Glossary of Terms

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abnormal development: unexpected or unnatural growth.

androgens: any male sex hormone. The major androgen is testosterone.

biological therapy: treatment to stimulate or restore the ability of the immune system to fight infections and other diseases. Also used to lessen certain side effects that may be caused by cancer treatment. Also called immunotherapy, biotherapy, or biological response modifier (BRM) therapy.

BRCA1: a gene which, when damaged (mutated), places women and men at greater risk of developing breast cancer, compared with women/men who do not have the mutation. In individuals with a BRCA1 mutation, the estimated lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is about 50% compared with 12% in the general population. A person who has this mutated gene has a 50% chance of passing on the gene to each of his/her children. There is a genetic test for this gene, but it is recommended only for individuals who are known to be at risk because several individuals in their family have had breast cancer at an early age. The American Cancer Society recommends that any individual tested also receive genetic counseling.

BRCA2: a gene which, when damaged or mutated, puts the individual at a much higher risk for developing breast cancer than the general population. In an individual with a BRCA2 mutation, the estimated lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 50% – 60%. BRCA2 and BRCA1 together account for about 80% of the breast cancers that occur in women and men with strong family histories of the disease. BRCA2 is also thought to raise the risk for breast cancer in men. There is a genetic test for BRCA2 but it is only recommended for those with strong family histories of breast cancer. The ACS recommends that anyone tested also receive genetic counseling.

CHEK-2: a gene on chromosome 22q that encodes a kinase enzyme and influences a person’s susceptibility to breast cancer. A variant (allele) of CHEK2 that abolishes its kinase activity results in a 2-fold increase in the risk of breast cancer for women and a 10-fold increase in risk for men.

chemotherapy: treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used with surgery or radiation to treat cancer when the cancer has spread, when it has come back (recurred), or when there is a strong chance that it could recur.

chemotherapy in a pill form: chemotherapy medication that is orally consumed.

cirrhosis: widespread disruption of normal liver structure by fibrosis and the formation of regenerative nodules that is caused by any of various chronic progressive conditions affecting the liver (as long-term alcohol abuse or hepatitis).

congenital: existing at or dating from birth.

early detection: disease is found at an early stage, before it has grown large or spread to other sites. Note: many forms of cancer can reach an advanced stage without causing symptoms. Mammography can help to find breast cancer early, and the PSA blood test is useful in finding prostate cancer.

estrogen: a female sex hormone produced primarily by the ovaries, and in smaller amounts by the adrenal cortex. In women, levels of estrogen fluctuate on nature’s carefully orchestrated schedule, regulating the development of secondary sex characteristics, including breasts; regulating the monthly cycle of menstruation; and preparing the body for fertilization and reproduction. In breast cancer, estrogen may promote the growth of cancer cells.

gynecomastia: excessive development of the breast in the male.

hereditary: characteristic of or fostered by one’s predecessors.

immune system: the complex system by which the body resists infection by germs such as bacteria or viruses and rejects transplanted tissues or organs. The immune system may also help the body fight some cancers.

indentation in the nipple: a recess or lump in the nipple.

Klinefelter’s syndrome: an abnormal condition in a male characterized by usually two X and one Y chromosomes, infertility, smallness of the testicles, sparse facial and body hair, and enlarged breasts.

lump: any kind of mass in the breast or elsewhere in the body.

lymph node: small bean-shaped collections of immune system tissue such as lymphocytes, found along lymphatic vessels. They remove cell waste, germs, and other harmful substances from lymph. They help fight infections and also have a role in fighting cancer, although cancers sometimes spread through them. Also called lymph glands.

medical oncologist: a doctor who is specially trained to diagnose and treat cancer with chemotherapy and other drugs.

modified radical mastectomy: a type of surgery that removes the breast, skin, nipple, areola, and most of the auxiliary (underarm) lymph nodes on the same side, leaving the chest muscles intact.

muscle: a body tissue consisting of long cells that contract when stimulated and produce motion.

mutation: a change in the DNA of a cell. Most mutations do not produce cancer, and a few may even be helpful. However, all types of cancer are thought to be due to mutations that damage a cell’s DNA. Some cancer-related mutations can be inherited, which means that the person is born with the mutated DNA in all the body’s cells. However, most mutations happen after the person is born, and are called sporadic, somatic, or spontaneous mutations. This type of mutation happens in one cell at a time, and only affects cells that arise from the single mutated cell.

nipple: the protuberance of a mammary gland upon which in the female the lactiferous ducts open and from which milk is drawn.

noncancerous: something that does not threaten to develop into cancer.

obesity: a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body.

p53 tumor suppressor gene: a tumor suppressor gene that in an inactivated form tends to be associated with a high risk of certain cancers.

prognosis: a prediction of the course of disease; the outlook for the chances of survival.

radiation: the combined processes of emission, transmission, and absorption of radiant energy (example: x-ray).

radiation oncologist: a doctor who specializes in using radiation to treat cancer.

retraction: the act of drawing back or in.

sentinel lymph node biopsy: a test in which all or part of a lymph node is removed and examined under the microscope to find out if cancer has reached the lymph nodes.

simple mastectomy: a type of breast cancer surgery that removes only the breast and areola.

skin dimpling: the formation of depressions or indentations on the skin.

surgeon: a doctor who performs operations.

surgery: a branch of medicine concerned with diseases and conditions requiring or amenable to operative or manual procedures.

tissue: a collection of cells, united to perform a particular function.

X-ray: one form of radiation that can be used at low levels to produce an image of the body on film or at high levels to destroy cancer cells.