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Abscess:  The collection of pus in a cavity formed by the disintegration of tissues.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS):  A viral disease that destroys the body’s ability to fight infections, leaving the body susceptible to many other diseases.

Acute:  A sudden onset of symptoms or disease.

Adrenal glands:  Two small organs near the kidneys that release hormones affecting various body functions.

Alopecia:  The loss of hair. This can include all body hair as well as scalp hair.

Analgesic:  A drug that relieves pain. Aspirin and acetaminophen are mild analgesics.

Anemia:  Having fewer-than-normal red blood cells, which causes symptoms of tiredness, shortness of breath and weakness.

Anorexia:  The loss of appetite. Many people affected by cancer lose their appetite because of illness or therapies used to treat the disease.

Antibody:  A substance formed by the body to help defend it against infection.

Antiemetic:  A drug that prevents or controls nausea and vomiting.

Antifungal:  A medicine used to treat fungal infections.

Antigen:  Any foreign substance that causes the body’s natural antibodies to form.

Antihormones:  Drugs used to block the action of hormones that stimulate cancer growth.

Antineoplastic:  A drug that prevents, kills or blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Arrhythmia:  Irregular heartbeat.

Aspiration:  The process of removing fluid from a specific body area, often performed for diagnostic purposes.

Autoimmunity:  A condition in which the body’s immune system fights and rejects itself.

Axilla:  The armpit.

Axillary nodes:  Lymph nodes - also called lymph glands - found in the armpit (axilla).


Barium enema:  A milky solution (barium sulfate) given by enema to allow x-ray examination of the lower intestinal tract.

Benign:  A swelling or growth that is not cancerous, does not spread from one part of the body to another and is usually not dangerous.

Biopsy:  The surgical removal of tissue for microscopic examination in order to determine whether cancer cells are present.

Blood cells:  Cells that make up the blood. They are created in the bone marrow and consist of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Blood count:  The number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in a sample of blood.

Bone marrow:  The spongy material found inside bones. Most blood cells are made in the bone marrow.

Bone marrow biopsy anti aspiration:  The procedure by which a needle is inserted into a bone to remove a sample of bone marrow.

Bone marrow suppression:  A decrease in the number of blood cells made. This condition can be caused by chemotherapy, radiation and disease.

Bone marrow transplant:  The addition of a solution of a donor’s bone marrow into a person whose own bone marrow can no longer make normal blood cells.

Bone scan:  A picture of the bones created by using a radioactive dye that shows any injury, disease or healing. This is a valuable test to determine if cancer has spread to the bone, if anticancer therapy has been successful and if affected bony areas are healing.

Breast self-examination (BSE):  A simple, monthly examination of the breasts that all women should perform themselves to detect early stages of cancer or other problems.

Bronchi:  Larger air passages of the lungs.

Bronchoscopy:  The insertion of a flexible, lighted tube through the mouth into the lungs to let a physician look at the lungs and bronchi.


Cancer:  A disease in which malignant cells grow out of control and spread to other parts of the body if not stopped in time.

Cancer in-situ:  The stage when cancer is still confined to the tissue in which it started.

Candidiasis:  A common fungal infection often seen as white patches on the tongue or on the inside of the cheeks.

Carcinogen:  Something that causes cancer. For example, cigarettes contain carcinogens that cause lung cancer.

Carcinoma:  A kind of cancer that starts in the skin or in the lining of organs. Lungs, intestines and the uterus are hollow organs where a carcinoma often begins.

Adenocarcinoma:  A cancer of glandular cells of the body.

Basal cell carcinoma:  The most common type of skin cancer.

Bronchogenic carcinoma:  A cancer originating in the lungs or bronchi.

Cervical carcinoma:  A cancer of the cervix (neck of the uterus).

Endometrial carcinoma:  A cancer of the lining of the uterus.

Large cell carcinoma:  A type of bronchogenic carcinoma. Cancer in the lung.

Oat cell or small cell carcinoma:  Another type of bronchogenic carcinoma.

Squamous cell carcinoma (epidermoid):  Cancer of the skin or on the surfaces of other structures, such as the mouth, cervix or lungs.

Cardiomegaly:  Enlargement of the heart.

CAT scan:  See Tomography.

CEA (Carcinoembryonic antigen):  A blood tumour marker” that may indicate the presence of cancer cells. Since this test is not 100% accurate, it is often used as a warning that further tests maybe needed.

Cellulitis:  Inflammation of the skin and underlying tissue.

Cervical nodes:  Lymph nodes in the neck.

Cervix:  The neck of the uterus.

Chemotherapy:  The treatment of disease with drugs.

Adjuvant chemotherapy:  Chemotherapy given usually after all detectable tumour is removed by surgery or radiotherapy in order to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Combination chemotherapy:  The use of more than one drug during cancer treatments.

Chronic:  Persisting over a long period of time. Chronic diseases progress slowly, are continuous or recur over long periods of time.

Colonoscopy:  A technique for looking at the colon or large bowel through a lighted, flexible tube.

Colostomy:  A surgical procedure by which an opening is created between the colon and the outside of the abdomen so the person can pass stool into a collection bag.

Colposcopy:  Examination of the vagina and cervix with an instrument called a colposcope.

Congestive heart failure:  The failure of the heart to pump blood adequately, causing a buildup of fluids in the lungs and/or extremities, especially the legs.

Consultation:  The review of a person’s medical history, tests, x-rays and/or pathology slides to determine the need for treatment.

Cortisone:  A natural but also a synthetic steroid hormone that is used to treat inflammatory conditions and diseases as well as certain cancers.

Cyst:  An accumulation of fluid or semisolid material within a sac.

Cystitis:  Inflammation of the bladder caused by bacteria, chemotherapy or radiation treatments.


Drug-resistance:  The ability of cancer cells to resist the effects of a specific drug.

Dysphagia:  Difficult or painful swallowing.

Dyspnea:  Difficult or painful breathing. Shortness of breath.

Dysuria:  Difficult or painful urination.


Edema:  Swelling or accumulation of fluid in part of the body.

Effusion:  A collection of fluid in a body cavity, usually between two adjoining tissues. For example, a pleural effusion is the collection of fluid between the lung and pleura (the lung’s lining).

Electrocardiogram (EKO or EGG):  A test that makes recordings of the electrical impulses of the heart. Abnormal recordings may indicate forms of heart disease.

Endoscopy:  A method of looking at the inside of body cavities, such as the esophagus (food pipe) or trachea (windpipe). The doctor is able to take photographs, obtain small samples of tissue or remove small growths during the procedure. The instrument used is an endoscope.

Erythema:  Redness of the skin.

Erythrocyte:  A red blood cell. It carries oxygen to body cells and carbon dioxide away from body cells.

Esophagitis:  An inflammatory response of the esophageal lining that may lead to infection, difficulty swallowing, bleeding or ulceration.

Estrogen:  A female hormone produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands.

Estrogen receptor assay (ER assay):  A test that determines whether breast cancer is stimulated by the hormone estrogen.

Excision:  Surgical removal of tissue from the body, including cancerous growths.

Extravasation:  The leaking of a vesicant drug or intravenous fluids or medications into tissue surrounding the infusion site. Extravasation during chemotherapy may cause tissue damage.


Fistula:  An abnormal opening between two areas of the body.


Gastrointestinal:  Pertaining to the stomach and intestine.

Glandular:  Pertaining to or of the nature of a gland.

Granulocyte:  A type of white blood cell that kills bacteria.


Hematocrit (Hct):  The percentage of red blood cells in the body. A low hematocrit indicates anemia.

Hematologist:  A doctor who specializes in problems of the blood and bone marrow.

Hematology:  The science that studies the blood.

Hematuria:  Blood in the urine.

Hemoculture (Guaiac test):  A test that checks for hidden blood not easily seen in the stool.

Herpes simplex:  The most common virus causing sores often seen around the mouth (usually called cold sores).

Herpes zoster (shingles):  Adult chicken pox caused by a virus that settles around certain nerves and causes swelling and pain.

Hickman catheter:  Special intravenous tubing that is surgically inserted into a large vein near the heart. The end of the catheter is tunneled under the skin and pulled out through an opening in the chest. A rubber cap allows medications, fluids or blood products to be given through the tubing.

Hodgkin’s disease:  Cancer of the lymph nodes. See Lymphoma.

Hormone:  A chemical substance, produced in the body, that has a specific regulatory effect on the activity of a certain organ.

Synthetic steroid hormone:  An artificially-produced compound that has the same activity of those produced by the adrenal cortex, testis, ovary and placenta.

Hospice:  A place or program that cares for the dying patient. Also helps family and friends care for a dying loved one and cope with the loss following death.

Hyperalimentation:  The intravenous feeding of highly nutritious solutions to support a person who cannot eat enough to live. Also called TFN (Total Parenteral Nutrition).


Ileostomy:  A surgical opening in the abdomen where the small intestine comes out to allow stool to be passed into a collection bag.

Immunity (immune system):  The body’s ability to fight infections and disease.

Immunosuppression:  When the body’s immune system is weakened and therefore less able to fight infections and disease.

Immunotherapy:  Artificial stimulation of the body’s immune system to treat or fight disease.

Infiltration:  Leaking of fluid or medicines into tissues, which can cause swelling.

Infusion:  Delivering fluids or medications into the blood stream over a period of time.

Infusion pump:  A device that delivers measured amounts of fluids or medications into the blood stream over a period of time.

Injection:  Pushing a medication into the body with the use of a syringe and needle.

Intramuscular (IM):  Into the muscle.

Intravenous (IV):  Into the vein.

Interferon:  A natural chemical released by the body in response to viral infections.


Laryngectomy:  Surgical removal of the larynx.

Larynx:  The upper part of the windpipe.

Lesion:  A lump or abscess that may be caused by injury or disease, such as cancer.

Leukemia:  Cancer of the blood. White blood cells are produced in excessive amounts and are unable to work properly.

Leukocyte:  See White blood cells.

Leukopenia:  A low number of white blood cells.

Lumpectomy:  See Mastectomy - Segmental mastectomy

Lymphangiogram:  A test to look at the lymph nodes in the abdomen to see if they are cancer-free.

Lymphatic system:  A general term that includes lymph nodes, lymph and lymph vessels.

Lymphedema:  Swelling caused by obstructed cancerous lymph nodes or following surgical removal of lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes:  Hundreds of small oval bodies that contain lymph. Lymph nodes act as the first line of defence against infection and cancer.

Lymphocytes:  White blood cells that kill viruses and defend against the invasion of foreign material.

Lymphoma:  Cancer of the lymphatic system. Doctors identify lymphomas by the type of cell that makes up the tumour. Treatments are selected based on the type of cell involved.

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