injected. They travel through the body in areas where the disease is active, showing up as highlighted areas on the images. In breast cancer, radioisotopes are used to check for metastasis to the bones or the liver.

radiologic technologist -- A health professional (not a physician) trained to properly position patients for x-rays, to load film and take the images, and to develop and check the images for quality. Since mammograms (breast x-rays) are done on a machine that is used only for mammograms, the technologist must have special training in mammography. The films taken by the technologist are sent to a radiologist to be read.

radiologist -- A physician who has taken additional years of training to produce and read x-rays and other types of images (for example, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging; See imaging) for the purpose of diagnosing abnormalities.

radiotherapy -- Treatment with radiation to destroy cancer cells. Methods used include linear accelerators, x-rays, cobalt and betatrons. This type of treatment may be used to reduce the size of a cancer before surgery, or to destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Also called irradiation and radiation therapy.

Reach to Recovery -- A visitation program of the American Cancer Society for women who have a personal concern ahout breast cancer. Carefully selected and trained volunteers who have successfully adjusted to breast cancer and its treatment provide information and support to women newly diagnosed with the disease.

reconstructive mammaplasty -- See mammaplasty.

rectus abdominus flap procedure -- A method of breast reconstruction in which tissue from the lower abdominal wall which receives its blood supply from the rectus abdominus muscle, is used. The tissue from this area is moved up to the chest to create a breast mound and usually does not require an implant. Moving muscle and tissue from the lower abdomen to the chest results in flattening of the lower abdomen (a 'tummy tuck'). Also called a TRAM flap.

recurrence -- Cancer that has re-occurred, or reappeared after treatment. Local recurrence is at the same site as the original cancer. Metastasis means that the disease has recurred at a distant site. Regional recurrence is in the lymph nodes near the site.

reduction mammaplasty -- See mammaplasty.

regimen -- A strict, regulated plan of diet, exercise, or other activity designed to reach certain goals. In cancer treatment, a plan to treat cancer.

regional involvement -- The spread of cancer from its original site to nearby areas such as muscles or lymph nodes, but not to distant sites such as other organs.

rehabilitation -- Activities to adjust, heal and return to a full, productive life after injury or illness. This may involve physical restoration (such as the use of prostheses, exercises, and physical therapy), counseling, and emotional support.

relapse -- Reappearance of cancer after a disease-free period.

remission -- Complete or partial disappearance of the signs and symptoms of advanced cancer in response to treatment; the period during which a disease is under control. A remission may not be a cure.

replacement hormone therapy -- See estrogen replacement therapy.

risk factor -- Anything that increases a person's chance of getting a disease, such as cancer. The known risk factors for breast cancer are: family history of the disease, especially in one's mother or sister; beginning menstrual periods at a young age (before age 12); obesity, never having completed a pregnancy; first pregnancy after age 30.


saline breast implant -- See breast implant.

saline solution -- Saltwater solution.

sarcoma -- A malignant tumor growing from connective tissues, such as cartilage, fat, muscle, or bone. Breast sarcoma is sarcoma occurring in the breast, but this happens only rarely. Sarcoma is often highly malignant when occurring outside the breast, but it has a better outlook when it occurs in the breast.

scan -- A study using either x-rays or radioactive isotopes to produce images of internal body organs. (See also bone scan, brain scan, computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine scan.)

scintillation camera -- Device used to enhance radiation and record the results for the diagnosis of cancer or other disorders.

scirrhous cancer -- A breast cancer with a hard, firm, fibrous texture; usually an infiltrating ductal carcinoma.

screening -- The search for disease, such as cancer, in people without symptoms. Screening may refer to coordinated programs in large populations. The principal screening measure for breast cancer is mammography.

screening mammography -- See mammogram, screening.

secondary tumor -- A tumor that forms as a result of spread (metastasis) of cancer from its site of origin.

segmental mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

segmental resection -- See mastectomy.

side effects -- After-effects or secondary effects of treatment, such as hair loss caused by chemotherapy and fatigue caused by radiation therapy.

silicone gel -- Synthetic gel compound used in breast implants because of its flexibility, strength, and texture, which is similar to the texture of the natural breast. Silicone gel breast implants are available for women who have had breast cancer surgery, but only under the auspices of a clinical trial. (See also breast implant.)

simple mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

skin dimpling -- See dimpling.

S-phase fraction (SPF) -- The percentage of cells in a tumor that are in the synthesis (S) phase of dividing. A low SPF is a sign that a tumor is slow-growing; a high SPF shows that the cells are dividing rapidly and the tumor is growing quickly.

staging -- A method of determining and describing the extent of cancer, based on the size of the tumor, whether regional axillary lymph nodes are involved, and whether distant spread (metastasis) has occurred. Knowing the stage at diagnosis helps decide the best treatment and the prognosis.

standard therapy, standard treatment -- See therapy.

stereotactic core needle biopsy -- A method of needle biopsy that is useful in some cases in which a mass can be seen on mammogram but cannot be located by touch. Computerized equipment maps the location of the mass and this is used as a guide for the placement of the needle. (See also needle aspiration.)

stomatitis -- Inflammation or ulcers of the lips, gums, tongue, palate, floor of the mouth or other tissues in the mouth. This condition can result as a side effect of some chemotherapies. A similar condition can occur in the vaginal tissues, as well.

subcutaneous mastectomy -- Surgery to remove internal breast tissue. The nipple and skin are left intact.

supraclavicular nodes -- Lymph nodes that are above the collarbone (clavicle).

surgery -- An operation; a procedure performed by a surgeon to repair or remove a part of the body or to find out if disease is present.

survival rate -- A way of expressing how long, on average, people may live after diagnosis of disease or after treatment of the disease. It is expressed as the percentage of people who live a certain period of time, as opposed to the percentage of those who die. For example, the five-year survival rate for women with localized breast cancer (including all women living five years whether the patient was in remission, disease-free, or under treatment) was 78% in the 1940s, but in the 1990s it is 93%.

synchronous -- At once; at the same time. (See also bilateral.)

systemic disease -- In breast cancer. this term means that the tumor that originated in the breast has spread to distant sites, such as the liver, chest, brain, bones or lungs.

systemic therapy -- Treatment that reaches and affects cells throughout the body; for example, chemotherapy.


tamoxifen (brand name: Nolvadex) -- A drug that blocks estrogen; an antiestrogen drug. Blocking estrogen is desirable in some cases of breast cancer because estrogen feeds the growth of certain types of tumors. This drug is being tested in a large clinical trial to see if it will help prevent the recurrence of cancer.

therapy -- Any of the measures taken to treat a disease. Alternative therapy is any therapy that has not been scientifically tested and approved. Some alternative therapies are used along with standard therapy. Some are harmless, some may be helpful, and others can be dangerous, especially if they divert a person with cancer from receiving standard therapy. Also called questionable methods or unproven methods. Some people use alternative therapies along with standard therapy; in this approach, the health care team should be informed of the alternative method used. Experimental therapy is any new, as-yet-unproven method that is being tested for specific purposes in a scientific clinical trial. Standard therapy is any method that has been scientifically tested and proven useful for specific purposes, and is the standard treatment. Unproven therapy: See unproven methods.

thermography -- A method in which heat from the breast is measured and mapped. "Hot spots" may show problem areas, but the test cannot diagnose the source of the problem (i.e., whether it is cancer). Also called a thermogram, this method is not reliable in detecting breast cancer.

tissue -- A collection of similar cells, united to perform a particular function. There are four basic types of tissue in the body: epithelial, connective, muscle and nerve.

total mastectomy -- See mastectomy.

transillumination -- See diaphanography.

TRAM flap -- See rectus abdominus flan procedure.

Transverse rectus abdominal muscle flap -- Often called a TRAM flap, this is a type of breast reconstruction. See rectus abdominus flap procedure.

tumor -- Tissue growth in which the cells multiply uncontrollably; also called neoplasm. Can be either benign or malignant.

two-step procedure -- A method in which breast biopsy for diagnosis and breast surgery for treatment (such as lumpectomy or mastectomy, if the diagnosis is indeed breast cancer) are performed as two separate procedures, after an interval of days or weeks. This method is strongly preferred by women and their health care team because it allows time to consider all options. (See also one-step procedure.) tylectomy. See lumpectomy.


ultrasonography (ultrasound) -- An imaging method in which high-frequency sound waves are used to outline a part of the body. High-frequency sound waves are transmitted through the area of the body being studied. The soundwave echoes are picked up and displayed on a television screen. This painless method is used mainly to find out if a structure is solid or liquid. It is useful in detecting breasts cysts in young women with firm, fibrous breasts. No radiation exposure occurs.

unilateral -- Affecting one side of the body. For example, unilateral breast cancer occurs in one breast only. (See also bilateral.)

unproven methods of cancer management -- Any therapy that has not been subjected to traditional scientific study and proved effective in clinical trials. Such methods range from harmless to life-threatening, especially if they are used in place of medically sound methods of treatment. The American Cancer Society maintains a reference file on unproven methods of cancer management. Information is available on request from the Society's toll-free cancer information hotline, 1-800-ACS-2345. (See also therapy.)


vaccine -- A procedure in which a small quantity of inactivated or killed disease-causing organisms (for example, smallpox) are iniected into the body. The body's immune system responds to the presence of the organisms by forming antibodies that are specifically targeted to those particular organisms. The result is that the body is then resistant (immune) to the disease for a specific period of time; in some cases, the immunity lasts forever. Development of a cancer vaccine is a subject of intense research.

vaginitis -- Any inflammation of the vagina. Atrophic vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina in which vaginal tissue becomes thin and dry. This condition occurs after menopause and is caused by lack of estrogen. (See also menopause.) An estrogen cream may be prescribed to relieve this problem. Vaginitis as a result of chemotherapy is similar to the mouth inflammation (stomatitis) that may result from some chemotherapies. (See also stomatitis.)


white blood cells -- A name for several types of cells in blood that remain after red cells have been removed. Their purpose is to help defend against infection. T-cell lymphocytes and B-cell lymphocytes are two types of white blood cells that play a role in the immune system against cancer.


xeroradiography (xeromammography) -- An outdated form of mammography that records the image of the breast on paper rather than on film. This method is rarely used now.

x-rays -- One form of radiation that can, at low levels, produce an image of cancer on film, and at high levels, can destroy cancer cells.