Cancer glossary

Adjuvant therapy

An adjuvant agent modifies the effect of another agent, and adjuvant therapy thus modifies the effect of another therapy.

Adjuvant therapy is therapy given in addition to the primary therapy. In cancer care, it is for instance common to have surgery as primary therapy to remove the detected parts of the cancer, and then follow up with radiation therapy or chemotherapy as adjuvant therapy to safeguard against the possible presence of undetected cancer cells, or to reduce the risk of relapse.

We usually don’t call it adjuvant therapy when surgeons are forced to leave a known part of the cancer tumour behind (e.g. because it is too risky to remove it) and this part has to be treated with non-surgical therapy.


To do an allotransplant is to transplantat cells, tissues or organs from a donor to a recipient where both individuals belong to the same species but are not genetically identical.

The transplant is called an allogeneic transplant, an allograft or a homograft.

Bone marrow transfusion is one example of a common allotransplant in cancer care.

Allo is Greek for “other”.


A drug that provides pain relief.


When there are too few red blood cells in the blood.

red blood cells


A drug that helps reduce/prevent nausea and vomiting.


An autotransplantation is the transplantation of one part of the body to another part of the same body. Organs, tissues and even particular proteins can be transplanted in this way. The autologous tissue (also called autogenous, autogenic, or autogenic tissue) transplanted by this a procedure is called an autograft or autotransplant.

Auto is Greek for “self”.

One example of a well-known type of autotransplantation is where the medical staff removes of a piece of bone from the patient, grounds it into a paste, and use the paste to reconstruct a damaged bone part in another location in the body.

Benign tumour

A tumour that is not malignant. Cancer tumours are malignant tumours.


A biopsy is a medical test involving the extraction of sample cells or tissue for examination.

Bone marrow

Bone marrow is a semi-solid tissue found within bones. In humans and other mammals, the bone marrow is the primary site of new blood cell production.

In an adult human, bone marrow is chiefly found in the vertebrae, sternum, ribs, and the bones of the pelvis.

Bone marrow transplant

Transplanting bone marrow from a donor to a recipient.

One example from cancer care is when a cancer patient receives a bone marrow donation from a healthy donor after having their own bone marrow damaged by intense chemotherapy.


Cancer is a group of diseases that involves abnormal cell growth, where some of the body’s cells become abnormal and begins to divide too rapidly. Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, and many cancers can spread into surrounding tissue and/or travel to other parts of the body and form secondary cancers there.

CAT Scan / CT Scan

A computed tomography scan, formerly known as a computerized axial tomography scan, combines multiple measurements taken from different angles. The images are processed by a computer to create cross-sectional (tomographic) images of the scanned object.

In medicine, CAT scans (also known as CT scans) are commonly ulilized to allow MDs to “look inside” a patient witout actually doing any surgery.

The computed tomography (CT) typically denotes X-ray CT, because that is the most common form, but other types exist as well – such as positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).

Core needle biopsy

To do a core needle biopsy is to remove the biopsy sample from the body using a needle with a hollow core. Core needle biopsy is often a good choice when only a small solid sample is needed.

Cytotoxic drugs

Drugs that are toxic to cells. In cancer medicine, cytotoxic drugs are commonly employed in an effort to damage or kill cancer cells.


A type of swelling caused by fluid accumulation.

Excisional biopsy

A type of biopsy where an entire lesion or entire cyst is removed.

External beam radiotherapy (EBRT)

A type of radiotherapy where an external source of ionizing radiation is pointed at a particular part of the body.

This is the most common form of radiation treatment for cancer patients.


The branch of medicine concerned with the study of diseases related to blood.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma

There are several types of cancer that can originate in the lymphatic system and Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of them.

Immuno-compromised person

An immuno-compromised person has a weakened immune system, e.g. because of a disease or because of disease treatment.

Incision biopsy

When only a sample of a lesion or cyst is removed during biopsy.

Intravenous injection

An injection directly into a vein.

Intravenous injections can, for instance, be carried out to provide the recipient with fluids, drugs or blood.


The surgical removal of a limited portion or “lump” of breast tissue, usually in the treatment of a malignant tumor  in the breast. The amount of tissue removed is limited compared to a full-breast mastectomy.

Lymphatic system

The lymphatic system is a large network of lymphatic vessels that carry a clear fluid called lymph directionally towards the heart. It is an important part of the immune system.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

This is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to form pictures of the body and of its physiological processes. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to generate the images.


A specialized x-ray of the breast. Can be used to find breast cancer.


Surgery to remove a breast.


When cancer cells break off from their original site, travel to another part of the body and start growing there.

Neoadjuvant therapy

Neoadjuvant therapy is the administration of therapeutic agents before the main treatment.

In cancer care, it can, for instance, involve administering chemotherapy or radiotherapy before the main surgical treatment of a tumor.


A medical doctor that specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.


Oncology is a branch of medicine that deals with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

Orthopedic surgeon

A doctor that specializes in the surgical treatment of bones.

Palliative care

Palliative care is focused on providing relief from symptoms and related issues rather than curing the disease. He goal is to improve quality of life for people with chronic conditions.

Plasma (blood plasma)

Blood plasma is a liquid part of the blood that holds components such as protiens, red blood cells and white blood cells in suspension. Roughly 55% of our total blood volume is plasma. Even though our blood is red, plasma itself is a yellowish liquid.

Blood plasma from which the clotting factors (necessary for blood coagulation) have been removed is called blood serum.


Platelets, also known as thrombocytes, are found in the blood of mammals. When an injury occurs, they participate in the clotting process.

Platelets are derived from the megakaryocytes in the bone marrow.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (often abbreviated RT, Rtx or XRT) uses ionizing radiation. In cancer treatment, ionizing radiation can be used to control or kill cancer cells.


A cancer patient in remission is no longer displaying any signs or symptoms of active cancer. A remission can last for a short or long time.

Stem cells

Stem cells have the capacity to differentiate into other types of cells. They can also divide to produce more stem cells (self-renewal).

Humans have two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

Tumor marker

A tumor marker is a biomarker that can be found in elevated levels in the presence of one or more types of cancers. This type of biomarker can, for instance, be found in blood, urine or body tissue.

While an elevated level of a certain tumor marker can indicate cancer, there may be another reason for the elevation so the medical staff needs to investigate further to set a diagnosis.

Tumor markers can be produced by both tumor cells and non-tumor cells.

This article was last updated on: November 18, 2019