Breast Cancer Glossary



Abscess (AB-sess)

An area of tissue that contains pus (thick fluid, often pale yellow or yellow-green). Abcesses are often caused by bacterial infections.


Adjuvant therapy (AD-ju-vant)

Treatment given in addition to the primary treatment to enhance the effectiveness of the primary treatment.


Advanced cancer
Cancer that has spread from the primary site (such as the breast) to other parts of the body (such as the lymph nodes or other organs).


Alopecia (A-la-PEE-sha)
Hair loss, which often occurs as a result of chemotherapy and is almost always temporary.


Anesthesia (A-nuss-THEE-zha)
Drugs or gases that cause a loss of consciousness. "Local" or "regional" anesthesia causes loss of feeling to a certain area rather than the whole body.


Antiestrogen (AN-tee ESS-troe-jen)
A substance that blocks the effects of the hormone estrogen on tumors.


Areola (a-REE-oe-la)
The area of dark-colored skin that surrounds the nipple.


Aspiration (as-per-AY-shun)
Removal of fluid from a cyst, using a needle.


Atypical hyperplasia (hy-per-PLAY-zha)
A benign (noncancerous) condition in which breast tissue has certain abnormal features. This condition increases the risk of developing breast cancer.


Axilla (ak-SIL-a)
The underarm.


Axillary node dissection (AK-si-LER-ee)
A procedure in which lymph nodes in the armpit are removed to find out if breast cancer has spread to them.



Benign (bee-NINE)
Not cancerous; does not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body.


Relating to both sides of the body. Bilateral breast cancer means that cancer is in both breasts.


Biological therapy (by-o-LOJ-i-kal)
The use of 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. Also called immunotherapy.


Biopsy (BY-op-see)
The removal of a sample of tissue, which is then examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Excisional biopsy is surgery to remove an entire lump and a margin of normal tissue surrounding it. In incisional biopsy, which is done less frequently for breast tumors, the surgeon removes part of the tumor. Removal of tissue with a needle is called a needle biopsy.


Bone marrow
The soft, spongelike material inside some bones. Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.


Bone marrow transplantation (tranz-plan-TAY-shun)
A procedure in which doctors replace marrow destroyed by high doses of anticancer drugs or radiation. The replacement marrow may be taken from the patient before treatment or may be donated by another person. When the patient's own marrow is used, the procedure is called autologous (aw-TAHL-o-gus) bone marrow transplantation.


BRCA1 and BRCA2, or Breast Cancer Genes 1 and 2
Two genes that, when damaged or mutated, place women at greater risk for developing breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer. Women with BRCA mutations have up to an 85% chance of developing breast cancer (the average person without a mutated gene has about a 12% risk) and a 40% to 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Genetic testing and counseling is often recommended for women who have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer.


Breast cancer in situ (in SY-too)

Very early or noninvasive abnormal cells that are confined to the duct (DCIS) or lobules (LCIS) of the breast.


Breast exam
Procedure in which your doctor manually examines your breasts to check for lumps and changes in your skin's texture or appearance. You can perform your own breast exams (in addition to regular exams by your physician) by checking your breasts with your fingers to spot any abnormalities or changes.


Breast implant
A silicone gel-filled or saline-filled sac inserted under the chest muscle to restore breast shape.


Breast reconstruction
Surgery to rebuild the breast after a mastectomy, using an implant or a woman's own body tissue.



Calcifications (KAL-si-fi-KAY-shuns)
Small calcium deposits in the breast typically discovered through mammography. They can be caused by noncancerous breast conditions or by breast cancer.


A term for more than 100 diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control. Cancer cells can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.


Carcinogen (kar-SIN-oe-jin)

A substance that causes or contributes to the growth of cancer.


Carcinoma (kar-sin-OE-ma) Cancer that begins in the lining or covering of an organ.


Chemotherapy (kee-moe-THER-a-pee)
Treatment with anticancer drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells; also used to shrink tumors before surgery.


Clear margins
An area of normal tissue that surrounds cancerous tissue, as seen during examination under a microscope.


Clinical trials
Research studies that involve patients. Each study is designed to answer scientific questions and to find better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose or treat cancer.


Colony-stimulating factors
Substances that stimulate the production of blood cells. Treatment with colony-stimulating factors can help cells in the bone marrow recover from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


Computed tomography, a.k.a. "CT" or "CAT" scan
Multiple X-rays are taken to produce cross-sectional images of internal organs.


Cyst (sist)
A sac or capsule filled with fluid.



DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ)
Abnormal cells that involve only the lining of a milk duct.


The process of finding a disease through different screening techniques.


The process in which a disease is identified through signs, symptoms and different tests.


Digital mammography (ma-MA-gra-fee)
A digital mammogram is the same as a traditional mammogram, but the X-ray itself is a digital image, which can show small tissue abnormalities more accurately. Recent research has shown that digital mammography can spot up to 27% more cancers in women with dense breasts or a history of calcifications or breast disease.


Discharge (from the nipple)
Fluid coming from the nipple. Clear, white, green or yellow discharges are usually noncancerous. Bloody, watery, red, pink, brown or black nipple discharge may be a sign of cancer. All discharge should be brought to the attention of a doctor.


A tube in the breast through which milk passes from the lobes to the nipple.


Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) (DUK-tull KAR-sin-OE-ma in SY-too)
Cancer cells that start in the milk passages (ducts) but have not spread to surrounding breast tissue. Often referred to as Stage 0, DCIS is highly curable.



Estrogen (ES-troe-jin)
A female hormone that can help some breast tumors grow.


Estrogen Receptor Test
Lab test to determine if breast cancer depends on estrogen for growth.


Excisional biopsy (ik-SI-zhin-ull)
Procedure in which a breast lump and in some cases surrounding tissue is removed.



Fibrocystic change (FIE-broe-SIS-tik)
Noncancerous changes in the breasts that cause pain, cysts, lumps and tenderness.



Gene (JEEN)
A segment of DNA that contains information on hereditary characteristics, such as hair color and susceptibility to certain diseases (including breast cancer). Women who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations have a genetic tendency to develop breast cancer.


Gynecologist (guy-ni-KOL-o-jist)
A doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the female reproductive organs.



Hair follicle (FOL-i-kul)
A sac in the skin from which hair grows.


Hysterectomy (HISS-ta-REK-ta-mee)
An operation to remove the uterus.


Chemicals produced by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Hormones control the actions of certain tissues or organs.


Hormone therapy
Treatment of cancer by removing, blocking or adding to the effects of a hormone on an organ or a part of the body.



The inability to have children.


Infiltrating or invasive breast cancer
Cancer that has spread beyond the layer of tissue in which it developed to nearby tissue, lymph nodes under the arm or other parts of the body.


Inflammatory breast cancer
A rare type of breast cancer in which cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. The breast becomes red, swollen and warm, and the skin of the breast may appear pitted or have ridges.


In situ (in SY-too)
Literally "in place." It refers to cancer within the original breast tissue that has not yet spread to other tissues.


Intravenous (IV) (IN-tra-VEE-niss)
A needle is inserted into a vein in order to provide fluids and medications through the blood stream.


Invasive cancer
Cancer that has spread beyond the area in which it originally developed.


Invasive ductal carcinoma (DUK-tull KAR-sin-OE-ma)
A cancer that originates in the breast's milk ducts and then invades fatty tissue in the breast. The most common type of breast cancer.


Invasive lobular carcinoma (LOB-yu-lerr KAR-sin-OE-ma)
Also called infiltrating lobular carcinoma. A cancer that originates in the milk-producing lobules, or glands, of the breast and then invades adjacent fatty tissue.



Latissimus dorsi flap procedure (luh-TISS-uh-miss DOOR-see)
A type of breast reconstruction in which the muscles of the back are brought to the chest area in order to create the appearance of breast tissue.


LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ)
Abnormal cells in the lobules of the breast; a sign that a woman is at increased risk of developing breast cancer.


Lobe, lobule
Located at the end of a breast duct, the part of the breast where milk is made. Each breast contains 15 to 20 lobes, each with many smaller lobules.


Local therapy
Treatment that affects cells in the tumor and the area close to it.


Lumpectomy (lump-EK-toe-mee)
Surgery to remove only the cancerous breast lump and some normal tissue around it; usually followed by radiation therapy.


Lymph (limf)
The almost colorless fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and carries cells that help fight infection and disease.


Lymph nodes
Small, bean-shaped organs located along the channels of the lymphatic system. Bacteria or cancer cells that enter the lymphatic system may be found in the nodes. Also called lymph glands.


Lymphatic system (lim-FAT-ik)
The system that removes wastes from body tissues and filters the fluids that help the body fight infection.


Lymphedema (lim-fa-DEE-ma)
Swelling in the arm caused by extra fluid that may collect when underarm lymph nodes are removed during surgery or damaged by radiation.



Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A technique in which magnetic fields and radio waves create three-dimensional images of breast tissue. The procedure takes up to an hour, during which time the patient lies on her stomach with her breasts hanging into a cushioned area where the MRI images are taken. It's recommended primarily for women at a high risk for breast cancer.


Malignant (ma-LIG-nant)
Cancerous; can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.


Mammogram (MA-mo-gram)
An X-ray of the breast.


Mammography (ma-MO-gra-fee)
The use of X-rays to create a picture of the breast.


A group of cells tightly clustered together. Masses can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).


Mastectomy (ma-STEK-to-mee)
Surgery to remove the breast (or as much of the breast as possible).


Menopause (ME-no-poz)
The permanent end of menstruation in a woman caused by a decrease in ovarian production of estrogen and progesterone for 12 consecutive months.


Menstrual cycle (MEN-stroo-al)
The hormone changes that lead up to a woman's period. For most women, one cycle takes 28 days.


Metastasis (meh-TAS-ta-sis)
The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. Cells that have metastasized are similar to those in the original (primary) tumor.


Microcalcifications (MY-krow-kal-si-fi-KA-shunz)
Tiny deposits of calcium in the breast that cannot be felt but can be detected by a mammogram. A cluster of these very small specks of calcium may indicate that cancer is present.


Multicentric breast cancer (MULL-tee-SEN-trik)
Breast cancer that occurs in multiple areas of the breast.



Needle biopsy (BY-op-see)
Procedure in which a physician uses a needle to remove fluid, cells or tissue, which is then examined under a microscope.


Noninvasive breast cancer (NON-in-VAY-siv)
The type of cancer in which cancer cells are confined to the breast ducts only and have not invaded other breast tissue.



Oncologist (on-KO-lo-jist)
A doctor who specializes in treating cancer.


Ovaries (O-va-reez)
The pair of female reproductive organs that produce eggs and hormones.



Palpation (pal-PAY-shun)
A simple technique in which a doctor presses on the surface of the body to feel the organs or tissues underneath.


Pathologist (pa-THOL-o-jist)
A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.


The National Cancer Institute's computer database that contains up-to-date cancer information for scientists, health professionals, parents and the public.


Peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (pe-RI-fe-ral)
A method for replacing bone marrow destroyed by cancer treatment. Certain cells (stem cells) in the blood that are similar to those in bone marrow are removed from the patient's blood before treatment. The cells are given back to the patient after treatment to help the bone marrow recover and continue producing healthy blood cells.


The part of a blood cell that helps prevent bleeding by causing blood clots to form at the site of an injury.


Cells that have abnormal structures or changes that signal a higher than average risk of developing into cancer.


Primary cancer
The site where cancer begins. In the case of breast cancer, even if cancer spreads to the lymph nodes and lungs, the primary cancer is considered breast cancer.


A female hormone that is one of the hormones that can help some breast cancers grow.


Prognosis (prog-NO-sis)
The probable outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery.


Prosthesis (pros-THEE-sis)
An artificial replacement of a body part. A breast prosthesis is a breast form worn under clothing.


Radiation therapy (ray-dee-AY-shun)
Treatment with high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. External radiation therapy uses a machine located outside the body to aim high-energy rays at the cancer. Implant radiation is a treatment that places radioactive material in the breast in thin plastic tubes.


Radiologist (ray-dee-AH-lo-jist)
A doctor who specializes in creating and interpreting pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are produced with X-rays, sound waves or other types of energy.


Disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer. When this happens, the disease is said to be in remission. A remission can be temporary or permanent.


Risk factor
Something that increases a person's chance of developing a disease.



Saline breast implant
A breast implant filled with a salt-water solution.


The search for a disease, including cancer. Mammography is the primary screening method for breast cancer.


Sentinel lymph node
The first lymph node (or nodes) to which cancer cells spread after leaving the area of the primary tumor. Presence of cancer cells in this node alerts the doctor that the tumor has spread to the lymphatic system.


The extent of the cancer. The stage of breast cancer depends on the size of the cancer and whether it has spread from its original site to other parts of the body.


Stem cells
The immature cells in blood and bone marrow from which all mature blood cells develop.


An operation.


Survival rate
The percentage of people who live a certain period of time.


Systemic disease (siss-TEM-ik)
Cancer that originated in one area and has since spread to distant sites, such as the lungs, liver or bones.


Systemic therapy (sis-TE-mik)
Treatment that reaches and affects cells throughout the body.



A pill that has been used for more than 20 years to treat breast cancer patients. It works against the cancer by interfering with the activity of the estrogen, a female hormone that promotes the growth of breast cancer cells.


Thermography (ther-MO-gra-fee)
A test that measures and displays heat patterns of tissues near the surface of the breast. Abnormal tissue generally is warmer than healthy tissue. This technique is under study; its value in detecting breast cancer has not been proven.


Tissue (TISH-oo)
A group or layer of cells that together perform a specific function.


Tissue flap reconstruction
A flap of tissues is surgically relocated from another area of the body to the chest and formed into a new breast mound.


Transverse rectus abdominus muscle flap procedure, a.k.a. a TRAM flap
(TRANZ-vers REK-tiss ab-DOM-i-niss)
A type of breast reconstruction in which tissue from the lower abdominal wall is used to re-create a breast.


Triple Negative Breast Cancer*
A subtype of breast cancer where none of the three typical types of receptors are detected. These receptors are estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) and are helpful in treatment because they can be use for direct targeting of the cancer.


An abnormal mass of tissue that results from excessive cell division.



Ultrasonography (ul-tra-so-NO-gra-fee)
A test in which sound waves are bounced off tissues and the echoes are converted into a picture (a sonogram). These pictures are shown on a monitor that's similar to a TV screen. Tissues of different densities vary in the picture because they reflect sound waves differently. A sonogram can show whether a breast lump is a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass.



High-energy radiation. It is used in low doses to diagnose diseases and in high doses to treat cancer.




* Source: Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation




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