Breast Cancer: Terms You Need to Know

Health Monitor Staff
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Absolute neutrophil count: A measure of the number of neutrophils—a type of white blood cell that fights infection—in the blood. The count can show if a person has an infection, inflammation, leukemia or other conditions. Chemotherapy can sometimes lower a person’s absolute neutrophil count.

Adjuvant therapy:
"Add-on" treatment (e.g., chemotherapy, radiation, hormone or biological therapy) aimed at killing stray cancer cells; typically it follows surgery.

Alopecia: Hair loss, a common side effect of chemotherapy

Anemia: A condition in which the body has too few red blood cells

Antiemetic: A drug that controls (or even prevents) nausea and vomiting, a common side effect of chemotherapy

Aromatase inhibitors: Drugs that reduce the female hormone estrogen; often given to postmenopausal women with hormone-dependent breast cancer before or after tamoxifen

Biological therapy:
Treatments targeting a specific molecule in cancer cell growth or survival; used to strengthen the immune system and lessen side effects of other treatments

Biopsy: Removal and examination of tissues, cells or fluids to determine if disease is present

Blood cell count: A test that checks the number of red and white blood cells and platelets in your blood

Carcinomas: Solid tumors that start on surfaces of the body and in the lining of glands, such as the breast, lung and ovary. Often, the term adenocarcinoma is used.

Colony-stimulating factors: White blood cell boosters

Complementary therapy: Alternative treatments that are used in addition to conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is not used as a replacement for regular therapy.

Granulocyte: A type of white blood cell that fights bacteria and infections. Types of granulocytes are basophils, eosinophils and neutrophils.

Hormonal therapy: Drug treatment that works against hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Hormonal therapy can treat breast cancers in one of two ways: by lowering the amount of the hormone estrogen in the body or by blocking the action of estrogen on breast cancer cells.

Imaging studies: Tests that use a magnetic field or radio waves to produce images of the body’s inside. Imaging studies for cancer include X-rays, CAT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound.

Infusion: Intravenous delivery of meds or fluids

Intravenous: Given through a vein

Leukocyte: A white blood cell, including neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes and lymphocytes

Lymphangiogram (LAG): A test in which you are injected with a dye, then given an X-ray to examine your lymphatic system.

Lymphedema: Swelling (often in the arm) from fluid buildup after lymph nodes are surgically removed or treated with radiation.

Malignant: Cancerous

Mastectomy: A surgical procedure that involves removing the whole breast, which can help prevent the spread of cancer.

Metastasis: Spread of cancer cells, through blood or lymph, from the primary tumor to other parts of the body.

Neutropenia: A condition marked by low levels of white blood cells called neutrophils, which makes a person more vulnerable to infection. Chemotherapy can sometimes cause neutropenia.

Peripheral neuropathy: Nerve damage in the hands and/or feet, which can cause pain or numbness. Peripheral neuropathy can sometimes be a side effect of cancer treatments.

January 2013