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Basic Breast Cancer Vocabulary

Medical Terms To Know As You Start Your Journey


Updated September 29, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Here's a list of some medical terms that may be new to you. You might be hearing a lot of these during your initial oncology consultations, so bone up on some of these terms. They will come in handy when you're trying to understand your diagnosis or your test results.

Adjuvant - Treatments provided after breast surgery to insure there is no recurrence in the breast, nodes or other parts of the body.

Aspirate - A technique used to remove non-solid materials such as fluid or gas from the body.

Atypia - A benign condition with the potential to develop into cancer.

Benign - This describes anything that is not cancer, and is not malignant.

BRCA Gene - Two different genes that prevent critical damage to the DNA which could result in cancer formation.

Carcinoma - The malignant growth of cells. Synonymous with "cancer."

Chemotherapy - The use of medicines to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells.

Cyst - A balloon-like sac filled with fluid, gas, or semisolid substances.

Duct - A small, tube-shaped part of the body that carries fluids like breast milk.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) - A pre-invasive condition in which cancer cells have not obtained the ability to grow out of the breast ducts.

Early stage breast cancer - Any breast cancer that is operable.

Estrogen - A hormone that promotes the development of female characteristics in the body.

Estrogen receptor status - Breast cancers are diagnosed as either positive or negative for estrogen receptors, which affects treatment options.

Fibroadenoma - A benign breast tumor composed of mixed fibrous and glandular tissue.

Fibrocystic breast changes - Benign cysts in the breast.

Hyperplasia occurs when cells within an organ or tissue grow larger and faster than expected.

In situ - A Latin phrase meaning in one place

Invasive - Defines when a cancer has acquired the ability to leave it's normal tissue of origin, for example the ducts of the breast.

Lobes - Glands which are part of the milk production system within your breast.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) - A precancerous condition that can develop in the lining of the breast lobes.

Lumpectomy - A surgery intended TO remove only the tumor and a small amount of surrounding normal tissue.

Lymph nodes - Small bean-shaped parts of the lymphatic system responsible for providing a staging ground for immune responses to fight cancer or infections.

Lymphedema - swelling of the arm, a side effect experienced by less than 20 percent of patients after lymph node removal. Early signs of lymphedema are a feeling of tightness in the arm, pain or aching in the arm, swelling of the arm, and loss of movement or f lexibility in the arm. One of the first signs patients notice is that rings or sleeves no longer fit.

Malignant - Synonymous with aggressive cancer.

Mammogram - an X-ray of the soft tissue of the breast.

Margin - A surgical margin or radiation margin is a layer of healthy tissue between the tumor site and surrounding tissue.

Mastectomy - Surgical procedures to remove all of the breast - there are 4 types of mastectomy.

Metastasize - The spread of cancer from the origin tissue to other parts of the body.

Oncology - The study and treatment of cancer.

Oncologist - A person who studies and treats cancer.

Pathology - The science of studying the nature of a disease.

Port - A surgically implanted device that streamlines blood draws and infusions without repeated needle sticks.

Progesterone - An important female hormone.

Radiation - The use of X-ray energy to kill cancer cells.

Recurrence - The reappearance of cancer after treatment.

Remission - A condition in which symptoms of a disease are reduced or no longer detectable.

Sarcoma - A type of tumor that is found in connective tissue.

Sentinel Node Biopsy - A surgical diagnostic procedure done to remove a small sample of lymph nodes to which the tumor may be shedding cells.

Ultrasound - Medical imaging that uses sound waves to make pictures of soft tissues.

X-rays - A type of high energy used in medical imaging to identify locations of diseases within the body.

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