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Glossary - Cancer Center

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Abdomen - area between the chest and the hips that contains the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen.

Ablative therapy - treatment that removes or destroys the function of an organ, such as surgical removal of an organ or some types of chemotherapy or hormone therapy.

Abnormality - a health problem or feature not normally present in a healthy individual.

Acquired mutations - mutations in somatic cells that we are not born with, but that occur by chance over time. Acquired mutations are not present in all cells of the body, are not inherited, and are not passed on to our children.

Actinic keratosis - a precancerous condition of thick, scaly patches of skin.

Acupressure - a type of massage in which finger pressure is applied to particular points on the body.

Acupuncture - a pain relief technique of traditional Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted in the skin at particular points.

Acute - severe; sharp; begins quickly.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) - a rapidly progressing cancer of the blood in which too many immature (not fully formed) lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, are found in the bone marrow, blood, spleen, liver, and other organs.

Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) - a rapidly progressing cancer of the blood in which too many immature (not fully formed) granulocytes, a type of white blood cell, are found in the bone marrow and blood.

Adenocarcinoma - a cancer that develops in the lining or inner surface of some organs and have secretory characteristics, such as in the ducts or lobules of the breast.

Adenoma - benign (noncancerous) growths that often appear on glands or in glandular tissue.

Adjuvant therapy - treatment used in addition to the primary treatment. Adjuvant therapy usually refers to hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy added after surgery to increase the chances of curing the disease or minimizing symptoms.

Advance directives - documents that a person can complete to ensure that healthcare choices are respected.

Allogeneic bone marrow transplant - a procedure in which a person receives stem cells from a matched donor.

Alopecia - a partial or complete loss of hair that may result from radiation therapy to the head, chemotherapy, skin disease, drug therapy, and natural causes.

Alternative therapy - a term referring to practices and products that are not considered to be part of conventional medicine and are used instead of conventional medicine.

Amplification - the production of many copies of a region of DNA.

Anemia - a blood disorder caused by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells).

Anesthesia - lack of normal sensation, especially the awareness of pain, which may be brought on by drugs. General anesthesia causes loss of consciousness or puts you into a deep sleep; local or regional anesthesia causes loss of feeling only to a certain area.

Anesthesiologist - a physician who specializes in administering medications or other agents that prevent or relieve pain, especially during surgery.

Angiogenesis - the natural body process of growing new blood vessels.

Angiogram - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses X-rays and a special dye to visualize all of the blood vessels that supply a tumor.

Angioma - a benign (non-cancerous) tumor in the skin, which is made up of blood or lymph vessels.

Anomaly - a health problem or feature not normally present in a healthy individual; a deviation from the normal.

Antacids - medications that balance acids and gas in the stomach.

Antibiotic - chemical substances that are either produced from cultures of microorganisms or produced artificially for the purpose of killing other organisms that cause disease. Antibiotics may be needed along with the cancer treatment to prevent or treat infections.

Anticholinergics - medications that calm muscle spasms in the intestine.

Anticipatory grief - the deep emotional distress that occurs when someone has a prolonged illness and death is expected often by the patient as well as the family. Anticipatory grief can be just as painful and stressful as the actual death of the person.

Antidiarrheals - medications that help control diarrhea.

Antiemetics - medications that prevent and control nausea and vomiting.

Antigen - a substance that can trigger an immune response causing the production of antibodies as part of the body's defense against infection and disease.

Antioxidant - a substance that protects the body cells from damage caused by free radicals (by-products of the body’s normal chemical processes).

Antispasmodics - medications that help reduce or stop muscle spasms in the intestines.

Apheresis - a procedure in which a patient's own blood is removed, certain fluid and cellular parts are removed from the blood, then the blood is returned to the patient.

Aplastic anemia - one type of anemia that occurs when the bone marrow produces too few of all three types of blood cells: red cells, white cells, and platelets.

Aspiration - the withdrawal of fluid from the body.

Asymptomatic - to be without noticeable symptoms of disease.

Atypical - not usual; often refers to the appearance of precancerous or cancerous cells.

Autologous bone marrow transplant - a procedure in which stem cells from a patient's own bone marrow are removed, the patient is treated with chemotherapy or radiation, and the stem cells are then returned to the patient.

Autopsy - an examination of the organs and/or tissues of the body after death. An autopsy is often used to determine the cause of death, but may also be done to research the fatal disease for future diagnosis, treatment, and prevention strategies.

Autosomal dominant inheritance - a mutation or alteration in a gene that lies on one of the first 22 pairs of chromosomes, which, when present in one copy, causes a trait or disease to be expressed.

Autosomal recessive inheritance - a mutation or alteration in a gene that lies on one of the first 22 pairs of chromosomes, which must be present in both copies for a trait or disease to be expressed.

Autosome - any chromosome other than a sex chromosome; there are 22 pairs of these chromosomes.


Barium - a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an X-ray.

Barium enema (also called lower GI, or gastrointestinal, series) - a procedure that examines the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine. A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an X-ray) is given into the rectum as an enema. An X-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.

Basal cell carcinoma - the most common form of skin cancer; characterized by small, shiny, raised bumps on the skin that may bleed.

Basal cells - type of cells that are found in the outer layer of skin. Basal cells are responsible for producing the squamous cells in the skin.

Benign - cell growth that is not cancerous, does not invade nearby tissue, or spread to other parts of the body.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (also called BPH or benign prostatic hypertrophy) - an enlargement of the prostate caused by the overgrowth of prostate cells. It is not cancer, but its symptoms are often similar to those of prostate cancer.

Bereavement - the state of being bereaved; to be in a sad or lonely state due to a loss or death.

Bilateral - affecting both sides of the body. Bilateral breast cancer is cancer occurring in both breasts at the same time.

Bile - fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps break down fats and gets rid of wastes in the body.

Bile acids - acids made by the liver that work with bile to break down fats.

Bile ducts - tubes that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder for storage and to the small intestine for use in digestion.

Bilirubin - a yellow-green colored substance formed when red blood cells break down. Bilirubin gives bile its color. Bilirubin is normally passed in stool. Too much bilirubin causes jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes).

Biochemical genetic testing - a test to study specific enzymes or biochemical products (for example amino acids, organic acids) in the body.

Biofeedback - a form of mind control over the body that helps a person to reduce sensations of pain.

Biologic response modifiers (also called biologic therapy) - substances that boost the body's immune system to fight against cancer (for example, Interferon).

Biological therapy (also called immunotherapy, biotherapy, or biological response modifier therapy) - a therapy that uses the body's immune system, either directly or indirectly, to fight cancer or to lessen side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments (for example, Interferon).

Biopsy - the removal of tissue for examination under a microscope.

Birth defect - a health problem present at birth.

Bladder - a triangle-shaped, hollow, muscular organ located in the lower abdomen that holds urine. It is held in place by ligaments that are attached to other organs and the pelvic bones. The bladder's walls relax and expand to store urine, and contract and flatten to empty urine through the urethra.

Blasts - immature blood cells.

Blood - the life-maintaining fluid that is made up of plasma, red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes), and platelets; blood circulates through the body's heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries; it carries away waste matter and carbon dioxide, and brings nourishment, electrolytes, hormones, vitamins, antibodies, heat, and oxygen to the tissues.

Blood banking - the process that takes place in the laboratory to ensure that the donated blood or blood products are safe, before they are used in blood transfusions and other medical procedures. Blood banking includes typing and cross matching the blood for transfusion and testing for infectious diseases.

Blood plasma - the fluid part of blood that contains nutrients, glucose, proteins, minerals, enzymes, and other substances.

Bone marrow - the soft, spongy tissue found inside bones. It is the medium for development and storage of most of the body's blood cells.

Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy - a test to look for cancer cells or other problems in the bone marrow. The marrow may be removed by aspiration or a needle biopsy under local anesthesia. In aspiration biopsy, a fluid specimen is removed from the bone marrow. In a needle biopsy, marrow cells (not fluid) are removed. These methods are often done at the same time.

Bone marrow transplant (BMT) - the transfusion of healthy bone marrow cells into a person, after their own unhealthy bone marrow has been destroyed.

Bone scans - pictures taken of the bone after a radioactive dye has been injected that is absorbed by bone tissue. These are used to detect tumors and bone abnormalities.

Bone survey (skeletal) - an X-ray of all the bones of the body; sometimes done when looking for metastasis (cancer spread) to the bones.

Bowel - another word for the small and large intestines.

Bowel movement - body waste passed through the rectum and anus.

Bowel prep - process used to clean the colon with enemas and/or a special drink; used before surgery of the colon, colonoscopy, or barium X-ray.

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 - a gene (on chromosome 17), which, when altered, indicates an inherited susceptibility to breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer.

BRCA2 - a gene (on chromosome 13), which, when altered, indicates an inherited susceptibility to breast, ovarian, prostate cancer, and other cancer types.

Breast self-examination (BSE) - a method in which a woman examines her breasts and the surrounding areas for lumps or changes. Some doctors recommend that a BSE be performed once a month, usually at a time other than the days before, during, or immediately after the menstrual period.


CAM - Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Cancer - abnormal cells that divide without control and can invade nearby tissues or spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Cancer care team - the group of healthcare professionals who work together to find, treat, and care for people with cancer.

Cancer cell - a cell that divides and multiplies uncontrollably and has the potential to spread throughout the body, crowding out normal cells and tissue.

Cancer susceptibility gene - a gene, that when mutated (altered), gives a person a risk for developing certain types of cancer(s) that is greater than the general population risk.

Carbohydrates - one of the three main classes of food and a source of energy. Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches found in breads, cereals, fruits, and vegetables. During digestion, carbohydrates are changed into a simple sugar called glucose. Glucose is stored in the liver until cells need it for energy.

Carcinogen - an agent (chemical, physical, or viral) that may increase the risk of cancer. Examples include tobacco smoke and asbestos.

Carcinoma - cancer found in the epithelial tissue (tissue that covers the surfaces of organs, glands, or body structures).

Carcinoma in situ - cancer that is confined to the cells in which it first developed, and has not invaded the surrounding tissues or metastasized.

Carotenoids - substances found in yellow and orange vegetables and fruits and in dark, green vegetables.

Carrier testing - testing performed to determine whether a person carries one copy of an altered gene for a particular recessive disease.

Catheter - a flexible tube inserted into body passageways or cavities to inject medication, withdraw fluids, or keep a passage open.

Cells - basic working units of living systems, which contain DNA.

Cervix - the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) located between the bladder and the rectum. It forms a canal that opens into the vagina, which leads to the outside of the body.

Chaplain - a member of the healthcare team who provides spiritual counseling, support, and pastoral care. The hospital chaplain can also act as a liaison to local clergy.

Chemotherapy - the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells.

Child life specialist - a hospital staff member who has special training in the growth and development of children. A child life specialist can help your child with play activities, relaxation and pain management skills, and help meet the educational and emotional needs of the entire family.

Cholecystectomy - operation to remove the gallbladder.

Chromosome - a structure in the nucleus of cells that contains genes. Humans usually have 23 pairs of chromosomes.

Chronic - referring to a disease or disorder that usually develops slowly and lasts for a long period of time.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) - a slowly progressing cancer of the blood in which too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, are produced by the bone marrow and by organs of the lymph system.

Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) - a slowly progressing cancer of the blood in which too many white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.

Clinical trial - organized research studies that provide clinical data aimed at finding better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, or treat diseases.

Codon - a coding unit in a DNA sequence to make a specific amino acid (the building blocks of proteins).

Cold knife cone biopsy - a procedure in which a laser or a surgical scalpel is used to remove a piece of tissue from the cervix.

Colectomy - an operation to remove all or part of the colon (large intestine).

Colon polyps - small, fleshy, abnormal growths in the colon (large intestine).

Colonoscope - a long, flexible, lighted tube used to examine the entire length of the colon (large intestine).

Colonoscopic polypectomy - removal of tumor-like growths (polyps) using a device inserted through a colonoscope.

Colonoscopy - a procedure that allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine, and can often help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding. It involves inserting a colonoscope, a long, flexible, lighted tube, in through the rectum up into the colon. The colonoscope allows the physician to see the lining of the colon, remove tissue for further examination, and possibly treat some problems that are detected.

Colorectal cancer - cancer of the colon (large intestine) or rectum (where the large intestine ends).

Colostomy - an operation that makes it possible for stool to leave the body (usually through an opening in the abdomen) after the rectum has been removed.

Colposcopy (also called colposcopic biopsy) - a procedure which uses an instrument with magnifying lenses, called a colposcope, to examine the cervix for abnormalities. If abnormal tissue is found, a biopsy is usually performed.

Complete blood count (CBC) - a measurement of size, number, and maturity of different blood cells in a specific volume of blood.

Complementary therapy - a term referring to practices and products that are not considered to be part of conventional medicine, but can be used along with conventional medicine.

Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce both horizontal and vertical cross-sectional images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.

Cone biopsy (also called conization) - a biopsy in which a larger cone-shaped piece of tissue is removed from the cervix by using the loop electrosurgical excision procedure or the cold knife cone biopsy procedure. The cone biopsy procedure may be used as a treatment for precancerous lesions and early cancers.

Congenital - present at birth.

Congenital anomaly - a health problem present at birth (not necessarily genetic).

Cyst - a closed sac or pouch that is filled with fluid or other contents.

Cytokines - proteins produced by the cells of the immune system that are involved in the immune response.

Cystoscope - a thin, flexible lighted tube used to examine and treat the bladder.

Cystoscopy (also called cystourethroscopy) - an examination in which a scope, a flexible tube and viewing device, is inserted through the urethra to examine the bladder and urinary tract for structural abnormalities or obstructions, such as tumors or stones. Samples of the bladder tissue (called a biopsy) may be removed through the cystoscope for examination under a microscope in the laboratory.

Cystourethrogram (also called a voiding cystogram) - a specific x-ray that examines the urinary tract. A catheter (hollow tube) is placed in the urethra (tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) and the bladder is filled with a liquid dye. X-ray images will be taken as the bladder fills and empties. The images will show if there is any reverse flow of urine into the ureters and kidneys.

Cytogenetics - the study of chromosomal material.


De novo - new, not present previously in a family.

Deletion - when a part of a chromosome is missing, or part of the DNA code is missing.

Diagnosis - identifying a disease by its signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings.

Diagnostic mammogram - an X-ray of the breast used to diagnose unusual breast changes, such as a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. A diagnostic mammogram is also used to evaluate abnormalities detected on a screening mammogram.

Diagnostic testing - used to identify or confirm the diagnosis of a disease or condition in a person or a family.

Dialysis - a medical procedure to remove wastes and additional fluid from the blood after the kidneys have stopped functioning.

Diarrhea - frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements.

Digestants - medications that aid or stimulate digestion.

Digestion - process the body uses to break down food into simple substances for energy, growth, and cell repair.

Digestive tract - the organs through which food and liquids pass during digestion, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.

Digital rectal exam (DRE) - a procedure in which the physician inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to examine the rectum and the prostate gland for signs of cancer.

Dilation and curettage (also called D & C) - a minor operation in which the cervix is dilated (expanded) so that the cervical canal and uterine lining can be scraped with a curette (spoon-shaped instrument).

Direct DNA studies - studies that look directly at the gene in question for an error (mutation).

Distention - bloating or swelling; usually referring to the abdomen.

DNA - deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecules in cells that carry genetic information.

Do not resuscitate (DNR) order - a formal request by a person or a person's family to not take extreme measures to save his/her life. A DNR order is usually reserved for a person near death or with a terminal illness that, even if resuscitated, would not have a high quality of life or a long period before death would occur despite resuscitative efforts. DNR orders can specify how much intervention is desired prior to death (i.e., do not use cardiac drugs, oxygen, chest compressions, etc.).

Drug resistance - refers to the ability of cancer cells to become resistant to the effects of the chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer.

Dysphagia - problems in swallowing food or liquid, usually caused by blockage or injury to the esophagus.

Dysplasia - abnormal development of tissue.

Dyspnea - difficult or painful breathing.


Edema - swelling due to buildup of fluid.

Electrochemotherapy - uses a combination of chemotherapy and electrical pulses to treat cancer.

Electrolyte - an element that breaks up into ions when it is dissolved in water. Examples of electrolytes include: sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium. Monitoring the correct levels of electrolytes in the blood and replacement of fluids and electrolytes are part of care for many conditions.

Endometrial biopsy - a procedure in which a sample of tissue from the lining of the uterus is obtained through a tube that is inserted into the uterus.

Endometrial hyperplasia - abnormal thickening of the endometrium (lining of the uterus) caused by excessive cell growth.

Endoscope - a lighted tube used to examine the interior of a body cavity or organ.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) - a procedure that allows the physician to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas. The procedure combines x-ray and the use of an endoscope -- a long, flexible, lighted tube. The scope is guided through the patient's mouth and throat, then through the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The physician can examine the inside of these organs and detect any abnormalities. A tube is then passed through the scope, and a dye is injected which will allow the internal organs to appear on an X-ray.

Endoscopy - use of a very flexible tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is connected to a computer screen, allowing the physician to see inside the hollow organs, such as the uterus. Biopsy samples can be taken through the tube.

Enteral nutrition or feeding - using oral or tube feeding through the digestive tract to give nutrients to a patient who cannot take in, chew, or swallow food, but who can digest and absorb nutrients.

Enteroscopy - examination of the small intestine with an endoscope.

Enterostomy - ostomy, or opening, that brings the end of the intestine through the abdominal wall.

Enzyme replacement therapy (ERT) - replacing the enzyme that is missing or defective in a genetic disease.

Epithelial cells - cells found in the tissues that cover organs, glands, or body structures.

Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (also called EGD or upper endoscopy) - a procedure that allows the physician to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. A thin, flexible, lighted tube, called an endoscope, is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The endoscope allows the physician to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as insert instruments through a scope for the removal of a sample of tissue for biopsy (if necessary).

Esophagus - the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.

Excisional - cutting away cancerous tissue with a scalpel or other instruments to completely remove it and possibly some surrounding tissue. There are many types of excisional surgeries, each named for the particular area of the body in which they are performed or the particular purpose for which they are performed.

Expectant management or therapy - "watchful waiting" or close monitoring of cancer (for instance, prostate cancer) by a physician instead of immediate treatment.

Extended banding chromosome study - a study that involves stretching out the chromosomes to a greater length than usual allowing more detail of each small piece (band) of the chromosome material to be seen.

External radiation (external beam therapy) - a treatment that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes.


False negative - a test result that indicates a normal result when there actually is a problem.

False positive - a test result that indicates there is a problem when, in fact, there is not a problem.

Familial - a clustering of disease in a family, with no specific inheritance pattern, but more cases than chance alone would predict.

Familial cancer - when there is a clustering of cancer cases in a family, but the features of hereditary cancer may not be present.

Familial polyposis - an inherited disease that causes polyps in the colon. These polyps can lead to cancer.

Fecal - relating to the feces, the body’s waste matter that is discharged from the intestines through the anus.

Fecal occult blood test - a test to check for hidden blood in stool.

First-degree relative - a relative with whom you share one-half of your genes -- such as your parents, children, and siblings.

Founder effect - when a particular gene mutation is present in a population at increased frequency because it was present in a small isolated group of “founders," ancestors who gave rise to most of the individuals in the present day population.

Free radicals - highly reactive oxygen-free compounds created during normal body cell processes that can damage cells and cause DNA changes that may result in cancer.


Gastrectomy - an operation in which part (subtotal or partial) or all (total) of the stomach is removed.

Gastric - relating to the stomach.

Gastroenterologist - a physician who specializes in digestive diseases.

Gastroenterology - the field of medicine concerned with the function and disorders of the digestive system.

Gastrointestinal - relating to the stomach and the intestines.

Gastroscope - a flexible lighted tube used to examine the stomach.

Gastrostomy - an artificial opening from the stomach to a hole (stoma) in the abdomen where a feeding tube is inserted.

Gene - a segment of DNA that produces a protein product; genes determine traits that are passed from one generation to the next.

Genetic - determined by genes or chromosomes.

Genetic counseling - providing an assessment of inherited risk factors and information to patients and their relatives concerning the consequences of a disorder, the chance of developing or transmitting it, how to cope with it, and ways in which it can be prevented, treated, and managed.

Germline mutation - a DNA change present in the egg or sperm (germ cells) from which a person was conceived, and therefore usually present in all cells of the body.

Gene therapy - a new type of treatment that is used to correct a genetic defect.

Genetic testing - tests performed to determine if a person has certain gene changes (mutations) or chromosome changes that are either known to increase cancer risk or that may be present in cells from a tumor.

Germ cell - the reproductive cells of the body (ova, or eggs, and sperm).

Germ cell tumors - tumors that are comprised of germ cells (cells that develop into the reproductive system).

Grade - the grade of a cancer reflects how abnormal it looks under the microscope. There are several grading systems for different types of cancer.

Grading - a process for classifying cancer cells to determine the growth rate of the tumor. The cancer cells are measured by how closely they look like normal cells.

Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) - the condition that results when the immune cells of a transplant (usually of stem cells) react against the tissues of the person receiving the transplant.

Granulocytes - a type of white blood cells. The different types of granulocytes include: basophils, eosinophils, and neutrophils.

Grief - the process that occurs as a result of a loss. Similar to bereavement, the loss may be a death of a loved one or of an ideal (divorce, job, home, etc.). Grief is the emotional and objective reactions to a loss of any type.

Growth factor - a naturally occurring protein that causes cells to grow and divide.


Hematocrit - the measurement of the percentage of red blood cells found in a specific volume of blood.

Hematologist - a physician who specializes in the functions and disorders of the blood.

Hematology - the scientific study of blood and blood-forming tissues.

Hematopoiesis - the process of producing and developing new blood cells.

Hemoglobin - a type of protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen to the tissues of the body.

Hepatic - related to the liver.

Hepatobiliary scintigraphy - an imaging technique of the liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and upper part of the small intestine.

Hepatoblastoma - a type of childhood cancer that originates in the liver.

Hepatologist - a physician who specializes in liver diseases.

Hepatology - field of medicine concerned with the functions and disorders of the liver.

Hematuria - blood in the urine.

Hereditary cancer family - a family where multiple family members have the same or related cancers, often developing at a younger age than average, and showing a vertical pattern of inheritance. Hereditary cancer is due to a mutation in a cancer susceptibility gene that may or may not be identifiable with current technology.

Hodgkin disease - A type of lymphoma, a cancer in the lymphatic system; Hodgkin disease causes the cells in the lymphatic system to abnormally reproduce, eventually making the body less able to fight infection. Steady enlargement of lymph glands, spleen, and other lymphatic tissue occurs.

Hospice - literal meaning "a place of shelter." Today it refers to supportive care of a terminally ill patient.

Human Genome Project - a government-funded research and technology project to sequence and map (identify) all of the human genes (about 25,000) on the 46 chromosomes.

Hyperplasia - an abnormal or unusual increase in the number of cells present.

Hysterectomy - surgery to remove the uterus, and sometimes the cervix.

Hysteroscopy - visual examination of the canal of the cervix and the interior of the uterus using a viewing instrument (hysteroscope) inserted through the vagina.


Ileostomy - an operation that makes it possible for stool to leave the body part of the intestine is removed in which an opening is made in the abdomen and the bottom of the small intestine (ileum) is attached to it.

Ileum - lower end of the small intestine.

Imaging studies - methods used to produce a picture of internal body structures. Some imaging methods used to detect cancer include X-rays, CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound.

Immune system - the system composed of the lymphatic system and white blood cells that are responsible for protecting the body against infection and disease.

Immunocompromised - an abnormal condition where one's ability to fight infection is decreased. This can be due to a disease process, certain medications, or a condition present at birth.

Immunosuppression - a state in which the ability of the body's immune system to respond is decreased. This condition may be present at birth, or it may be caused by certain infections (such as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV), cancers (such as leukemia), or certain cancer therapies, such as cancer cell killing (cytotoxic) drugs, radiation, and bone marrow transplantation.

Immunotherapy - treatments that promote or support the body's immune system response to a disease such as cancer.

Implant - putting something into the body; for example, a small amount of radioactive material placed in or near a cancer cell is called implant radiation.

Impotence (also called erectile dysfunction) - the inability to achieve or maintain an erection.

Incontinence - the inability to control bowel and/or urine elimination.

Indirect DNA studies - studies that look at markers around the gene in question rather than looking directly at the gene itself; also called "linkage studies."

Informed consent - a process that explains a course of treatment, as well as the risks, benefits, and possible alternatives to a patient before he or she decides to agree to treatment.

Inheritance - used to describe how a trait or gene is passed from one generation to the next.

Inherited cancer syndrome - a description of the clinical symptoms associated with a mutation in a particular cancer susceptibility gene.

Inflammation - the response of the tissues of the body to irritation or injury. The signs of inflammation are redness, heat, swelling, and pain.

Interferon - a biological response modifier that stimulates the growth of certain disease-fighting blood cells in the immune system.

Interleukin-2 - a biological response modifier that stimulates the growth of certain blood cells in the immune system that can fight cancer.

Internal radiation (brachytherapy, implant radiation) - radiation is given inside the body as close to the cancer as possible. Substances that produce radiation, called radioisotopes, may be swallowed, injected, or placed directly into or near the tumor. Some of the radioactive implants are called “seeds” or “capsules.” Internal radiation involves giving a higher dose of radiation in a shorter time span than with external radiation. Some internal radiation treatments stay in the body for a short time. Other internal treatments stay in the body permanently, though the radioactive substance loses its radiation over time.

Intracranial pressure (ICP) - pressure of the fluid inside the skull and on the brain.

Invasive cancer - cancer that begins in one area and then spreads into the nearby tissues.

Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) - a series of X-rays of the kidney, ureters, and bladder with the injection of a contrast dye into the vein -- to detect tumors, abnormalities, kidney stones, or any obstructions.

Isoflavone - phytochemical found in soy protein.

Isolated - refers to an individual who is the only affected member of his/her family, either by chance or through a new (de novo) mutation.


Jaundice - yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes.


Karyotype - a picture of an individual’s 46 chromosomes, lined up into 23 pairs, showing the number, size, and shape of each chromosome type.

Kidney transplantation - a procedure that places a healthy kidney from one person into a recipient's body.

Kidneys - a pair of bean-shaped organs located below the ribs toward the middle of the back.


Large intestine - part of the intestine that goes from the cecum to the anus; includes the colon and rectum.

Lactase - an enzyme in the small intestine needed to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products.

Lactase deficiency - lack of an enzyme made by the small intestine called lactase, which prevents the body from digesting lactose (a sugar found in milk and milk products) properly.

Lactose - sugar found in milk, which the body breaks down into galactose and glucose.

Lactose intolerance - inability to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, because the body does not produce the lactase enzyme.

Lactose tolerance test - a test that checks the body's ability to digest lactose (a sugar found in milk and milk products).

Laparoscope - a long, thin tube with a camera lens attached that allows the physician to examine the organs inside the abdominal cavity - to check for abnormalities, and operate through small incisions.

Laparoscopy - use of a viewing tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to examine the contents of the abdomen and remove tissue samples.

Laparotomy - a surgical incision into a cavity in the abdomen, usually performed using general or regional anesthesia.

Lesion - an abnormal change in the structure of an organ or body part due to injury or disease.

Leukemia - a cancer of the blood-forming tissue. Leukemic cells look different than normal cells and do not function properly.

Liver - a large organ in the body that has many important functions, such as making bile, making important plasma proteins, and cleaning alcohol and poisons from the blood.

Liver biopsy - a procedure in which tissue samples from the liver are removed (with a needle or during surgery) for examination under a microscope.

Liver enzyme tests (also called liver function tests) - blood tests to determine how well the liver and biliary system are functioning.

Locally invasive tumor - a tumor that can invade the tissues surrounding it by sending out "fingers" of cancerous cells into normal tissue.

Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) - a procedure that uses an electric wire loop to obtain a piece of tissue.

Lower GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium enema) - a procedure that examines the rectum, the large intestine, and the lower part of the small intestine. A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an X-ray) is given into the rectum as an enema. An X-ray of the abdomen shows strictures (narrowed areas), obstructions (blockages), and other problems.

Lumbar puncture (also called spinal tap) - a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.

Lumpectomy - surgery to remove the cancerous lump and a portion of normal tissue around the breast cancer lump. The surgeon may also remove some of the lymph nodes under the arm to determine if the cancer has spread.

Lycopene - a carotenoid phytochemical that is found in ripe fruits, especially tomatoes.

Lymph - part of the lymphatic system; a thin, clear fluid that circulates through the lymphatic vessels and carries blood cells that fight infection and disease.

Lymphedema - a disorder in which lymph accumulates in the soft tissues, resulting in swelling. Lymphedema may be caused by inflammation, obstruction, or removal of the lymph nodes during surgery.

Lymphoma - cancer growing in the lymphatic system (which produces white cells and cleans body fluids).

Lymph nodes - part of the lymphatic system; small, bean-shaped organs, found throughout the body, that act as filters for the lymph fluid as it passes through them.

Lymph vessels - part of the lymphatic system; thin tubes that carry lymph fluid throughout the body.

Lymphangiogram (LAG) - an imaging study that can detect cancer cells or abnormalities in the lymphatic system and structures. It involves a dye being injected to the lymph system.

Lymphatic system - part of the immune system; includes lymph, ducts, organs, lymph vessels, lymphocytes, and lymph nodes, whose function is to produce and carry white blood cells to fight disease and infection.

Lymphocytes - part of the lymphatic system; white blood cells that fight infection and disease.

Lymphocytic leukemia - a type of leukemia in which the cancer develops in the white blood cells called lymphocytes (lymphoid cells).


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

Malignant - a term used to describe cancerous tumors that tend to grow rapidly, can invade and destroy nearby normal tissues, and can spread to other parts of the body.

Malignant melanoma - a rare, but sometimes deadly skin cancer that may begin as a mole that turns cancerous.

Mammogram - low-dose X-ray of the breast used to detect small growths.

Markers - known DNA sequences used to track a gene in a family.

Medical oncologist - a physician who is specially trained to diagnose and treat cancer with chemotherapy and other medications.

Meiosis - the cell division process that eggs and sperm go through which halves the chromosome number from 46 to 23.

Mendel - an Austrian monk who performed experiments on garden peas to understand inheritance patterns.

Metabolism - a term used to describe how the body converts food to energy, and then gets rid of waste products.

Metastasis - the spread of tumor cells to other areas of the body.

Microsatellites - repeated, set lengths of sequences of DNA present in everyone.

Microsatellite instability (MSI) - when microsatellites accumulate DNA errors in somatic cells, leading to a change in length (number of repeats).

Mismatch-repair gene - a gene whose job is to correct naturally occurring “spelling” errors in DNA.

Modified radical mastectomy - the removal of the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and the overlying skin), some of the lymph nodes under the arm (also called the axillary lymph nodes), and the lining over the chest muscles. In some cases, part of the chest wall muscles is also removed.

Monoclonal antibodies - manufactured versions of immune system proteins that can locate and bind to specific antigens, such as those on cancer cells wherever they are in the body.

Molecule - a chemical made of atoms, the basis for proteins and DNA.

Molecular heterogeneity - when a disorder is caused by mutations in more than one gene, it is said to be molecularly heterogeneous.

Moles - small skin marks caused by pigment-producing cells in the skin.

Mucous membrane - a thin, moist, layer of tissue that covers or lines some parts of the body, such as the mouth, nose, and lungs.

Mucositis (also called stomatitis) - an irritation or ulceration of the lining (mucosa) of the digestive tract -- particularly the tongue, mouth, and throat. Mucositis is often caused by chemotherapy.

Multifactorial - an inheritance pattern involving both genetic and environmental factors.

Mutations - a change in the usual DNA sequence of a particular gene that prevents the gene from working normally. Not all changes in genes are mutations. Some changes are beneficial, neutral, or normal variants (such as the changes that lead to different eye colors).

Myelogenous leukemia - a type of leukemia in which the cancer develops in the white blood cells called granulocytes or monocytes (myeloid cells).

Myelogram - an X-ray of the spine, similar to an angiogram.

Myeloma - cancer that starts in the plasma cells.

Myeloproliferative disorders - diseases in which the bone marrow produces too many of one of the three types of blood cells: red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all the tissues in the body; white blood cells, which fight infection; and platelets, which makes blood clot.

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