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Glossary

Adjuvant therapy
Adjuvant therapy is additional cancer treatment given after the primary treatment to lower the risk that the cancer will come back. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or biological therapy.

Cancer
A term for disease in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. There are several main types of cancer. Carcinoma is a cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs. Sarcoma is a cancer that begins in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, or other connective or supportive tissue. Leukemia is a cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow, and causes large numbers of abnormal blood cells to be produced and enter the blood. Lymphoma and multiple myeloma are cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system. Central nervous system cancers are cancers that begin in the tissues of the brain and spinal cord.

Clinical trials
Clinical trials allow modern medicine to meet the challenge of finding new, improved treatments. Clinical trials mean our patients have access to drugs years before they become standard and that we can find out what works and doesn’t work, not only for the patients in the trials but for the next generation of people diagnosed with cancer.

CT scan
A computed tomography scan (CT scan) is a standard way of assessing many parts of the body. It creates a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body taken from different angles. The pictures are created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine.

ECG
An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a routine recording of the electrical activity of the heart. It is often done as a baseline assessment before treatment begins.

Hemoglobin
The hemoglobin is the red pigment that carries oxygen throughout the body, if the hemoglobin is low (anemia) you may feel tired or short of breath.

Linear accelerator
A large machine that precisely delivers high energy x-rays to the tumour area. Many of our linear accelerators use image guidance (IGRT) to accurately set up or place the patient for each treatment. Many other types of studies or scans such as MRI, CT and PET are used in the planning process to create an individual radiation treatment plan. The combining of many types of scans to make an individual plan and the use of IGRT is considered a gold standard in radiation treatment, allowing higher doses to the tumor while reducing side effects at the same time.

Lymph nodes
Lymph nodes are the local filtering stations:  in most cancers (but not all) they are the first sites for spread. In most cases, whether or not the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes is a major factor in deciding how aggressive it is likely to be.

Metastasis
Metastasis is the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumour formed by cells that have spread is called a “metastatic tumour” or a “metastasis.”  The metastatic tumour contains cells that are like those in the original (primary) tumour. The plural form of metastasis is metastases (meh-TAS-tuh-SEEZ).

MRI
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to
create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue.

MUGA
A MUGA scan (Multi Gated Acquisition Scan) measures the percentage of blood in the heart that is ejected with each heart-beat. It roughly measures the strength of the heartbeat. A few chemotherapy drugs can weaken the strength of the heartbeat. This test can detect that early. Often a baseline MUGA is done to see how strong your heartbeat is before treatment starts.

Neoadjuvant therapy
Neoadjuvant therapy is a treatment given as a first step to shrink a tumor before the main treatment, thus making the procedures easier and more likely to succeed. Examples of neoadjuvant therapy include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy.

Neutrophil
A neutrophil is a type of white blood cell that is one of the first cell types to travel to the site of an infection. Neutrophils help fight infection by ingesting microorganisms and releasing enzymes that kill the microorganisms.

Oncology
Oncology is the study and treatment of cancer. Doctors who specialize in oncology are called oncologists.

Palliative care
Palliative care is given to improve the quality of life for a person whose disease cannot be cured. It provides comfort and support for the patient and family with goals of easing pain, managing other symptoms and clearing the mind.

PET imaging
Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging technology is a procedure in which a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is
injected into a vein, and a scanner is used to make detailed, computerized pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is used. Because cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells, the pictures can be used to find cancer cells in the body. PET imaging can detect smaller tumors than previously possible.

Platelets
The platelets are small components of the blood that are major factors in forming blood clots. Low platelets may make you susceptible to bruises or bleeding.

Prophylactic surgery
Prophylactic surgery is surgery to remove an organ or gland that shows no signs of cancer, in an attempt to prevent development of cancer of that organ or gland. Prophylactic surgery is sometimes chosen by people who know they are at a high risk for developing cancer.

TNM staging system
The TNM staging system is used for staging most types of cancer. “T” describes the size of the tumor and whether it has invaded nearby tissue. “N” describes whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and “M” describes whether cancer has metastasized.

Ultrasound
An ultrasound uses very high frequency sound waves to examine internal organs.

White cells
A type of immune cell. White blood cells help the body fight infections and other diseases. Low white cells may make you particularly susceptible to infection and fever, and may be cause to delay chemotherapy.

©2010 Alberta Cancer Foundation