We would like to thank Cancer Help UK, the patient information website of Cancer Research UK, for their generosity in allowing us to use material from their own Glossary.

The glossary, including drug names is updated periodically. They were last updated on the 26 August 2010.

Please click on one of the letters to view the Glossary.

Abdominal radiotherapy

Radiotherapy given to any part of the abdomen. The abdomen is the area below the ribs and above the hip bones.

Abdominoperineal resection

An operation to remove anal cancer. The surgeon removes the anus, your rectum and part of your colon. They may also remove some lymph nodes. A colostomy is formed during the operation.

Abdominal side effects

Unwanted effects on the abdomen caused by cancer treatments. May include diarrhoea, wind, bleeding, abdominal cramps or pain. May be caused by abdominal radiotherapy or cancer medicines. 

Acinar cell

A type of cell in the pancreas that produces the digestive juices of the pancreas. These cells can develop into a type of pancreatic cancer. 

Acitinic keratosis

A change in the skin that may be the first warning sign of a skin cancer developing. It shows as an area (lesion) that is usually slightly raised, red or pink and may be scaly. The area is very sensitive to sunlight. It may also be called actinic keratosis.

Acoustic neuroma

Slow growing, benign brain tumour. Grows on the auditory nerve, which is responsible for hearing. 

Acral lentiginous melanoma

An uncommon type of malignant melanoma that most often occurs on the soles of the feet. It can also develop on the skin of the palms of the hands.

Active drug

A term used in drug trials to distinguish between the drug and placebo. The active drug contains actual medicine. 

Acute leukaemia

A quickly developing cancer of the blood forming system. There are 2 main types – acute myeloid leukaemia and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

The Australian Drug Evaluation Committee

The Australian Drug Evaluation Committee (ADEC) was formed in 1963 and given the role of providing independent scientific advice on new drugs, within the policy framework of the time, to the federal government.


A cancer of glandular tissue. Glandular tissue is made up of cells that secrete (make and release) liquids, enzymes, hormones or other chemicals. For example, an adenocarcinoma of the lung is a cancer of the glandular cells lining the airways. Glandular cells lining the airways secrete mucus. 

Adenoid cystic cancer

A rare type of cancer of glandular tissue that occurs most often in the salivary glands. It can also occur in the mouth, nose, nasal sinuses, voice box, and very rarely, in the food pipe (oesophagus).

Adjuvant tamoxifen

Tamoxifen may be taken after surgery to try to prevent a cancer from coming back. 

Adjuvant therapy

A treatment given in addition to the main treatment (for example, chemotherapy as well as surgery) to try to prevent a cancer from coming back.

Advanced cancer

Advanced cancer usually means a cancer that has spread from where it started to another part of the body. 'Locally advanced' cancer usually means the cancer has grown outside the organ that it started in and into surrounding body tissues.

Affected lymph nodes

Usually means lymph nodes that have cancer cells in them.


Mould found on peanuts that can cause primary liver cancer.

After loading

During internal radiotherapy, the tubes which hold the radioactive source are put in under anaesthetic. The radioactive source is put into the tubes after you are back on the ward, so this is known as ’after loading’. 


Heavy drinking is linked to some cancers and can damage your liver. The NHMRC's 2009 Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol recommends that 'for healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury'. A standard drink is the equivalent of a middy (285mL) of full strength beer and 100mL of wine.

Alemtuzumab (MabCampath)

A monoclonal antibody directed against the CD52 antigen used in the treatment of B-cell and T-cell leukaemia.

Alkaline phosphatase

This is a chemical that is normally found in the bloodstream. It is produced by bone cells and liver cells. The level in the blood can be raised in some types of primary and secondary bone cancer and if the liver is damaged.

Allogeneic transplant (donor transplant)

Means a bone marrow or stem cell transplant using bone marrow or stem cells from a donor. The donor must be tested to check that their marrow or stem cells are as close a match as possible to the person receiving them, so that the marrow or stem cells are less likely to be rejected. 


Hair loss.

Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP)

Substance found in the bloodstream of some men with testicular cancer. The level rises when the cancer is growing and falls when the cancer is shrinking. So a blood test can measure the progress of the disease and success of treatment.  AFP can also be elevated in primary liver cancer.

Alternative therapies

Unproven therapies used instead of or as well as orthodox medical treatment.

Amino acids

The building blocks of proteins – proteins are made of long chains of amino acids joined together.

Aminoglutethimide (Cytadren)

A drug that blocks the aromatase enzyme which blocks the production of oestrogens and other steroid hormones used in the treatment of adrenocortical carcinoma. It was previously used in the treatment of breast cancer but now more specific aromatase inhibitors are used instead.


Operation to remove part of the body. Usually used to refer to removing an arm or leg.


Abormal plasma cells make a protein called amyloid which collects in the body organs, such as the kidney or heart. Amyloidosis is rare, but about 10 to 15 out of every 100 people (10–15%) with myeloma either have, or develop, amyloidosis. Treatment is usually chemotherapy with the same drugs used for myeloma.

Anagrelide (Agrylin)

A drug that inhibits the production of platelets. It is used in haematological cancers which cause too many platelets to be produced.


A low number of red blood cells. Blood cells contain haemoglobin, and so the level of haemoglobin is also low. Red blood cell and haemoglobin levels can be measured by blood test.


Drug which stops feeling, especially pain. A general anaesthetic will also make you unconscious. A local anaesthetic just stops feeling in part of the body. 


A doctor who specialises in giving all types of anaesthetic. This includes general anaesthetics, anaesthetics to specific parts of the body (local or regional) and spinal blocks. 

Anal cancer

The anus is the opening to the outside of the body at the end of the bowel. There are several different types of anal cancer. Most are squamous cell cancers, sometimes called epidermoid cancers.


Re-connecting or joining together. For example, in bowel surgery, part of the bowel can be cut out and the two cut ends joined together (anastomosed). 

Anastrozole (Arimidex)

Decreases the synthesis of oestrogen by inhibiting the aromatase enzyme. It is used in the treatment of breast cancer.

Anecdotal evidence

Evidence based on personal experience that hasn't been scientifically tested. Usually means observations and reports that are passed on by word of mouth.


Creation of blood vessels. Growing cancers can attract new blood vessels to grow towards them so that they can get their own blood supply. 

Angiogenic factors

Chemicals given off by cells that make new blood vessels grow. 


An X-ray test that uses dye to look at blood vessels. The doctor injects dye into an artery. As the dye passes through your blood vessels, the doctor can see them on an X-ray screen. This test can show the blood supply to cancers or to any part of the body.


X-rays of the blood vessels using a dye.


Type of cancer that develops from the cells making up the walls of blood or lymph vessels. These cancers are called either haemangiosarcomas (blood vessels) or lymphangiosarcomas (lymph vessels).

Anomalous pancreatobiliary duct junction

An abnormal join between the bile duct and the pancreas. This means that pancreatic juices and enzymes can go back up into the common bile duct. This causes inflammation and weakens the bile duct wall.


Anthracyclines are a group of chemotherapy drugs. They are a type of cytotoxic antibiotic. This group of drugs includes aclarubicin, daunorubicin, doxorubicin (Adriamycin), epirubicin and idarubicin. Mitoxantrone (used to be called mitozantrone) is made from anthracyclines, so is sometimes included in this group.

Anti idiotype vaccines

A vaccine that stimulates the body to make antibodies against cancer cells.

Anti-androgen (anti-androgens)

Androgen is a type of male sex hormone. An anti-androgen is a drug that stops androgens from being produced or stops them working. 

Antiangiogenic drugs

Drugs that can stop cancers from forming their own blood supply. Research is going on into developing these drugs.


Drugs which fight bacterial infections.


Blood proteins produced by white blood cells when the body recognises that something foreign (unfamiliar) has got in, for example bacteria. The antibodies attach themselves to the invading bacteria or viruses, which are then destroyed. 

Antiemetic drugs

Medicines that reduce or stop nausea and being sick. 

Antigen vaccines

Vaccines made from special proteins (antigens) in cancer cells. They aim to stimulate the patient's immune system to attack the cancer.  Scientists have recently worked out the genetic codes of many of these cancer cell proteins, so they can make them in the lab in large quantities. 


Prevents a chemical process called oxidation, when oxygen molecules join with another chemical. This can cause gene damage in cells that can lead to cancer, so antioxidants may help to prevent cancer. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E and selenium.


The Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry  (ANZCTR) was established in 2005 with the aim of collecting key information about all clinical trials (not just cancer) being conducted in Australia and New Zealand and making this available on its website. Over 300 cancer clinical trials are registered on the ANZCTR. This is an enormous database of useful information about cancer. This is the database that is being used to provide the details about cancer clinical trials on this Australian Cancer Trials website.


Apomab is a monoclonal antibody, which is a type of protein that is normally made by the immune system to help defend the body from infection and cancer. In preclinical studies Apomab selectively induced programmed cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells while sparing normal cells.


'Programed cell death'. Normal cells automatically die off once they have reproduced about 60 times. This is called apoptosis. 


Holder for radioactive source which is put inside the body during internal radiotherapy. Most commonly used for cancer of the cervix or vagina. 

Aromatase inhibitors

A group of drugs used to treat breast cancer.  They work by blocking the action of the enzyme aromatase. Aromatase converts androgens into oestrogens in the fatty tissues of the body by a process called aromatisation. Lowering the levels of oestrogen in this way can reduce the chance of breast cancer coming back or can stop or slow a breast cancer from growing. 


Inflammation (swelling) of the joints.

Artificial progesterone

Man-made progesterone (a female sex hormone). Used to treat some types of cancer – most commonly breast, womb and kidney cancer.

Arsenic Trioxide (Trisenox)

A drug used in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukaemia.


A fibrous material made from silica. Very heat resistant so often used in the past in buildings for insulation. Now banned because it is a health risk. Exposure to asbestos can cause a lung disease called asbestosis and also a type of cancer that affects the lungs, called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma can occur up to 40 years after the exposure to asbestos. 

Ascites (peritoneal cavity fluid)

Fluid collected in the abdomen. Can be a sign of cancer affecting the liver or ovaries. It can also be casued by other medical conditions. 

Aspartate aminotransferase (AST)

An enzyme involved in the processing of amino acids by the body. It is found in the liver as well as other body organs. If an organ is damaged, more AST is released into the blood and can be picked up in a blood test. It is a reliable test for liver damage.


Pain killer and anti-inflammatory drug. Also used as a type of blood thinner. Should not be taken regularly without the advice of a doctor or on an empty stomach.


A type of brain tumour. The most common type of glioma. Develops from cells called astrocytes. Grade IV astrocytoma is also called glioblastoma multiforme. 


Shrinkage or wastage of muscle tissue, nerve tissue, organs or the entire body.

Atypical hyperplasia

An increase in cell production and the cells are slightly abnormal (although they are not cancer cells). Can occur in the breast, womb or other parts of the body. In the breast it is usually diagnosed when a breast lump is tested to see if it is cancerous. It is the only type of benign breast disease that may sometimes develop into breast cancer. So you will probably have the abnormal area removed and may be invited for breast screening more often than other women. In the womb, atypical hyperplasia is also referred to as endometrial hyperplasia and there is detailed information in our cancer question section. 

Autologous transplant

Bone marrow or stem cell transplant using the person's own marrow or stem cells. Their cancer is put into remission and some of their own marrow or stem cells are taken out. The marrow or stem cells are frozen and stored while the person has high dose chemotherapy treatment (and sometimes radiotherapy). The marrow or stem cells are then given back to create new blood cells. 

Avascular necrosis

Loss of blood supply to the bone. The bone tissue dies making the bone weak and more likely to collapse. Avascular necrosis can be a side effect of long term or high dose steroid treatment. It happens most often in the hip bones.


More commonly known as armpit.

Axillary clearance

Operation to remove all the lymph glands from under the arm.

Axillary dissection

Operation to remove some, or all, of the lymph glands from under the arm. 

B cell lymphoma

A cancer of the lymphatic system where the cells that have become cancerous are a type of white blood cell called B lymphocytes.

B lymphocytes (B cells)

A type of white blood cell. Lymphocytes make up a quarter to a third of the white blood cells. There are two types of lymphocytes, B and T cells. The B lymphocytes make antibodies in response to disease or any cells the body recognises as foreign or damaged. This is part of the immune response. A cancer of the B lymphocytes is called a B cell Lymphoma. 

B symptoms

A group of symptoms which doctors use to determine the stage of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The stage B symptoms are unexplained high temperatures, heavy sweating at night and weight loss (losing at least 10% of total body weight). 

Balanced diet

Eating a wide variety of foods to give you all the energy, protein, vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. For most of us, that means eating more fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day), more fibre, less fat and cutting down on sugar, alcohol and salt.

Barium (barium enema, barium meal)

Barium is a soft, white metal. Barium sulphate is used for X-rays of the digestive system. It is given as a white liquid drink (known as a barium meal or barium swallow) or into the back passage (a barium enema). X-rays cannot go through barium, so when the X-ray pictures are taken, the outline of the stomach or bowel shows up on the X-ray. 

Barrett's oesophagus

Abnormal cells in the lining of the food pipe (also called the gullet or oesophagus). The areas of abnormal cells are called dysplasia. Barrett's oesophagus slightly increases the risk of developing cancer of the oesophagus. It is most likely to be diagnosed in people who have a long history of burning indigestion.

Basal cell

Cells in the deepest layer of the skin (epidermis). All new skin cells develop from these cells.

Basal cell breast cancer

A type of breast cancer.  The cells don't usually have receptors for oestrogen, progesterone or the HER2/neu protein, so doctors may call it 'triple negative breast cancer'. It is unlikely to respond to hormone therapy or Herceptin. Women diagnosed may be younger than with other types of breast cancer – sometimes in their 30s. It's more common in African-American women than in other ethnic groups. 

Basal cell skin cancer

A cancer that develops in cells found in the deepest layer of the skin - basal cells.

Basement membrane

The layer of tissue that cells 'sit' on. If cancer cells from a tumour have broken through the basement membrane, then the cancer can spread and is called 'invasive'. 

BCG (tuberculosis vaccine, TB)

An injection to prevent tuberculosis (TB) or treat certain types of cancer. You should not have this vaccination if you are having chemotherapy, as it contains live TB bacteria. 

Becker's implant

A type of breast implant which is inflated with sterile salt water until it is the same size as the natural breast. 


Not cancerous. A benign tumour is a harmless overgrowth of cells, which may or may not need surgery to remove it. 

Benign breast lumps

Lumps in the breast which are not cancerous. 

Benign cyst

Fluid filled lump which is not cancerous. 

Benign polyps

Polyps are small outgrowths on the skin or the lining of the gut. Benign polyps are not cancerous.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

Commonly called enlarged prostate. Literally means non-cancerous overgrowth of the cells of the prostate gland. 


A chemical used in the rubber industry that was found to cause bladder cancer. 

Best current treatment

The most effective treatment being used at the moment for a particular cancer or situation. This is also called the ‘standard treatment’.


An industrial chemical which might cause cancer of the pancreas. 

Bevacizumab (Avastin)

A humanized monoclonal antibody that blocks the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGF). VEGF is a chemical signal that leads to the growth of new blood vessels. It is used in the treatment of bowel, breast and lung cancer.


To prefer one thing to another and so look at it more favourably. It is possible to do this without knowing it, which is why some trials are designed so that no one knows which patient is having which treatment. 

Bicalutamide (Casodex)

Inhibits androgen production. Used in the treatment of prostate cancer.


Bilirubin is produced in the body when red blood cells become old and damaged and are destroyed in the spleen. Bilirubin goes in the blood from the spleen to the liver and then in bile into the small intestine. Some types of cancer and some cancer drugs can prevent the breakdown of bilirubin in the body so that it builds up in the blood or urine.


Operation to remove the two lobes of the lung.

Biological response modifiers

These are natural body substances that can now be made in the laboratory in larger than natural amounts. They are then used as drugs to fight cancer, or stimulate the immune system. Some are also called cytokines. They include colony stimulating factors (CSFs), erythropoietin (EPO), interferon, interleukins (ILs) and tumour necrosis factor (TNF).

Biological therapy

Treatment that uses natural body substances or drugs made from natural body substances to treat cancer e.g. interferon, interleukin 2, growth factors and monoclonal antibodies.  Biological therapies include immunotherapies, gene therapy and vaccines.


Biomarkers are substances that doctors can measure in the body to help them tell how a disease is developing or how a treatment is working.

Biopsy (biopsies)

A piece of body tissue taken so that the cells can be looked at under a microscope.

Bladder calculi (bladder stones)

Stones in the bladder. Having multiple stones in the bladder for many years can give a higher risk of a type of bladder cancer called squamous cell bladder cancer. 

Bladder irrigation

Flushing out the bladder. A tube called a urinary catheter is put into the bladder through the urethra. The catheter is connected to a bag of sterile water or salt solution which flushes out any clots of blood after surgery.

Bladder reconstruction

An operation to make a 'new' bladder if you have to have your bladder removed.

Bleomycin (Blenamax, Blenoxane)

A chemotherapy drug used to treat a number of cancers including testicular cancer and lymphoma.

Blind trial

A type of clinical trial where the patient does not know whether they are having the treatment that is being tested, or a fake inactive treatment (placebo) that appears to be the same. 

Blocked line

A blocked drip or central line. It can sometimes be unblocked, but may have to be taken out and a new line put in (re-sited). 

Blomsinger valve

A type of valve that can help you to speak after you have had your voice box (larynx) removed (a laryngectomy).

Blood brain barrier

A membrane that surrounds and protects the brain. It prevents harmful substances passing into the brain from the blood. 

Blood cells (blood cell)

There are three types of blood cells: white cells which fight infection; red cells which carry oxygen around the body; and platelets which help the blood to clot.

Blood cholesterol

A type of fat in the blood. People with high levels of cholesterol are thought more likely to have heart attacks. 

Blood count (blood cell count)

Blood test to count how many of each type of blood cell there are in the blood.

Blood pressure

The pressure in the circulatory system. Blood pressure is measured with two numbers, one on top of the other. The maximum pressure is when the heart is pumping blood through, and the minimum pressure is when it is resting between beats.

Blood sugar

The amount of sugar in the blood. If the blood sugar is too high, this could be a sign of diabetes. The normal range is between 2.5 – 4.7 mmol/l although it can be higher after a meal. 

Blood tests (blood test)

Tests on samples of blood to check general health or to look for specific substances (for example, PSA, HCG and AFP levels).

Blood transfusion

Giving extra blood through a drip into a vein. Can be your own blood collected earlier and stored, or more usually blood donated by someone else. 

Blood vessels (artery, arteries, blood vessel, capillary, capillaries, vein(s)

Tubes which carry blood around the body: arteries which carry blood containing oxygen; veins which carry blood back to the heart to pick up more oxygen; and capillaries, the smallest blood vessels, which connect arteries to veins.

Body image

How we imagine ourselves physically. After surgery that changes body appearance, it can be some time before we get used to seeing ourselves differently. 

Bone density

Thickness and strength of bone.  Tests for this are called ‘bone mineral density scan’s (BMD). 

Bone graft

A piece of bone, taken from another part of the body and used to replace bone that has to be removed due to either  injury or disease.

Bone marrow

The spongy substance in the centre of the bones where red and white blood cells and platelets are made. 

Bone marrow harvest

Collecting bone marrow for transplanting later on. It is done under general anaesthetic and usually means an overnight stay in hospital. Up to six punctures are made over the hip bones (and less usually, the chest bone). The marrow is sucked out of the puncture sites into a syringe. For adults, about a litre of bone marrow is taken. This is then frozen until it is needed for transplant. The after effects are bruising at the puncture sites for a few days. Paracetamol is usually given for this. 

Bone marrow sample (bone marrow biopsy, bone marrow test, sample of bone marrow)

Taking a small amount of bone marrow to see if it is healthy. It can show if the bone marrow contains cancer cells. A local anaesthetic is put into the skin over the hip bone. A needle is put into the hip and a small amount of bone marrow sucked out. This is examined under a microscope. The test takes only a few minutes, but can be uncomfortable. Some people prefer to have a medicine to make them feel drowsy (sedative) as well as the local anaesthetic. 

Bone marrow transplant (BMT, bone marrow transplants)

Treatment for cancer and some other illnesses. Very high doses of chemotherapy (and sometimes radiotherapy) are given to kill the cancer cells. This also kills the bone marrow, so a drip (transfusion) containing bone marrow needs to be given afterwards. This can be the patient's own marrow which has been frozen and stored (autologous transplant) or someone else's that matches the patient's (allogeneic transplant). 

Bone metastases (bone secondaries)

Cancer that has spread to the bones from a cancer somewhere else in the body.

Bone scan

Scan which looks for damage to bone. A small dose of a radioactive substance is injected into the bloodstream, gets into the bones and is then photographed with a gamma camera. Damaged bone shows up as a 'hot spot' on the scan.

Booster dose

An extra dose. This term is often used to mean an extra dose of radiotherapy given to a part of the radiotherapy field at the end of a course of treatment. 


In cancer, means a tumour that has cells that are only just malignant. The cells look more like normal cells than in a more malignant cancer. Borderline tumours are less likely to grow quickly or spread to other parts of the body. 

Bortezomib (Velcade)

Bortezomib causes cancer cells to undergo cell death by interfering with cell proteins. It is used to treat multiple myeloma.

Bowel cancer

Cancer of the colon or rectum. Also called colorectal cancer. 

Bowel habits

How often you normally open your bowels (go to the toilet).

Bowel motion

The solid waste left over from digested food and passed out of the body through the back passage. 

Bowel obstruction (blocked bowel)

Blockage in the bowel so stools cannot pass through. The bowel may be completely or partly blocked. 

Bowel preparation

Preparing the bowel for tests or surgery. May mean an enema or suppositories or several days of laxatives followed by a washout of the bowel, depending on the test or operation that is to be done. 

Bowel sounds

The normal noises your bowel makes. After any abdominal surgery your doctor will listen for bowel sounds. When they return, this means your bowel has begun to work normally again and you can start eating and drinking. 

Bowel washout

Cleaning out the inside of the bowel. A tube is put into the bowel through the anus. Clean or sterile water is flushed through the tube and allowed to drain out again. This is repeated until the water is clean.  It is usually done before major surgery to the bowel to lower the risk of infection after the operation. 

Bowen’s disease

A very early form of non melanoma skin cancer. It is sometimes called carcinoma in situ.


The medical word for internal radiotherapy. This is radiotherapy given by putting a source of radiation inside the body. For example, radioactive seeds put into the prostate or a radioactive iodine drink for thyroid cancer. Radioactive seeds or needles may also be called interstitial radiotherapy.

Brain tumour (brain tumours)

Benign tumour or malignant tumour (cancer) of part of the brain. There are many different types of brain tumour and they are named depending on which type of brain cells are affected. 

BRCA1 (breast cancer gene, cancer gene, ovarian cancer gene)

Gene that increases the risk of getting breast, ovarian, bowel or prostate cancer. Out of every 100 women who have a faulty version of this gene, between 80 and 85 will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. So they have a lifetime risk of 80–85%. Ovarian cancer lifetime risk is about 60%. The lifetime risk of bowel cancer and prostate cancer is about 6%.

BRCA2 (breast cancer gene, cancer gene)

Gene that increases the risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer in women and breast and prostate cancer in men. Out of every 100 women who have a faulty version of this gene, between 80 and 85 will develop breast cancer at some point in their life (80–85% lifetime risk). Ovarian cancer lifetime risk is about 27%. Male carriers have a breast cancer risk of 5% and a prostate cancer risk of 6–14%.

Breast cancer

Cancer of the breast, usually in women, but does occur rarely in men.

Breast enhancer (breast enhancers)

Partial artificial breast used by women who have had an operation to remove part of the breast (called a segmentectomy).

Breast examination

Medical examination of the breasts to look for anything wrong, including lumps. The examination can be done by a doctor or breast care nurse. 

Breast implant (breast implants)

An artificial breast shape put under the skin or muscle during an operation. Used to replace a breast that has had to be removed for medical reasons. Can also be used for cosmetic reasons to make the breast look bigger. 

Breast lump (breast lumps)

Lump in the breast that may or may not be cancerous. Nine out of ten breast lumps are not cancer. 

Breast–ovarian cancer (BOC)

This term refers to families in which individuals have suffered from breast cancer and ovarian cancer (either one individual suffered from both, or several individuals in the pedigree suffered from one or the other disease).

Breast prostheses (breast prosthesis)

Artificial breasts. Can be external (worn outside the body in a bra) or internal (put in during an operation). 

Breast reconstruction

Operation to make a new breast after one has been removed. Can be done by putting in a breast implant or by using muscle and skin from the back or abdomen. 

BreastScreen Australia

A government-funded organisation which aims to achieve significant reductions in mortality and morbidity from breast cancer by actively recruiting and screening women aged 50–69 years for early detection of the disease.

Breast screening

Examining healthy women to see if breast cancer can be picked up early – usually before there are any symptoms.

Breast self awareness

Being aware of how one's breasts normally look and feel so that any abnormal changes will be noticed as soon as possible.

Breast tumours

An overgrowth of cells in the breast, forming a lump. Tumours can be benign (non cancerous) or cancer. 

Breast ultrasound

Scan of the breast using sound waves.

Breslow scale (Breslow, Breslow thickness)

A scale that measures the thickness (depth) of malignant melanomas. The thicker the primary melanoma is, the greater the risk of the cancer coming back elsewhere in the body in the future. This is because a thicker melanoma will have grown deeper into the layers of the skin. The deeper the melanoma has grown, the more likely it is that some cells could have broken away and spread through the blood stream or lymphatic system. 


A flexible tube with an eye piece and a light that enables doctors to see inside the windpipe (trachea) and the main airways of the lungs.


A medical examination of the airways of the lungs. A sedative is given. Then a flexible tube is put down the nose or into the mouth and down into the airways. The doctor can see the inside of the airways using an eye piece. Samples of tissue can be taken (biopsies) for examination under the microscope.

Busulphan (Myleran, Busulfex)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of leukaemia and lymphoma.


Type of surgery to go round a blockage.


A tumour marker (chemical) produced by many ovarian cancers. Can be used to monitor the success of treatment. CA125 is not produced in all ovarian cancers. It is also produced in some other conditions that are not cancers (for example, endometriosis and fibroids). 


A chemical marker produced by some types of cancer, which can be found in the blood. It is sometimes found in people who have suspected pancreatic cancer, but is not specific enough to use as a screening test. 

Caesium (caesium 137, caesium wires)

A radioactive metal used to treat cancers of the cervix, uterus and vagina. Also used in the form of thin wires to treat other types of cancer. 


Calcium collecting in the body tissues. In breast tissue, can be picked up on a mammogram. Calcification itself is harmless in the breast, but particular patterns of calcification may be a sign of breast cancer.


A substance which is essential to life. Calcium salts are needed for healthy bones and teeth. A small amount of calcium is found in the blood. If this level is too high (hypercalcaemia) or too low (hypocalcaemia) this can be dangerous. Levels of calcium can be measured with a blood test. 


Cancer is a disease where a population of cells in the body grow and divide without responding to the normal processes that limit their growth. They can spread into and destroy nearby tissues, and may spread to other parts of the body through the blood stream or lymphatic system. Cancerous tumours are called malignant. See the glossary term for the lymphatic system.

Cancer Australia

This is an Australian Government agency, working to reduce the impact of cancer on all Australians.

Cancer Councils

Leading cancer charities providing information, support, and research funding at state and national levels.

Cancer Helpline

The Cancer Helpline is an Australia-wide telephone information and support service operating from each state and territory Cancer Council. Callers using the 13 11 20 telephone number are generally connected to the helpline in their state or territory capital city (which is generally staffed by oncology nurses). Available Monday  to Friday 9am–5pm.

Cancer of unknown primary

The diagnosis when metastatic cancer is found but the place the cancer began (the primary site) cannot be found.

Cancer type

A term used to refer to the part of the body in which the cancer started. For example, breast cancer. This term may also be used to describe the type of cell a cancer is made of, such as adenocarcinoma (glandular cells) or gliobastoma (glial cells).

Cancer unit

A unit in a local hospital where the staff have expertise in diagnosing and treating common types of cancer. The unit is overseen by cancer consultants.

Cancer vaccines

A type of experimental treatment currently being researched. It may be able to limit cancer growth or eventually, stop people getting cancers. Research for this type of treatment is at a very early stage. 

Cancer Voices NSW

An independent advocacy organisation representing the needs of people affected by cancer.


A tube put into the body for giving, or draining off, fluid. It usually means a fine tube that goes into a vein.

Capecitabine (Xeloda)

An oral chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of breast, colorectal and pancreatic cancer

Capillary network

System of the smallest blood vessels found throughout the body. The capillaries connect the bigger blood vessels, such as arteries and veins, and take oxygen and nutrients directly to the body cells. 

Capsular contracture

A complication of breast reconstruction surgery using an implant. After the operation, a fibrous covering (capsule) naturally forms around the implant. In some women the capsule can shrink and become tight, making the implant change shape. 


A chemotherapy drug used to treat a number of cancers including ovarian, endometrial, lung and head and neck cancer.

Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)

A marker (chemical) used to help diagnose some types of cancer, such as bowel cancer. It can also be used to check whether the cancer may have come back (recurred). CEA is not always a reliable test for cancer. The level can go up due to other illnesses and it does not always go up in everyone with bowel cancer. 


Something that causes cancer. 

Carcinoid tumour

Carcinoid tumours are rare tumours that start in the neuroendocrine system, which is made up of nerve and gland cells that make hormones. Carcinoid tumours most often start in the small bowel or appendix but can occur in other parts of the body. They are usually slow growing.


A cancer of the epithelial tissue that covers all the body organs and lines all the body cavities (for example, skin). Most cancers are carcinomas. 

Carcinoma in situ

An early cancer that has not broken through the basement membrane of the tissue it is growing in. So it cannot spread anywhere else in the body and can usually be cured by removing it surgically.


Means that a cancer has spread to many different sites throughout the body, or sometimes, a large area of the body. It may also be called carcinosis.

Cardiac sphincter

The valve between the bottom of the foodpipe and the top of the stomach. The valve opens to allow food to pass into the stomach but stops the stomach contents moving back up into the foodpipe (oesophagus).


Dense, tough tissue that lines the joints. A cancer of cartilage is called a chondrosarcoma. 

Carmustine (BCNU, Gliadel wafer)

A chemotherapy drug. It can be given intravenously where it is used for the treatment of brain tumours and lymphoma. It can also be given as an implantable wafer for the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme.


A tube passed into the body to drain away fluid. For example, a urinary catheter which drains urine from the bladder.


Controlling bleeding or destroying an area of body tissue, using either a needle heated by an electric current, or a chemical substance.

Cell (cells)

The building blocks of the body. Every part of the body is made up of individual cells. Cells are basically very similar. But each type of cell is specially adapted for the part of the body it makes up. For example, the liver is made up of liver cells. Cancer is a disease that starts with one cell becoming cancerous. 

Cell adhesion

Cells sticking together, so that they stay in the right place in the body. Most normal cells must do this to survive. The cells stick together using specific adhesion molecules (receptors) that interact with molecules (counterreceptors) on the surface of other cells. 

Cell differentiation

The process of cells becoming specialised as they grow and develop. For example, cells 'differentiate' into mature blood cells or bone cells. Very young cells are not very specialised. They haven't developed the particlar specialised features of differentiated cells. See also the glossary term 'undifferentiated'. 

Cell division (doubling, growth, multiplying)

How cells multiply and so body tissues grow. Each cell can split into two, reproducing itself exactly. This is called doubling. Normally, this is a slow, well controlled process. In cancer, it gets out of control. Cell division happens too often and so a lump is formed. In cancers of the blood forming tissues, too many blood cells are produced. 

Central line

A central line is a long plastic tube that goes into a large vein near the heart. They can be used for taking blood samples and giving drugs, including chemotherapy. In some types, the tube comes out of the body at the side of the neck, or into the chest. An injection can be given into the tube, or a drip attached to it. In other types called 'ports' a small chamber or reservoir is at the end of the tube under the skin in the chest or arm. A needle goes into the chamber to give injections or attach drips. There are many different makes of central lines. You may hear your doctor call your central line by its brand name, for example Hickman ®, Groshong ® or Port-A-Cath ®.

Central nervous system

This includes the brain and spinal cord.

Central nervous system lymphoma (CNS lymphoma)

Cancer of the lymphatic system that starts in the brain or spinal cord.

Cervical cancer

Cancer of the neck of the womb. The neck of the womb is also called the cervix. 

Cervical erosion

An inflamed area on the cervix (neck of the womb). It is often picked up on a cervical smear test, but is nothing to do with cancer. It often gets better by itself with no treatment, although it can be treated if it doesn't go away on its own. 

Cervical smear

A type of screening test for early cell changes that could develop into cancer of the neck of the womb (cervical cancer) if left untreated.


Neck of the womb. 

Cetuximab (Erbitux)

An antibody that blocks the epidermal growth factor receptor. It is used in the treatment of colorectal, head and neck and lung cancer.

CHART (Continuous hyperfractionated accelerated radiotherapy)

A way of giving radiotherapy in which more than one treatment (fraction) per day is given. 

Check up (check ups)

Medical appointments after treatment has finished, to see how you are. These appointments are sometimes called 'follow up'.


Chemotherapy and radiotherapy given together. You may have chemotherapy through a pump during part of your course of radiotherapy. Or you may have one treatment 'sandwiched' between the other – for example, chemotherapy, then your radiotherapy, then more chemotherapy.


Drug treatment. In cancer care the term is used to mean anti-cancer drugs. There are many types of cancer chemotherapy drugs and they are divided into groups - alkylating agents, nitrosoureas, antimetabolites, anthracyclines, topoisomerase inhibitors and mitotic inhibitors. These drugs may sometimes be given in combination with other chemotherapy dugs or other types of cancer treatment, such as radiotherapy, biological therapies or hormone therapy. 

Chemotherapy course (course of chemotherapy)

A series of anti-cancer drug treatments. Chemotherapy is normally given in cycles – where the drugs are given and then there is a break to allow the body to recover before the drugs are given again. A course of treatment is made up of a number of cycles of treatment. So, a course of treatment may take anything from a few weeks to several months. Rarely, in some types of leukaemia, a course of treatment may take 2 to 3 years. 

Chemotherapy pump (infusion pump)

Machine which controls how fast anti-cancer drugs are given. Some types of pump are attached to a drip. Other types are small, portable pumps which hold their own syringe or bag of drugs. The portable pumps can be used at home, with trips to the hospital only to change the syringe or bag. 

Chemotherapy regimen

A plan for giving chemotherapy treatment. It may include only one chemotherapy drug or a combination of drugs. The regime describes the names of the drugs, the dose of each drug, how often you have them and how many doses you will have. If a cancer continues to grow or comes back after a chemotherapy regime, another type of chemotherapy regime may be given.

Chemotherapy side effects

Unwanted effects of treatment with anti-cancer drugs (sickness, hair loss etc).

Chemotherapy tablets

Chemotherapy that can be taken by mouth. Most chemotherapy drugs cannot be given as tablets, either because the drug is too toxic to the stomach, or because the digestive juices destroy it. But some can be taken as tablets, for example, chlorambucil, hydroxycarbamide (used to be called hydroxyurea) and capecitabine (Xeloda). 

Chemotherapy trial

Research study looking at a particular chemotherapy treatment. Usually compares the new treatment with existing treatment to see which works best and find out the benefits and drawbacks.  

Chest cavity

The space in the chest that contains the heart and lungs. The medical name for this is the thorax.

Chest wall

Muscle covering the chest, including behind the breast tissue. 

Chest X-ray (chest X-rays)

Picture of the inside of the chest, taken using X-rays. Most often used to show the lungs.

Chi squared test

Statistical test that helps to show if there is a real difference between different treatments being tested in a controlled clinical trial. 


Infectious disease caused by a virus called herpes zoster. This can be dangerous to people who have had chemotherapy, especially high dose for bone marrow or stem cell transplant. The virus can also cause a painful condition called shingles. 

Chlorambucil (Leukeran)

An oral chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and low grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


Bile duct cancer.


X-rays of the bile ducts using a dye.


Operation to remove the gall bladder. Also called a simple cholecystectomy.


Surgery to relieve (bypass) a blocked bile duct. The gall bladder is reconnected directly to the gut. 

Choledochal cysts

An abnormal condition in which small sacs form along the bile duct and fill with bile. This condition increases the risk of gall bladder cancer.


Type of bypass surgery to relieve a blocked bile duct. The bile duct is cut above the blockage and reconnected to the gut. 


A type of primary bone cancer that makes cartilage. Cartilage is the smooth, shiny tissue that normally covers the ends of long bones.


A type of germ cell cancer. Germ cells are the cells that form sperm or eggs. Choriocarcinomas can develop in the womb after a 'molar pregnancy'. This is when the sperm and egg cells have joined but a baby does not develop. Occasionally choriocarcinomas can grow in other parts of the body.


One of the layers lining the eyeball. This layer contains lots of pigment to stop light coming into the eye from being reflected around the inside of the eyeball and so interfering with your eyesight. The cells that produce this pigment can develop into malignant melanoma in very rare cases. 


A metal used in the dyeing and leather tanning industries. Also used to cover other metals for decoration and to protect them from rusting. Thought to be a factor in the cause of some cancers. 

Chromogranin A (CgA)

Chromogranin is a protein made by some neuroendocrine tumours including carcinoid. It is also made by some other types of cancer, such as small cell lung cancer and neuroblastoma. A higher than normal level of CgA in the blood is a marker for these tumours. Doctors use CgA to diagnose and monitor the effects of treatment in people with tumours of the neuroendocrine system and some prostate cancers. 


Found in the nucleus (centre) of all human cells, the chromosomes are made of millions of genes. The genes are codes that control the cell. One set of chromosomes is inherited from each parent through the egg and sperm that join together when an egg is fertilised during conception. 

Chronic eosinophilic leukaemia

A type of leukaemia where the bone marrow gradually overproduces one type of white blood cell - the eosinophils.  The eosinophils build up in the bone marrow, blood and other body tissues.

Ciliary body

This is the muscle in the eyeball that controls the shape of the lens and so focuses your eyes. Very rarely, malignant melanoma can develop in the ciliary body. 

CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, CIN 1, CIN 2, CIN 3)

CIN stands for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, which means pre-cancerous cells found on the surface of the cervix. The cells are found by cervical screening with either a cervical smear test or liquid based cytology. The cell changes can be classed as CIN 1, 2, or 3. The higher the number, the more like cancer cells the abnormal cells are and so treatment is given to remove the cells. CIN 1 often goes back to normal without treatment, but a repeat smear is needed to check that the cells have gone. 

Circulation (circulatory system)

The flow of blood through the body. The blood flows from the right side of the heart to the lungs where it picks up oxygen. It goes back to the left side of the heart and is then pumped around the body. After it has travelled around the body, it goes back to the right side of the heart.


A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of a number of cancers including testis, ovary, endometrial, cervical, bladder, head and neck, gastrointestinal and lung cancers. It is also used to treat soft tissue and bone sarcomas and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Cladribine (Leustatin, Litak)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of hairy cell leukaemia, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinaemia.


Grouping diseases with similar characteristics. Different varieties of a type of cancer can be classified according to how the cells look under the microscope. Doctors use classifications to help them decide how best to treat a particular cancer.

Cleaning the marrow (purging)

This means removing any cancer cells that may still be in marrow that has been harvested for autologous bone marrow transplant. 

Clear margins

A border of tissue around a removed tumour that contains no cancer cells. Removing this border along with the cancer helps to make sure that all the cancer has been taken out and lowers the risk of the cancer coming back.

Clinical trial

Carefully designed research studies that investigate a new test, treatment or medical procedure in people. Trials may look at whether a treatment is safe, its side effects or how well a treatment or procedure works. Some trials look at how well treatments control symptoms or whether they improve quality of life.

Closed clinical trials

This means the trial is not recruiting participants.


Normal way the body stops bleeding. Some of the blood will thicken and form a clot. This blocks the bleeding point or wound. 

Clotting time

Blood test to see how fast the blood clots. This test is often used for people having chemotherapy. If the clotting time is too slow bleeding can happen inside the body. 

Cobalt (cobalt 60)

A radioactive metal which gives off gamma rays (radiation) and is used to give radiotherapy.

Coeliac plexus

A network of nerves at the back of the abdomen. Pressure on the nerves from a tumour can cause pain, which can be relieved by a procedure called a nerve block. 

Cold cap

Used to try to prevent hair falling out during chemotherapy treatment. Is worn as the treatment is given and makes the skin of the head very cold. This slows the blood flow through the scalp and reduces the amount of anti-cancer drugs reaching the hair follicles. Can help to prevent hair loss, but is not suitable for everyone. 

Cold coagulation

Method of treating abnormal cells on the cervix to prevent them developing into cervical cancer. Despite the name, a hot probe is actually used to burn off the abnormal cells so that normal ones can grow back in their place. 

Colon (bowel, large bowel, large intestine)

Also called the large bowel, large intestine, or the bowel. Waste left from digested food passes from the small bowel to the colon, where fluid and some nutrients are absorbed. The waste then goes through to the rectum (back passage) and then through the anus to the outside of the body. 

Colonoscopy (colonoscope)

Examination of the colon (large bowel) using a long, thin bendy tube (colonoscope) put up into the colon through the anus. The doctor can see inside the bowel and take biopsies (samples of tissue) to examine under a microscope.

Colorectal cancer

Cancers of the colon and rectum (large bowel). These are grouped together and called colorectal cancer.  


Opening of the bowel onto the surface of the abdomen (tummy). A bag is worn to collect the waste matter from digestion that would normally be passed from the body as a bowel motion. 

Colostomy bag (colostomy pouch)

Bag that is made to use with a colostomy. Most commonly a soft, flat, plastic disc (flange) is stuck over the stoma with a special glue and the bag attaches to that. There are many different designs and your stoma nurse will help find the right one for you.

Colostomy equipment

The bags, seals, clips etc that are made to be used with a colostomy.


A device used to look closely at the surface of the cervix after an abnormal result following cervical screening. The colposcope looks a bit like a microscope and magnifies the cells of the cervix. The doctor can find any abnormal areas more easily than with the naked eye. Any abnormal areas can then be treated to prevent cervical cancer developing. 


Test using a colposcope. The surface of the cervix is closely examined to find any abnormal areas, so that they can be treated. Usually done if a woman has abnormal cells found during cervical screening.  

Combination chemotherapy

Treatment with more than one chemotherapy drug at a time.

Combination therapy

The use of two or more types of treatment, for example, surgery and chemotherapy or chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Combination chemotherapy means treatment with more than one chemotherapy drug.


Something given (usually money) to make up for harm done. 

Complementary therapy

Treatment that is not part of traditional Western medicine, but used alongside. Usually used to help reduce stress and promote a feeling of well being. May help to control cancer symptoms and treat side effects. 

Complete response

To a researcher, this means the disappearance of all signs of cancer for at least four weeks. 

Cone biopsy

Removal of a cone shaped piece of the cervix. Used as a treatment for abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix (or sometimes very early cervical cancer). The area that is removed is where cervical cells are most likely to become abnormal. So it helps to prevent abnormal cells coming back, or cervical cancer developing. 

Confidence interval

Range of values that researchers believe an experimental result lies between. What they are really saying with a 95% confidence interval is that while their result might not be exactly right, they are 95% sure that the real result lies between the upper and lower limits they have given. 

Confidential (confidentiality)

Private. If information about you is confidential, no one can pass it on to anyone else without your permission. 

Conformal radiotherapy (3D conformal radiotherapy, 3DCRT)

A way of planning and giving radiotherapy using computer technology that allows the tumour to be seen in 3 dimensions (3D). This helps to shape the radiation beams so that they are moulded to fit the area where the cancer is.


The outer covering of the eyeball. Very, very rarely malignant melanoma can develop in the conjunctiva. 

Connective tissue

The connective tissues of the body are the tissues that hold the organs and other body structures in place. Specialised connective tissues include bones, cartilage, muscles, and nerves. Cancers of connective tissue are called sarcomas. 


Agree to something, or give permission for something to be done.

Consent form

Form that you sign before treatment (especially surgery) or before taking part in a clinical trial. The form says that you have been told about the treatment or trial and any possible complications.

Contact details

Information on how to contact a person. If you are having treatment you will normally be told who to contact if you have any side effects from the treatment or if you have any questions. If you have been given information about a clinical trial, you will be given contact details for the person you or your doctor should get in touch with if you want to take part in the trial.


A contagious (infectious) disease is one that is spread from one person to another by contact (touch) or through air. 

Continence advisers

Continence advisers are experienced nurses who have had specialist training to help people with bladder or bowel problems.

Continent urinary diversion

An operation to remove the bladder and make a pouch inside the body to collect your urine. The pouch is emptied by putting a catheter through a stoma (opening) in the abdomen and draining it out. 

Continuous ambulatory chemotherapy

Literally means chemotherapy given all the time that you can walk around with! Usually used to mean treatment with a small (personal stereo sized) pump that is worn under the clothes. 

Continuous chemotherapy (continuous administration)

Way of giving chemotherapy treatment. The chemotherapy drug is given all the time, through a pump. 

Contrast medium (contrast injection)

A substance used to give a clearer picture on a scan. Can be a drink or injection given to a patient before the scan. 

Control group

In research, the control group is the group of patients not having the treatment being tested in the study. Their results are compared to those of the treatment group. Usually the control group has the best current treatment available. 

Controlled trial

A type of clinical trial where one group of patients is compared to another. Usually the patients are put into the two groups at random to help stop the results being biased. 

Core needle biopsy

A tissue sample (biopsy) taken using a needle. The needle is put into the lump and a core of tissue is removed inside it when it is taken out. This tissue sample is checked under the microscope for cancer cells.

Corticosteroids (prednisone, dexamethasone)

Used to prevent and treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. Also used to treat cerebral oedema and spinal cord compression and to treat leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.


Helping someone to work through their feelings or problems by listening to them and supporting them. 


Someone trained to provide counselling. 

COX 2 inhibitors

COX 2 inhibitors are a type of non steroidal anti inflammatory drug (NSAIDs). These drugs block an enzyme (cyclo-oxygenase) that helps cancer cells develop. So these drugs may help lower the risk of some cancers occurring and may help to prevent cancers coming back. This is being investigated currently in clinical trials. An example of a COX-2 inhibitor is celecoxib, a drug used for arthritis pain. These drugs may increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

Crohn’s disease

A disorder where the bowel becomes inflamed and ulcerated. Symptoms can come and go. It is not curable, but is treatable with drugs and sometimes surgery. Having Crohn's disease for several years can increase risk of bowel cancer, so doctors may suggest screening.


Treatment using a cold probe to remove cells and tissue by freezing. Used to treat abnormal cells found after a cervical smear. Can be used in the treatment of other cancers, including prostate cancer and secondary liver cancer. 

CT Scan (CAT scan, CT scans)

Computerised tomography scan. A scan that makes a picture of the body by taking a series of X-rays. 

Cumfy (cumfies)

Soft breast shaped pad worn in the bra after an operation to remove a breast until the scar has healed. Then a breast prosthesis will be fitted. 

Curative treatment

Treatment which is aiming to cure a disease.


A surgical instrument shaped like a scoop and used to remove diseased or damaged parts of the body. 


Means 'of the skin'. So a cutaneous cancer is a cancer of the skin. The term 'cutaneous malignant melanoma' is used to distinguish between these cancers growing in the skin and malignant melanomas growing in the eye or internal organs. 

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma

A rare type of lymphoma that affects the skin. It begins with red scaly patches forming on the skin. These may be very itchy. The two main types of T cell lymphoma of the skin are Mycosis Fungoides and Sezary Syndrome. Often treated with ultraviolet light and with chemotherapy and steroids. 


A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of breast, lung, ovary, testis and bladder cancers. Also used in bone and soft tissue sarcomas, lymphoma, leukaemia and multiple myeloma.


A drug used to treat prostate cancer. Its full name is cyproterone acetate.

Cyst (cysts)

Fluid filled sack or lump in the body. 


Operation to remove the bladder. 

Cystic tumour

Type of tumour which looks like a fluid filled cyst. Cystic tumours can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancer). They are most common in the pancreas, but can occur in other parts of the body such as the ovary and around the heart. 

Cystitis (bladder infection, UTI)

Bladder or urinary tract infection.


An instrument for looking at the inside of the bladder, the prostate gland and urethra. 


A bladder test. A surgeon puts a tube into the bladder and uses it to look inside the bladder and urethra to check if there is anything wrong. You can have a cystoscopy under local or general anaesthetic.

Cytarabine (ara-C)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of leukaemia and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Cytogenetic response

A way of describing how you've responded to treatment for some types of blood cancer. In chronic myeloid leukaemia (and some types of acute leukaemia), your blood cells show a gene fault called the 'Philadelphia chromosome'. Cytogenetic response means that treatment has reduced the number of cells with this abnormal gene. A complete cytogenetic response means that all the blood cells in your bone marrow are normal - none of them have the Philadelphia chromosome. Your doctor may also call this 'complete cytogenetic remission'. A partial (or major) cytogenetic response means that at least two thirds of your blood cells are normal - fewer than 35 out of every 100 (35%) have the Philadelphia chromosome.


The study and testing of chromosomes. Can find particular chromosome changes in some cancer cells to give a diagnosis and predict which treatment will work best. 


A group of proteins that occur naturally in the body and carry out a vital role as 'messengers' in the immune system. The blood cell growth factors G-CSF and GM-CSF are cytokines. They tell the bone marrow to make more blood cells.


Study of cells. Biopsies, urine samples, etc are sent for 'cytology', which means looking at the cells under a microscope to see if any of them are abnormal. 


A test that allows your doctor to look at the interior lining of the bladder and the urethra.


'Toxic to cells' - anti-cancer treatments are cytotoxic treatments such as chemotherapy. 

Cytotoxic drugs

Anti-cancer drugs. Another name for chemotherapy. 

Cytotoxic T cells (killer T cells)

Cells of the immune system that kill other cells foreign to the body (for example, bacteria, viruses and cancer cells). Cytotoxic T cells are a type of white blood cells. 

Dacarbazine (DTIC)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of melanoma, soft tissue sarcoma an Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Dactinomycin (Actinomycin D)

A chemotherapy drug used for the treatment of gestational trophoblastic neoplasms, Wilms’ tumour, childhood rhabdomyosarcoma an Ewing’s sarcoma.

Darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp)

Stimulates the production of red blood cells. It is used for the treatment of anaemia.

Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB)

An independent committee, composed of community representatives and clinical research experts, that reviews data while a clinical trial is in progress to ensure that participants are not exposed to undue risk. A DSMB may recommend that a trial be stopped if there are safety concerns or if the trial objectives have been achieved.

Daughter cells

The two identical cells that are formed when a cell reproduces itself by splitting into two. 


Operation to remove as much of a large tumour as possible. This makes it easier to treat the cancer that is left. 

Decision aids

These aim to help people become involved with decisions about their health care with the goal that each patient’s decision is informed and consistent with his or her values.


Operation to remove part of the outside layer of an organ, such as the brain, kidney or lung.

Delayed reconstruction

Formation of a new breast (reconstruction) carried out some time after the operation to remove the breast. 

Dendritic cell vaccines

Dendritic cells help the immune system recognise and attack abnormal cells, such as cancer cells. To make the vaccine, scientists grow dendritic cells alongside cancer cells in the lab. The vaccine then stimulates the patient's immune system to attack the cancer. 


Low mood. A strong feeling of unhappiness that lasts for more than a few weeks. Can cause physical and emotional changes.


A small red or brown, non cancerous lump on the skin.

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans

A rare type of soft tissue sarcoma that affects the skin


A doctor who specialises in skin conditions.

Desmoid tumour

A tumour made of fibrous tissue. It has some features of a benign fibrous growth (fibroma) and some of a cancerous fibrous growth (fibrosarcoma). These tumours do not spread around the body but they can spread into tissues nearby.

DEXA scan (DXA scan)

DEXA or DXA scan stands for dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. You have x-rays (usually of your hip and your lower spine) and a machine detects how much of the x-ray is absorbed and how much passes through. This shows the density of your bones. If the bone is not very dense, it is weaker and more likely to fracture.


A disease caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin. Can be a feature of pancreatic cancer. Can also be caused by some types of surgery for cancer of the pancreas.


Identifying a person as having a particular illness or condition, when this term is used in health care.

Diathermy (loop diathermy)

A method of destroying abnormal pre-cancerous cells on the cervix. The abnormal cells are destroyed by a small electric current which the surgeon passes through the area.


A person trained to give advice on diet during illness and using diet to manage symptoms.

Diffuse large cell

A type of lymphoma. The lymphocyte cells appear large under the microscope and are spread out rather than clumped together. This is a high grade lymphoma.

Diffuse mixed cell

A type of lymphoma. Under the microscope the cells are mixed small and large lymphocytes and are spread out rather than clumped together. This is a high grade lymphoma.

Diffuse small cleaved

A type of lymphoma. Under the microscope the lymphocytes appear small and have a split in them (cleaved). They are spread out rather than clumped together. This is a high grade lymphoma.

Diffuse type

Diffuse means spread out. Some lymphomas are described as diffuse and the cells are spread out


Used in relation to breast cancer to mean obvious dips and puckering in the skin over the breast. Can be a sign of breast cancer.

Diptheria (diptheria vaccine)

An infectious disease. You can have a vaccination against diptheria if you are having chemotherapy.

Disease progression

This is when the cancer continues to increase in size even when you are having treatment, or a new secondary cancer is found. 

Disease free survival

The percentage of people that are alive and cancer free after a specified number of years (usually 5 years.)

District nurse (community nurse)

A nurse specially trained to visit and treat people in their own homes. They can dress wounds, remove stitches and look after central lines. Some also take blood and give drug treatment at home.

Double blind trial

Trial where neither the doctor nor the patient knows which treatment the patient is having. This is done to try to prevent bias affecting the trial results.


Stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid. Genes are made of DNA. DNA is the 'genetic code' that controls how the body's cells behave by controlling the type of protein they make. We inherit half our DNA code from our mother and half from our father.

DNA vaccines

Vaccines made with bits of DNA from cancer cells. They can be injected into the body to make the cells of the immune system better at responding to and destroying cancer cells.

Dose of radiotherapy

Amount of radiation in your treatment. The total dose is the amount you have over a complete radiotherapy course. This is broken down into a number of treatments called fractions. Usually you have one fraction per day. 

Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of breast, bladder, liver, lung, prostate, stomach and thyroid cancers. It is also used in the treatment of bone and soft tissue sarcoma, lymphoma, leukaemia, multiple myeloma and childhood tumours (Wilms’ tumour, neuroblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma).

Doxorubicin, liposomal (Doxil, Caelyx)

A chemotherapy drug which has a longer duration of action than doxorubicin. It is used in the treatment  of ovarian cancer, multiple myeloma and Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Drug licensing

When the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) gives a pharmaceutical company the go ahead to market a drug, the drug is 'licensed'.  The TGA is The federal government body that approves drugs and treatments before they can be prescribed.

Duct (ducts)

A tube or channel which carries liquid or chemicals from one part of the body to another. For example, ducts in the breasts carry milk to the nipple.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)

A type of early breast cancer affecting the ducts of the breast. Means the cancer cells are all inside the ducts (channels) of the breast and have not spread into the surrounding breast tissue. This is important as it means the chance of the cancer cells having spread anywhere else in the body is very low indeed.

Dukes' A

Stage of bowel cancer. Means the cancer is just in the lining of the bowel and has not grown into the wall of the bowel.

Dukes' B

Stage of bowel cancer. Means the cancer is growing into the wall of the bowel. But there is no cancer in any of the lymph nodes around the bowel.

Dukes' C

Stage of bowel cancer. Means that at least one of the lymph nodes near the bowel contains cancer cells.

Dukes' system

Way of classifying bowel cancer according to stage. There are four groups, Dukes' A to Dukes' D. 'A' is the earliest cancer and 'D' a cancer that has spread. 

Dumping (dumping syndrome)

Faintness and dizziness that comes on after eating. Caused by the stomach contents moving into the bowel too quickly. Can be a side effect of stomach surgery.


The first part of the small intestine, which lies between the stomach and the rest of the small intestine. The bile duct and pancreatic duct both open into the duodenum. .


How long something lasts. Duration of treatment is the length of time your treatment lasts. Duration of response to a treatment means the time between having the treatment and the cancer beginning to grow again.

Duration of response

The time it takes for the cancer to come back or start growing again.


Word used to describe abnormal cells. Means the nucleus of a cell looks abnormal. Mild, moderate and severe dyskaryosis are three levels of abnormality. They are not cancer. They are all phases of pre-cancerous cells which could go on to develop into cancer if left untreated.


Pain on having sex. Can be a symptom of cervical cancer or cancer of the womb.


This means 'abnormal growth'. It can be used about cells - dysplastic cells are abnormal cells. You may also hear dysplastic cells called 'dysplasia'. Sometimes 'dysplastic cells' can be used to mean cells that are not quite normal, but not so abnormal to be classed as cancer cells. 

Dysplastic naevus syndrome (familial dysplastic naevus syndrome)

A condition where the affected person has a large number of abnormal moles and a higher than average risk of developing malignant melanoma. If it runs in a family it is called familial dysplastic naevus syndrome.

Erlotinib (Tarceva)

Erlotinib inhibits the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase preventing the proliferation of tumour cells. It is used in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer.

Early breast cancer

Breast cancer that has not spread outside the breast or lymph nodes under the arm.

Early cancer

Means a cancer that has been diagnosed at an early stage. In other words it is a small tumour that has not spread and has the potential to be cured.

Early cervical cancer

Means cancer that has not spread outside the area of the neck of the womb.

Early detection

In medicine means finding a disease as early as possible, perhaps before there are any symptoms. 

Early menopause (premature menopause)

Change of life which happens before it naturally should. This can be due to some cancer treatments - for example, radiotherapy to the ovaries, or some types of chemotherapy treatment. 

ECG (electrocardiogram, heart monitor)

A medical test that checks the health of the heart by taking an electrical recording of the heart beat. Small pads are stuck to the chest. Wires are attached to the pads. These are connected to a machine. Doctors can examine the trace of the heart beat to see if the heart is working normally. 


A test of the strength of your heart using sound. It is painless and only takes about half an hour.


This term means planned. For example, elective surgery is surgery that is not an emergency but has been planned. Can also be used to refer to other types of treatment. 


Using a needle heated by an electric current to stop bleeding or destroy an area of body tissue.

Eligibility (entry criteria)

List of conditions that must be fulfilled in order to get into a clinical trial. For example, having a particular type of cancer.


Cutting off the blood supply to a cancer by blocking the blood vessels. This reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the cancer and can shrink it. 


Means 'of the embryo'. Embryonal cancers develop from cells left over from when the person was an embryo. Everyone has these cells, but sometimes they can become cancerous.


A lung disease causing chronic breathlessness and episodes of bronchitis.

Endobronchial therapy

Treatment given from inside the bronchi (main airways of the lung), for example, radiotherapy. A bronchoscopy is done and a radioactive source put down the bronchoscope. This can give a dose of radiation directly to a tumour inside the bronchus. 

Endobronchial ultrasound

A test that uses an endoscope and an ultrasound scanner to examine the airways and the area of the body around the airways. A doctor or specialist nurse passes a flexible, fibreoptic tube, with an ultrasound probe attached, into your mouth and down into the airways.

Endocervical canal

Area just above the cervix. Leads into the body of the womb.


Glandular tissues that secrete (make and release) hormones directly into the blood stream. For example, the endocrine gland cells in the pancreas secrete insulin into the blood. 

Endometrial cancer

This refers to several types of malignancy which arise from the endometrium, or lining of the uterus.


A medical condition where womb lining tissue is found outside the lining of the womb, most often on the ovaries and the outer layer of the womb. Causes severe back and pelvic pain. Can be a cause of a raised CA125 level. 


The lining of the womb.


A painkilling substance (similar to opioids) made by the body in response to pain.

Endoscopic retrograde cholangio pancreatography (ERCP)

A diagnostic test to look at the gall bladder and pancreas. A tube (endoscope) is passed through the mouth and down to the duodenum. The doctor can look through the tube to see if there are abnormalities in these areas. 

Endoscopic ultrasound

A test that uses an endoscope and an ultrasound scanner to examine the digestive system, breathing system or urogenital system. A doctor or specialist nurse passes a flexible, fibreoptic tube, with an ultrasound probe attached, into the part of the body that they need to examine. This may also be called endoluminal ultrasound. 


An examination of the inside of the digestive system. Usually used to look at the oesophagus, stomach, duodenum and gall bladder. See Digestive system.


Putting liquid into the rectum (back passage) to clear it out.

Enlarged glands (enlarged lymph nodes, swollen lymph nodes)

Lymph glands which are bigger than they should be. This can happen for a number of reasons, only one of which is that they contain cancer cells. 

Enterochromaffin cells

These cells are in the lining of the gut. They make and store the hormone serotonin.


Means surgery to remove the eyeball. This is done when there is a cancer growing inside the eye. It is very rare. 

Enzyme (enzymes)

Enzymes are proteins that control chemical reactions in the body. For example, the digestive enzymes help food to be broken down so it can be absorbed.


A type of brain tumour. Rare type of glioma. Affects the ependymal cells of the brain and can occur anywhere in the brain or spinal cord. Most often found in the main part of the brain (cerebrum). 


The outermost layer of the skin. It is made up of 5 layers. The deepest of these contains the cells that divide to form all the cells and layers above it. 


Given into the spinal fluid. An epidural anaesthetic is an anaesthetic given into the spinal fluid. Some cancer drugs are given this way.


A chemotherapy drug used to treat breast, oesophagus, lung, ovary and stomach cancers. It is also used to treat lymphoma and soft tissue sarcomas.

Epithelial tissue

The skin tissue that covers the outside and inside of the body. It covers all the body organs and lines all the tubes and cavities of the body. Cancers of epithelial tissue are called carcinomas. 

Epoetin (Eprex)

Stimulates the production of red blood cells. It is used for the treatment of anaemia.

Erythropoietin (EPO)

A growth factor that encourages the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. It is made by the kidneys but can now be made in the laboratory in large amounts. Some people may have EPO injections if they get anaemic during chemotherapy and feel very tired and breathless.

Ethics The process of determining that a proposed clinical trial conforms to a wide range of moral, scientific and ethical standards, to ensure that participants in the trial are not abused, mistreated or unfairly taken advantage of. Before a clinical trial can go ahead, it must be given approval via an independent ethics process
Ethics Committee

Ethics Committees review research proposals involving human participants to ensure that they are ethically acceptable and in accordance with relevant standards and guidelines. The National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 specifies that NHMRC will issue advice and guidelines on ethics and related issues in the fields of health and human and animal research.

Etoposide (Vepesid)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of lung and stomach cancers. Also used in the treatment of germ cell cancers, lymphomas, acute leukaemia and neuroblastoma.

Ewing's sarcoma

A type of primary bone cancer. It is most often diagnosed in teenagers or young adults.

Excision biopsy

An operation to remove a lump so that it can be looked at under the microscope. 

Exemestane (Aromasin)

Decreases the synthesis of oestrogen by inhibiting the aromatase enzyme. It is used in the treatment of breast cancer.

Existing treatment

Accepted treatment that is being used at the moment. This may be what a new treatment is compared to in a trial.

Exit site

When radiotherapy is given, the radiation passes through the body. The place where it comes out is called the exit site. The skin here can become sensitive during the treatment period.

Exocrine (exocrine glands)

Glands that secrete (make and release) enzymes through a duct (tube). For example, the exocrine gland cells in the pancreas secrete pancreatic digestive enzymes through the pancreatic duct into the duodenum. 

Experimental group

In research, a group of patients who are having the treatment being tested in a trial.

Extended cholecystectomy

An operation to remove the gall bladder, about 2.5 cm of liver tissue near the gallbladder and all the lymph nodes near and around the gall bladder. It may also be called open cholecystectomy. 

Extensive disease

Term used by doctors to mean cancer that is widespread within the body or within a particular organ of the body. For example, with small cell lung cancer of the lung, extensive disease is lung cancer that has spread to the chest or to other parts of the body. 

External radiotherapy

Treatment with high energy waves which are aimed at a cancer (or the area where a cancer was) from outside the body. 

Extranodal disease

Extranodal disease means lymphoma that occurs in parts of the body outside the lymphatic system. Most lymphomas occur within the lymphatic system, which consists of a network of lymph glands connected by lymph vessels plus the tonsils, spleen and liver. 


Means outside the eyeball. If a cancer that has started in the eye is called extraocular, it means it has spread outside the eyeball itself to the optic nerve or eye socket.

Extrapleural pneumonectomy

An operation to remove the lung, the tissues that cover it (the pleura), part of the diaphragm and the tissue covering the heart (the pericardium). This operation is sometimes used to treat mesothelioma.

Faecal occult blood test (stool test or FOBT)

A test that can pick up tiny traces of blood in the faeces (stool, bowel motion). It is not completely reliable, as some foods and drinks can cause a false positive result. It may also sometimes give a negative result when there is actually a cancer present. 

Faeces (bowel motions, stools)

Waste matter from digested food that is passed out of the bowel through the rectum (back passage).

False negative

In screening, this means a negative test for a disease when a person has the disease. A potential screening test that produces too many false negative results cannot be widely used.

False positive

In screening, this means a positive test for a disease when the person doesn't have the disease. This means that the person has to have further tests that they don't need. The tests may cause side effects. A potential screening test that produces too many false positive results cannot be widely used.


A familial condition runs in the family. This is different to an inherited condition, which is one that is definitely passed on by a particular gene. A familial condition shows up more often in a particular family, but not everyone gets it and there is no known single inherited gene.

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

A rare disease that causes lots of benign polyps (small growths that are not cancerous) to grow in the bowel. It is caused by a faulty inherited gene. People with FAP have an increased risk of getting bowel cancer. 

Familial ovarian cancer registry

A register of families that have several cases of ovarian cancer. Researchers use this information to look into heredity and ovarian cancer. 

Family history

A record of the health issues in relatives to see whether any diseases run in the family. 

Fanconi's anaemia

A genetic disorder that can affect children and adults from any ethnic background. It is named after the Swiss doctor who originally described it. People with Fanconi's anaemia are short, have bone changes, and are at risk of developing cancers, leukemia, and bone marrow failure (aplastic anemia). They are also more sensitive to some types of chemotherapy.


An extreme feeling of tiredness and lack of energy. 

Female hormones

Sex hormones found in women, which control fertility and regulate periods – for example, oestrogen and progesterone. 


The ability to conceive and have children.

Fever (fevers)

An abnormally high body temperature. Usually taken to mean a temperature above 38oC or 98.4oF. 

Fibre optics

Cables filled with very thin fibres that carry light.  Can be used to look at the inside of the body and take pictures if needed.


Fibrous lump found in the breast which is not cancer.


Body cells that develop into bone, cartilage and collagen cells.


A type of fibrous tissue cell. The fibrous tissues are amongst the connective tissues of the body. Cancers of the connective tissues are called sarcomas.


Benign (non-cancerous) growths in the womb. Fibroids can cause raised CA125 levels in the blood. 


A type of cancer that develops from fibrous tissue cells called fibrocytes.  This is a type of primary bone cancer - one of a group of tumours called spindle cell sarcomas.


An abnormal increase in fibrous tissue in a part of the body. Occurs as a side effect of radiotherapy. Makes the affected tissue less stretchy. 


Stands for Federation of International Gynaecological Oncologists. The FIGO staging system is the most commonly used staging system for ovarian cancer.

Filgastrim, G-CSF (Neupogen)

Recombinant G-CSF which increases the white blood cell count. It is used to prevent and treat low white blood cells caused by chemotherapy. It is also used in the treatment of bone marrow disorders.

Fine needle aspiration (fine needle, FNA)

A type of biopsy where a very thin needle is put into a lump or a lymph gland, and a sample of fluid and cells is sucked out. The cells are looked at under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. 

First degree relative

A first degree relative is your parent, brother or sister, or your child. Half their genes are the same as yours. This only applies to blood relatives.

First line treatment

This is the first course of treatment you have when diagnosed with cancer. Or the first course of treatment after the cancer has come back (recurred).


An abnormal opening between two parts of the body. 

Five year survival

The proportion (percentage) of people with a particular type of cancer who are still alive 5 years after the cancer was first diagnosed.

Flexible laryngoscopy

A test to examine your upper airways and voice box. A tube is put up your nose and down into your throat. The tube contains a light and a camera so your doctor can see inside.

Fludarabine (Fludara)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and acute leukaemia.

Fluorouracil (5-FU, Efudix)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of breast, colorectal, anal, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, liver, head and neck and bladder cancers. It can also be applied in a topical preparation to treat skin cancers.

Flutamide (Eulexin, Flutamin)

Inhibits androgen production. Used in the treatment of prostate cancer.


FNA stands for fine needle aspiration. A type of biopsy where a very thin needle is put into a lump or a lymph gland, and a sample of fluid and cells is sucked out. The cells are looked at under a microscope to see if they are cancerous.

Folic acid

One of the B vitamins. It is necessary for the healthy development of red blood cells.

Follicular large cell

A type of lymphoma. The lymphocytes look large under the microscope and are grouped together. This is an intermediate grade lymphoma. 

Follicular mixed cell

A type of lymphoma. It is made up of both small and large lymphocytes and they are grouped together. This is a low grade type of lymphoma. 

Follicular small cleaved

A type of lymphoma. The lymphocytes look small under the microscope and are partly split (cleaved). They are grouped together rather than spread out. This is a low grade type of lymphoma. 

Follicular type

A type of lymphoma. Lymphoma can be diffuse or follicular (sometimes called nodular). In follicular types, under the microscope the cells appear grouped together. In diffuse type they are more spread out. Follicular lymphomas are usually B cell lymphomas

Follow up

Medical appointment to monitor progress after treatment.

Food diary

Detailed record of what you have eaten and drunk over a period of time. You also record any diet related symptoms such as indigestion or wind when they occur. The aim is to find out which foods or drinks are upsetting your digestion. 

Food supplements (high calorie drinks)

Extra nutrition (food) usually in the form of high energy and high protein drinks. These are available on prescription or can be bought from your chemist. There are a number of different brands, for example Ensure and Sustagen. 


How often something happens. In the medical world it is also often used to refer to having to pass urine or bowel movements more often than normal. 

Fulvestrant (Faslodex)

Blocks oestrogen from working. Used in the treatment of breast cancer.


The main part of the stomach. It is also called the body of the stomach.


A chemical used in the chemical industry as a disinfectant and in medical laboratories to preserve specimens. It has been linked with some types of cancer, including malignant melanoma. 


One session in a course of radiotherapy. To reduce side effects, the total radiotherapy dose is divided into a number of smaller daily doses called fractions.


Stands for granulocyte colony stimulating factor. A growth factor in the body which encourages the bone marrow to make white blood cells. 

Gamma camera

Special type of camera that takes pictures of radiation given off from the body. Used to produce bone scans and other types of scans. 


Operation to remove all or part of the stomach. Removing the whole stomach is a total gastrectomy. Removing part of it is a partial gastrectomy.


A hormone that stimulates the stomach to release digestive juices. 


A rare type of endocrine tumour of the pancreas. It makes and releases (secretes) abnormal amounts of gastrin - a digestive hormone. 


Inflammation of the stomach lining. Causes pain and indigestion symptoms and sometimes nausea (sickness) and vomiting. Chronic gastritis can increase the risk of stomach cancer.

Gastro intestinal cancer

Cancer of the stomach or bowel.

Gastro oesophageal junction

The part of the body where the food pipe (oesophagus) connects to the stomach.


A doctor who specialises in diseases of the digestive system.

Gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST)

Also known as GI stromal sarcoma. A cancer that develops from the cells that make up the supporting framework (the stroma) of the organs of the digestive system (the gastrointestinal tract). 


An operation to bypass a blockage of the stomach or duodenum, by joining part of the stomach to the upper part of the small bowel (the jejunum).

Gefitinib (Iressa)

An oral tyrosine kinase inhibitor that blocks the epidermal growth factor receptor. It is used in the treatment of lung cancer.

Geiger counter

A machine that measures the amount of radiation around it. Makes a clicking sound to show how much radiation there is. 

Gemcitabine (Gemzar)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and cancers of the breast, bladder and ovary.

Gemtuzumab (Mylotarg)

An antibody against the CD33 antigen used in the treatment of CD33 positive acute non-lymphocytic leukaemia.

Gene (genes)

Coded messages that tell cells how to behave. They control growth and development of the body. Genes are made of DNA and grouped together to form chromosomes. Different human chromosomes have different numbers of genes - most have between 1 to 2 thousand genes per chromosome.

Gene therapy (molecular therapy)

Treating cancer by repairing gene damage, or blocking the proteins that damaged genes make.

Genetic (genetics)

Related to genes. Genetic treatments are treatments that use genes. If a condition is called 'genetic' it means it is caused by a fault in one or more genes and may have been inherited.

Genetic predisposition

If you have a 'genetic predisposition' to cancer, you are more likely to develop it than the average person. This is due to the genes you  inherited from your parents. 

Genital wart virus (genital warts, HPV, human papilloma virus, warts, wart virus)

A virus which causes warts on the genitals. Certain types of this virus have been associated with cancer of the cervix.

Genetic testing

Genetic tests can be used in diagnosis, prognosis, to ascertain risk, to provide personalised treatment and to assess susceptibility to drugs and risk of side effects. This is a very new field.

Germ cell

Cell that produces eggs in females and sperm in males. Germ cell cancers can occur in the ovaries or testicles. They also occur more rarely in other parts of the body. 

Germ cell cancer

Germ cell tumours are cancers that develop from the cells that become sperm and eggs. The most common germ cell tumours are teratomas or seminomas of the testicle. About 1 or 2% of ovarian tumours are germ cell tumours and are usually found in young women. Germ cell tumours can rarely occur in other places - for example, the pineal gland in the brain or elsewhere in the head, neck or chest.

GFR test (Glomerular filtration rate test)

A test to measure how well the kidneys are working and how quickly they remove waste products from the blood. You have an injection that contains a dye. Then a number of blood samples are taken over a few hours which show how well the kidneys are filtering out the dye.


See gastrointestinal stromal tumour.


An organ in the body which makes and secretes (gives off) a substance such as a hormone or a digestive enzyme. For example, the salivary glands make and secrete saliva and the thyroid gland makes and secretes thyroid hormones. 

Gleason score

The Gleason score describes the grade of prostate cancer. Areas of cells in prostate cancer biopsies are graded on a scale from 1 to 5. 1 is the lowest grade, and the cells look most like normal cells. 5 is the highest grade and the cells look more abnormal. The scores from two areas with the highest grade cells are added together to give the Gleason score. So the score can be as low as 2 or as high as 10.

Glioblastoma multiforme

The most common primary brain tumour found in adults. Also called Grade IV astrocytoma.

Glioma (glial cells)

A type of brain tumour that grows from glial cells. Glial cells make up the supporting tissue of the brain. Over half of all brain tumours are gliomas. Types include astrocytoma, ependymoma and oligodendroglioma. Mixed gliomas contain more than one type of glial cell. 


A rare type of endocrine tumour of the pancreas, which secretes (makes and releases) abnormal amounts of a hormone called glucagon. 


Stands for 'granulocyte and macrophage colony stimulating factor'. A growth factor which encourages the bone marrow to make white blood cells and platelets. 

Gorlin’s syndrome

An inherited skin disorder that can increase the risk of developing basal cell skin cancer. Also called 'naevoid basal cell syndrome'.


Describes how abnormal cancer cells look under the microscope. The more abnormal they look, the higher the grade of the cancer. Low grade cancers are thought to be less malignant than high grade. This means they are likely to grow more slowly and less likely to spread to other parts of the body. 

Grade: lymphomas

Grade is a way of grouping together types of lymphoma that are treated in more or less the same way. There are three grades of lymphomas: high, intermediate and low. When deciding on treatment, doctors usually group high and intermediate grades together. Low grade lymphomas are slower growing, chronic diseases. They are often controlled for many years with fairly mild chemotherapy. But they are less likely to be completely curable. High grade lymphomas are usually faster growing acute diseases that need more intensive treatment, but are more often curable. 


General practitioner - family doctor.

Grade: solid tumours

What the cancer cells look like under the microscope. The more abnormal they look, the higher the grade of the cancer. Low grade cancers are thought to be less malignant than high grade. This means they are likely to grow more slowly and are less likely to spread to other parts of the body. 

Graft versus host

A term used in donor bone marrow transplant. The graft (the donated marrow) reacts against the host (the person receiving the marrow). It can cause diarrhoea, skin rashes and liver damage. Usually it is mild. It can be a good thing because it means the marrow has taken and is producing a good immune response which may help to kill cancer cells.


The unit measuring how much radiation your body absorbs. Doctors prescribe radiotherapy treatments in numbers of 'Gray' (Gy for short).


Where the inner thigh meets the body. This area contains a lot of lymph nodes.

Gronin valve

A type of valve that can help you speak after you have had your voice box (larynx) removed.

Growth blocker/inhibitor

A drug that stops a growth factor from triggering cells to divide and grow. Growth blockers are a type of biological therapy. Examples of growth blockers used to treat cancer are imatinib (Glivec) and sunitinib (Sutent).

Growth cycle (cell cycle)

The normal cycle of activity a cell goes through when reproducing itself (dividing into two). 

Growth factors (G-CSF, GM-CSF, growth factor, IL3)

Natural substances produced in tiny quantities in the body which help blood cells to grow. These can now be given in large doses by injection during chemotherapy treatment to help the bone marrow recover quickly and make more blood cells. They are also used as a biological therapy to treat cancer. 

Gut sterilisers

Tablets given to some people having high dose chemotherapy, bone marrow or stem cell transplant. They kill off the bacteria that are normally present in the digestive system. In healthy people, these bacteria are not harmful. But in people with very little resistance to infection they can cause illness.


A doctor specialised in treating diseases of the female sex organs – the ovaries, womb, fallopian tubes, vagina and vulva. 


A rare, slow growing type of brain tumour. Develops from blood vessel cells in the brain. Is almost always benign. 

Haematological malignancies

Leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma are haematological malignancies. These are cancers of the bone marrow or lymphatic system, where blood cells are made. Normally, blood cells are produced in a controlled way. In these cancers, too many blood cells are made and the cells don't work properly.

Haematological response

This is a way of describing how well your treatment has worked for some types of blood cancer. It means that following treatment your blood counts have gone back to more normal levels.


A swelling where blood has collected under the skin. 

Haematopoietic tissue

The tissue where the blood cells are made. The bone marrow in adults.


A pigment containing iron. It is found in red blood cells and carries oxygen around the body. 

Haemorrhagic cystitis

Inflammation of the bladder with severe bleeding.

Hair follicle (hair follicles)

The sac in which the hair grows in the scalp. The hair follicles are damaged by some chemotherapy drugs. This is why chemotherapy often causes hair loss.

Hand-foot syndrome

This is a side effect of some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy with capecitabine tablets or continuous 5FU. The skin on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet goes red and peels. The redness and peeling clears up when the treatment is finished. It is also called palmar-plantar erythema, which just means red palms and soles. 

Head and neck cancer (head and neck)

A term used by doctors to mean cancer affecting the lip, mouth, nose etc. Does not usually mean cancers of the oesophagus (gullet) or larynx (voice box). 


The organ which pumps blood around the body. 

Helicobacter pylori

Bacteria which can infect the stomach. Stomach infection with HP has been shown to be a cause of a rare type of lymphoma of the  stomach. It also possibly increases the risk of the most common type of stomach cancer, (adenocarcinoma of the stomach), but this has not been conclusively proved.

Helper T cells

Type of white blood cell. Helper T cells stimulate B cells to make antibodies as part of the immune response.

Hemibody irradiation

Radiotherapy treatment of half the body at a time. It is most commonly used to treat secondary bone cancer. 


A drug which stops the blood from clotting. People sometimes describe this as ’thinning the blood’. 

Hepatic artery

The main blood vessel carrying blood to the liver.

Hepatic artery infusional chemotherapy (hepatic artery pump)

Chemotherapy that is given straight into the main blood vessel to the liver. It is most commonly used to treat secondary bowel cancer in the liver. 

Hepatitis A (hepatitis A vaccine)

An infectious disease. You can have a vaccination against hepatitis A if you are having chemotherapy. 


An operation to remove some of the liver tissue, the pancreas and some of the small bowel (intestine).


HER2 stands for human epidermal growth factor receptor. It is a protein found in small amounts on normal breast cells. It is one of the proteins involved in cell growth. About a quarter of breast cancers have too much of this protein - they are said to be HER2 positive. 


This gene makes cells produce HER2 protein.


The passing on of characteristics to the next generation via the genes. You can inherit physical or mental characteristics or the tendency to develop particular illnesses. Half your chromosomes (and so half your genes) come from your mother and half from your father.

Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer

This is a type of inherited cancer of the digestive tract, particularly the colon large intestine and rectum.

High dose chemotherapy

Anti-cancer drug treatment using very high drug doses. It often needs to be followed by a transfusion of bone marrow or stem cells. 

High grade

Means the cells look very different to normal cells. So the cancer may grow more quickly and be more likely to spread than low grade cancer. 

High grade: lymphomas (high grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma)

High grade lymphomas are faster growing and more acute diseases than low grade. They are usually treated with more intensive chemotherapy treatment than low grade, but if treated at an early stage, may just be treated with radiotherapy. 

High grade: solid tumours

Means the cells look quite similar to normal cells. So the cancer may grow slowly and is not so likely to spread as high grade cancers. 


A type of immune system cell called a macrophage that is found in the body's soft tissues.


The study of body tissues and cells. When a biopsy is 'sent for histology' it is looked at under a microscope to find the type of body tissue it is. If it is a cancer the laboratory does tests to see which type of cancer it is. 

HNPCC (Hereditary non polyposis colorectal cancer)

Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) is also known as Lynch syndrome. People with HNPCC have inherited faulty genes that give them a high risk of developing bowel cancer. They also have a higher risk of womb cancer, ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer and bladder cancer than the general population.

Hoarse voice

The voice sounds husky and croaking. Can be a symptom of lung cancer or other head and neck cancers but may also be caused by other medical conditions. 

Hodgkin's disease

A cancer of the lymphatic system. It is a type of lymphoma. There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin's disease and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

Holter test (Holter monitor)

A test that records the electrical activity of your heart over a period of time. You have to wear a small device about the size of a mobile phone or a walkman on your belt. 4 to 6 electrical leads from the device are attached to your chest by sticky pads. You wear this for between 24 hours and 7 days.

Hormone (hormones)

Natural chemicals made in one part of the body which travel in the bloodstream and make things happen in another part of the body. Some cancers are stimulated to grow by hormones, including the sex hormones (testosterone in men and oestrogen in women). 

Hormone dependent (hormone sensitive)

A hormone dependent cancer is one that is stimulated to grow by the presence of a particular hormone. Breast cancer and prostate cancer can be hormone dependent cancers. 

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Treatment with sex hormones to replace those no longer being produced. Women may take oestrogen alone, or more usually, oestrogen and progesterone after  natural or early menopause. Men may take testosterone after having both testicles removed during cancer treatment. HRT should not be taken by people with hormone dependent cancers.

Hormone therapy (hormone treatment)

Treating a disease with hormones, or by blocking the action of hormones.


A place people where can go for treatment and relief of symptoms from their cancer. Hospices aim to maintain the best possible quality of life for as long as possible. They usually offer day patient and in-patient care.

Hospital attendance

How often you have to go to the hospital and for how long.

Hot flushes

A sudden feeling of being very hot. You may also go red in the face and sweat. It usually lasts for a few minutes. These effects occur in women going through the menopause or 'change of life'. They may also be caused by some cancer treatments in women and men. 

Hot spots

An area which shows up on a bone scan. Means there is damage to bone. This could be arthritis, an old fracture or cancer in the bones. 

Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG)

A hormone made by the body in early pregnancy. This hormone may also be produced by some types of cancer, mainly choriocarcinoma and some testicular cancers.

Human papilloma virus

A group of viruses. There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Some cause wart-like growths on the skin. Some types of HPV are a factor in the development of cancers of the cervix, anus and head and neck. 

Human Research Ethics Committee

A group of people who look at trial plans to see whether they have been properly thought out and prepared. Usually includes doctors, nurses, lawyers and members of the public. They are responsible for checking that the best interests of patients have been considered.

Hydroxyurea (Hydrea)

An oral chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of leukaemia, essential thrombocythaemia, polycythaemia rubra vera and for the prevention of the retinoic acid syndrome in acute promyelocytic leukaemia.


Too much calcium in the blood. This causes drowsiness and sickness at first and unconsciousness if it is not treated. Often caused by cancer affecting the bones. 

Hypereosinophilic syndrome (HES)

A group of disorders in which the bone marrow produces too many eosinophils – one type of white blood cell. The eosinophils gradually build up in body tissues and damage body organs. 


Means increased growth of cells, but the cells are normal.

Hysterectomy (salpingo-oophorectomy, TAH, TAHBSO)

An operation to remove the womb. TAH stands for total abdominal hysterectomy. BSO stands for bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, which means removing both ovaries and fallopian tubes as well. 

Ibritumomab (Zevalin)

An antibody against CD20 which is joined to a radioactive molecule. It is used in the treatment of CD20 positive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Idarubicin (Zavedos)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of leukaemia.

Ifosfamide (Holoxan)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of testicular and lung cancers, bone and soft tissue sarcomas and lymphoma.


An ileostomy is an opening of the small bowel onto the surface of the abdomen. You wear a bag over the opening, to collect the waste matter from digestion that would normally be passed from the body as a bowel motion (stool).

Imatinib (Gleevec)

An inhibitor of the Bcr-Abl tyrosine kinase. It is used in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumour.

Immature cells

Cells that are not fully developed. Cancer cells are immature cells. Cancers made up of cells that are very immature compared to normal cells are thought to grow more quickly than cancers made up of cells that are less immature.

Immediate reconstruction

Breast reconstruction carried out at the same time as the operation to remove the breast.


Living forever. Normal cells grow and divide a fixed number of times and then die. Cancer cells can carry on reproducing forever and so are immortal.

Immune system

System in the body that fights infection and causes allergic reactions. Includes the lymph glands, spleen and white blood cells.

Immunoblastic large cell

A type of high grade lymphoma. It is diagnosed by the appearance of the cells under the microscope.


Medicine that damps down (suppresses) the activity of your body's immune system.


Treatment that stimulates the body's immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapies are a type of treatment called biological therapy. Interferon and interleukin 2 are immunotherapies

Implant (implants)

Something put into the body. May be to replace a part of the body that has been removed (for example, a breast implant) or to give treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Inadequate smear

A smear test that did not collect enough of the right cells - so cannot be used. You will be asked to have a repeat smear.

Incontinence (faecal incontinence, urinary incontinence)

Not being able to control passing urine (urinary incontinence) or passing a bowel motion (faecal incontinence).

Indemnity insurance

Insurance against damage claims.

Independent scientific review (scientific review)

In research, a trial plan being checked by a group of qualified people who are nothing to do with the trial.

Induction chemotherapy

These are the first cycles of chemotherapy. The aim of induction therapy is to reduce the size of the tumour to help make it easier for other anti-cancer therapies such as surgery or radiation therapy work more effectively. In haematological malignancies induction therapy is aimed at getting rid of cancer cells before consolidation chemotherapy is given.

Influenza (flu)

Infectious disease. You can have a vaccination against flu if you are having chemotherapy.

Informed consent

Agreeing to take part in a clinical trial, or have a particular treatment, with a full understanding of the benefits and drawbacks.


Gained from your parents. Inherited information is passed on from parents to their children in genes. The genetic information may cause a high risk of some illnesses or cancer, or may cause a particular characteristic such as eye colour.


A rare type of tumour of the pancreas. Insulinomas make abnormal amounts of insulin and release it into the blood.

Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)

A type of radiotherapy. IMRT alters the radiotherapy dose depending on the thickness of body tissue. This means that all parts of the cancer receive the same dose of radiation. Healthy tissues close to the tumour can receive a low dose.

Intensive care unit (ICU)

A ward where patients are very closely monitored.

Interferon (Roferon-A, Intron A)

Helps the immune response against cancer cells. It is used in the treatment of melanoma and renal cell cancer and also to treat chronic hepatitis B and C.

Intermediate grade

A group of types of lymphomas. There are three grades of lymphomas: high, intermediate and low. Grade is used to decide on treatment. In practice, doctors tend to group intermediate grade and high grade lymphomas together.

Internal radiotherapy

Radiotherapy given by putting a source of radiation inside the body. It is sometimes called 'brachytherapy'. The source can be solid (for example, radioactive grains put into the prostate), or liquid (for example, a radioactive iodine drink or injection given to treat thyroid cancer).

Interval cancer

A cancer that develops between the tests you have as part of a screening programme (for example, in the 3 years between mammograms). Screening programmes are set up so that the tests are close enough together to reduce the risk of an interval cancer as much as possible.

Intramuscular injection (IM injection, intramuscularly)

Injection into a muscle.

Intraperitoneal injection

An injection directly into the abdominal area. Some chemotherapy is given in this way to treat cancers that may spread to other organs in the abdomen.

Intrathecal injection (IT injection, intrathecally)

An injection into the fluid around the spinal cord. Some chemotherapy needs to be given this way for particular types of cancer that may spread to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Intratumoural treatment

Injecting treatment directly into a tumour. Types of treatment that may be given in this way include chemotherapy, biological therapies and cancer vaccines. (May also be spelt intratumoral treatment.)

Intravenous infusion (drip)

Giving fluid into the bloodstream. A bag of fluid is connected to plastic tubing and a needle. The needle is put into a vein, usually in the arm.

Intravenous urogram (IVU, IVP, intravenous pyelogram)

A scan of the kidneys, ureters (the tubes running from the kidneys to the bladder), bladder and urethra (the tube running from the bladder to the outside of the body). A dye is given into a vein by injection. The dye  collects in the urinary system and can be looked at using an X-ray.

Intravesical therapy

Treatment given directly into the bladder. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy can both be given in this way to try to stop early bladder cancer from coming back.

Iridium (iridium wires)

Thin radioactive wires used to give internal radiotherapy. The wires are put into the tumour under anaesthetic. Sometimes, hollow, thin tubes are put into the tumour and then tiny radioactive balls are fed into the hollow tubes from a machine. 

Irinotecan (Camptosar)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of colorectal cancer.


The coloured disc at the front of the eyeball. It can develop a malignant melanoma in very rare cases.

Islet cell

The cells of the pancreas that produce insulin and other hormones. Tumours of these cells (called endocrine pancreatic tumours) can make the cells produce large amounts of the hormones.


Kept apart from other people. People having high dose chemotherapy, bone marrow or stem cell transplant are often looked after in single rooms while their white blood cell counts are low. This is to protect them from infection. People having some types of internal radiotherapy may need to be looked after in isolation to make sure other people are not exposed to unnecessary radiation.


A variation of a normal chemical substance, which is radioactive. Can be used to diagnose or treat cancer. For example, Sr89 is an isotope of strontium used to treat bone cancer.


Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. There are several different causes, but usually means there is something wrong with the liver or gall bladder.

Kaposi's sarcoma

A cancer of the cells that line the walls of the blood vessels (endothelial cells). Widespread lesions develop on the skin, in the mouth, lymph nodes and internal organs such as the lung, liver and spleen. It is commonly, but not always, found in people who are HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) positive.


Type of flat skin cells that cover the outer layer of the skin. Also called squamous cells. Many cancers are squamous cell cancer.

Kidney (kidneys)

There are two kidneys, right and left. They filter waste products out of the blood and make urine. The kidneys are very sensitive to blood flow and to some drugs. Doctors often take blood tests to check how well the kidneys are working.

Kidney function (kidney function tests)

Blood tests to see how well the kidneys are working.

KRAS gene mutation

KRAS gene mutations are found at high rates in colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and leukaemias. Studies show that colorectal tumours that express the KRAS gene mutation do not respond to the epidermal growth factor inhibiting drugs cetuximab (Erbitux) or panitumumab (Vectibix).

Laboratory study

Research done in a laboratory. These studies may use test tubes or tests on animals to find out if a drug, procedure, or treatment is likely to be useful. Laboratory studies take place before any testing is done in humans.


A thin, bendy fibreoptic tube with a light on the end, used to look at abdominal organs, take tissue samples (biopsy) and carry out small abdominal operations (known as keyhole surgery). 

Laparoscopic ultrasound

A small operation where a flexible tube filled with optical fibres (a laparoscope) is put inside the abdomen (tummy) through a small cut. The doctor looks through the laparoscope to see inside the body and take tissue samples (biopsies). Your doctor may pass a very small ultrasound probe through the laparoscope to give a picture of the area.


A small operation where a flexible tube filled with optical fibres (a laparoscope) is put inside the abdomen (tummy) through a small cut. The doctor can look through the laparoscope, see inside the body and take tissue samples (biopsies).


An operation to look inside the abdomen (tummy). Can be done as part of diagnosis or after chemotherapy treatment to see how well it has worked.

Large bowel resection

An operation to remove part of the bowel. The remaining healthy parts of the bowel are usually then joined together again.

Large cell lung cancer

A type of lung cancer. Named after the large rounded cells that are seen when this type of cancer is looked at under the microscope.

Large loop excision

A small operation to remove abnormal pre-cancerous cells from the cervix. Done as an out patient under local anaesthetic. 


Means 'of the larynx'. The larynx is the voice box. So laryngeal surgery is surgery to your voice box. 


Another name for a test called a nasoendoscopy. This means you have your upper airways and voice box examined. You have a thin tube put up your nose and down into your throat. The tube contains a light and a camera so your doctor can see inside.


An intense beam of light that is so strong it can cut through body tissue. Laser treatment is often used to kill off abnormal pre-cancerous cells or may be used as a treatment for advanced cancer. 

Laser therapy (laser treatment)

An intense beam of light is used to destroy cancer cells. Sometimes surgery is done using a laser instead of a knife, as lasers are very precise. There is also less bleeding because the laser cauterises (seals) any damaged blood vessels as it cuts.

Latissimus dorsi

A muscle in the back. This muscle can be used in a type of breast reconstruction.


Washing out of an organ or cavity. This may be to obtain a sample or as a part of treatment.


Medicines that stimulate the bowel and prevent constipation. 

Lead screens

Large pieces of lead put in front of patients having internal radiotherapy. The screens protect hospital staff and visitors from radiation.


A type of cancer that starts in smooth muscle cells. These are muscles that are not under our conscious control, for example the muscles of the womb or the walls of the stomach or bowel.

Letrozole (Femara)

Decreases the synthesis of oestrogen by inhibiting the aromatase enzyme. It is used in the treatment of breast cancer.


Cancer of the white blood cells. There are two main groups of leukaemias, acute leukaemias and chronic leukaemias. Each of these can affect white blood cells that develop from cells called lymphoblasts or myeloblasts (myeloid type cells). So there are acute lymphoblastic, acute myeloblastic, chronic lymphoblastic and chronic myeloid leukaemias.


Breakdown of the nerve coverings of the brain. It is a very rare side effect of some medical treatment. Has been known to occur after intensive radiotherapy to the brain. There are also reports of rare cases of leukencephalopathy after treatment with 5FU and Levamisole.

Li-Fraumeni syndrome

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms. People with this syndrome have an increased risk of developing a number of different cancers.

Limb salvage surgery

An operation where part of a bone affected by cancer is removed. It can be replaced with a piece of metal or a piece of bone taken from another part of the body.

Limited disease

Limited disease means cancer that is only in one area or organ of the body. 'Limited disease' is also a stage of small cell lung cancer. It means the cancer can only be seen in one lung and in nearby lymph nodes.


An insecticide that has been researched as a health hazard including as a possible cause of breast cancer. This has not yet been proved.


Non cancerous (benign) lumps under the skin caused by a collection of fatty tissue.


A type of cancer that starts in the body's fat cells. It can occur anywhere in the body.

Live vaccines (live virus vaccines)

Vaccines which contain tiny amounts of live cells of a particular disease. In healthy people, this is just enough to give them protection against infection. But these vaccines can be dangerous in people having chemotherapy and they should not have them, unless under specialist supervision . Includes vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), TB (BCG vaccine), yellow fever, and the oral typhoid vaccine. The polio vaccine, given to most people as children, used to be a live vaccine, but this is no longer used in Australia. The polio vaccine is now made from an inactive form of the virus.

Liver cancer

Cancer of the liver. This term should only be used to refer to cancer that has started in the liver (primary liver cancer). But some people also use it to mean cancer that has spread to the liver from somewhere else in the body (metastatic liver cancer).

Liver function (liver function tests)

Blood tests to see how well the liver is working.

Liver ultrasound

A scan of the liver using soundwaves.

Lobe (lobes)

A section of an organ. There are lobes of the brain, thyroid, liver and lungs. The right lung has three lobes and the left only two.


An operation to remove a lobe of an organ, for example, to remove a lobe of a lung.

Local recurrence

When a cancer comes back in the same part of the body as the original cancer. 

Local resection

A small operation to remove an early cancer which has not spread away from where it started growing.

Local spread (local invasion)

Growth of a cancer into the area of the body around where it started.

Local treatment

Or localised treatment. A treatment that treats one area of the body. Surgery and radiotherapy are both local treatments. 

Localised cancer

This means that a cancer involves only the area of the body where it started and the tissues next to it. For example, a localised bone cancer is only found in the bone in which it developed and possibly in muscle or tendon next to it.

Lomustine (CCNU)

An oral chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of brain tumours and lymphoma.

Long term side effects (long term effects)

Unwanted effects of treatment that last for a long time after treatment has finished or may be permanent. With radiotherapy treatment, long term side effects may not appear until some time after treatment has finished (in some cases, several years).

Low blood count (low blood counts)

Lower than normal levels of red or white blood cells, or platelets. Measured by a blood test.

Low density lipoproteins

Type of fats found in the blood. Cholesterol is a lipoprotein that can be high or low density.

Low grade: lymphomas (low grade non-Hodgkin's lymphoma)

Low grade lymphomas are slow growing and may not cause symptoms for a long time. They are usually treated with mild chemotherapy. If they are not causing any symptoms, doctors may just monitor you. Although it is difficult to cure them completely, they can often be kept under control for many years.

Low grade: solid tumours

Means the cells in the tumour do not look very like normal cells. This can mean the cancer tends to be fast growing and might be more likely to spread.

Low malignant potential

Means not likely to spread or grow quickly. In other words, a low grade cancer. 

Lumbar puncture

A test to check the fluid that circulates round the brain and spinal cord (the cerebrospinal fluid - CSF). Your doctor puts a needle into your spine to collect a small amout of the fluid. For cancer, it is usually done to see if there are any cancer cells in the fluid. But it is also used to look for other medical conditions or infection.


An operation to remove a lump. This term may be used to refer to the removal of a breast cancer.

Lung function tests (breathing tests)

A number of different tests can find out how well your lungs are working. For example, doctors can measure the amount air you normally breathe in or out; the amount you can breathe in or out when you are trying as hard as you can; or the extra you can breathe in when you try after you have breathed in normally. The tests tell doctors about the workings of your lungs and will often be done before surgery to see if you are fit enough to have an operation.


There are two lungs (right and left) inside the rib cage in the chest. When we breathe in, air passes into the lungs. Oxygen from the air filters through the lungs into the bloodstream. Waste carbon dioxide filters back into the lungs and is breathed out.

Luteinizing Hormone-Releasing Hormone Analogs: Leuprolide (Lupron), Goserelin (Zoladex)

Decreases the synthesis of gonadal hormones (testosterone in men, oestrogen in women). Used in the treatment of prostate cancer and breast cancer.

Lymph (lymphatic fluid)

A body fluid which circulates in the lymphatic system. Carries fluid and waste products away from the body tissues

Lymph glands (lymph nodes)

A network of glands throughout the body - particularly in the armpits, neck and groins. They fight infection and drain away waste fluid, waste products and damaged cells.

Lymph node biopsy (lymph gland biopsy)

Taking out a lymph node to look at it under the microscope. This is to see if it contains any cancer cells. It is a very small operation. It is normally done under a general anaesthetic, but you should be able to go home the same day.

Lymph node dissection

Removing lymph nodes from a particular area of the body. You may have this to see if the cancer has spread (find out the 'stage' of the cancer), or to remove cancer that is already in the lymph nodes.


An operation to remove lymph nodes.

Lymphangiogram (lymphogram)

X-ray scan of the lymph glands using dye injected into the bloodstream. This test is rarely used now, as CT and MRI scans can check the lymph glands.

Lymphatic system

The system of tubes and glands in the body which filters body fluid and fights infection. Made up of the lymph glands, lymphatic vessels and the spleen.

Lymphatic vessels (lymph vessels)

The channels, or tubes, of the lymphatic system.


Lymphoblasts are early types of white blood cell that the B and T lymphocytes develop from. Lymphoblastic lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that involves the lymphoblasts. It is a high grade lymphoma. There is also a type of leukaemia called acute lymphoblastic (or lymphocytic) leukaemia (ALL).


Type of white blood cell. There are two types of lymphocytes, B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. They are part of the body's defense against disease, the immune response. B lymphocytes produce antibodies, helped by T lymphocytes.


Swelling of a part of the body due to blockage of the lymph vessels. An arm or leg are most commonly affected. Lymphoedema can occur after surgery or radiotherapy which damage the lymph glands, or because cancer is blocking the lymph glands.


A test using dye that shows lymph nodes and how lymphatic fluid circulates on an X-ray. It is sometimes used to try to pick out which lymph node is the first to drain lymph fluid from a particular organ, or part of an organ.


A collective name for the interleukin growth factors. The interleukins are produced mainly by T cells. They stimulate other cells of the immune system to grow and mature.


Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Both have similar symptoms: enlarged lymph nodes (glands), tiredness and often heavy sweating, unexplained high temperatures and weight loss. They are often treated similarly but are different diseases.


A type of white blood cell. Part of the immune system. Macrophages are found in the lymph nodes where they help to fight infection. They surround and kill infectious or abnormal cells, including cancer cells.

Magic bullet

A popular name for targeted treatment using biological therapies.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI, nuclear magnetic resonance)

A scan using magnetism to build up a picture of the organs inside the body. These scans are painless, but very noisy. 


Cancerous. Opposite of benign.

Malignant fibrous histiocytomas (MFH)

These are cancers that start in fibrous tissue cells called histiocytes. MFH is one type of a group of tumours called spindle cell sarcomas.

Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours (MPNST)

Cancers that start in cells that surround the nerves. This group of tumours includes neurofibrosarcoma and malignant schwannomas.


An X-ray examination of the breast.


Using X-rays to examine the breast.


A chemical substance produced by a cancer and used to monitor the progress of the disease. Usually measured by a blood test.

Marker seeds

The seeds are like small rods inserted into the prostate gland –  like ‘landmarks’ so radiotherapy can be given as accurately as possible.

Mask (mould, shell)

A clear plastic mask of the head made to hold the head and neck still. It is worn during radiotherapy treatment.


Rubbing or kneading the body to stimulate the circulation and relax tension in the muscles. Can produce a general feeling of relaxation and well being. It may reduce symptoms of cancer or the side effects of treatment.


An operation to remove the breast.

Mastectomy bras

Bras designed for women who have had a breast removed. Each cup has a pocket inside it to hold an artificial breast (prosthesis).

Mastectomy exercises

Exercises designed to be done after surgery to remove a breast. Aim to prevent stiffness in the arm and shoulder.

Mastectomy swimwear

Swimsuits or bikinis designed for women who have had breast surgery. Each cup has a pocket inside it to hold a false breast {prosthesis).

Maximum dose

The highest dose of a drug or radiotherapy that can be safely given.


An infectious disease caused by a virus. Measles can be dangerous to people who have low resistance to infection, for instance after chemotherapy. There is a vaccination for measles, but it should NOT be given during chemotherapy treatment as it is a live virus vaccine.


A term used in statistics and trial results. It means the middle number in a series of numbers. For example, if five children are aged 2, 3, 5, 7, and 13, the median age is 5.

Median survival

The time from either diagnosis or treatment at which half of the patients with a given disease are found to be, or expected to be, still alive. In a clinical trial, median survival time is one way to measure how effective a treatment is.


An examination of the mediastinum (the central area of the chest). The doctor makes a small cut at the base of the neck and puts a small tube through the cut and into the mediastinum. They can look through this tube to examine the area and also take tissue samples (biopsies) if necessary. 

Medical history

Record of a person's illnesses, allergies, operations and other medical treatments. All doctors ask for this information when they first see a patient.

Medical oncologist

A doctor specialising in the treatment of cancer with chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and biological therapies.

Medical physicist

A specialist in using radiation to diagnose and treat illness. Makes sure equipment is accurate and safe, and advises doctors on planning radiotherapy treatment and the best type of test or radiotherapy machine to use.

Medulloblastoma (PNET)

A type of brain tumour. The most common type in children. These tumours are now called primitive neuroectodermal tumours (PNET's) because they develop from primitive (poorly developed) nerve cells in the brain. The term medulloblastoma is no longer used.

Megestrol (Megace)

Acts like progesterone and can be used as an appetite stimulant.


The cells in the innermost layer of the epidermis that make the skin pigment, melanin. Melanin is what gives you a sun tan. These cells become cancerous in malignant melanoma.

Melanoma (malignant melanoma)

A particular type of skin cancer. It develops from the cells that produce the skin pigment, melanin. It may develop from an existing mole or may appear as a new mole. Very rarely, melanoma can occur in other parts of the body, such as the eye or in an internal body organ. If melanoma is found early, before any cells have spread, it has a very high cure rate.

Melphalan (Alkeran)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of multiple myeloma.

MEN (multiple endocrine neoplasia)

MEN is a rare inherited condition in which two or more tumours develop in the endocrine system. There are several types of MEN and the type you have influences where the tumours develop. MEN is caused by a faulty gene and the genetic fault is different with each type of MEN. The tumours may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancer).

MEN 1 (multiple endocrine neoplasia 1)

MEN 1 is a rare inherited condition in which you develop tumours in the endocrine system, most commonly in the parathyroid and pituitary glands and the pancreas. But tumours can also develop in the bowel, stomach, pituitary or adrenal glands. The tumours can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). They often produce large amounts of hormones. 

MEN 2 (multiple endocrine neoplasia 2)

MEN 2 is a rare inherited condition where you develop tumours in the endocrine system. The tumours are most often in the thyroid gland but can also develop in the adrenal glands and occasionally the parathyroid glands.


A type of brain tumour. Usually benign. It develops from the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meninges). Can be anywhere in the brain or spinal cord.


'Change of life'. The period of time between the early forties and late fifties when women stop producing sex hormones. Periods become irregular and stop and women can't become pregnant any longer.

Mercaptopurine (Puri-Nethol)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of acute lymphocytic leukaemia.

Mesenchymal stem cells

These are multipotent stem cells that can differentiate into a variety of cell types.

Mesna (Urometixan)

A drug used to prevent bleeding from the bladder which can be caused by the chemotherapy drug ifosfamide.


A type of cancer most commonly diagnosed in the sheets of skin-like tissue that cover each lung. These are called the pleura, or pleural membranes. Mesothelioma is sometimes also diagnosed in the peritoneum. This is the sheet of tissue that lines the wall of the abdominal cavity and covers the digestive system organs inside the abdomen. 

Meta-analysis (meta-analyses)

Taking the results of many trials that have tested the same treatment, and looking at the results all together. This can give a more accurate picture than looking at the results of each trial separately.

Metastases (metastasis, secondary cancer, secondaries)

Areas where cancer has spread to from the original tumour. For example, areas in the liver where cancer has spread from another part of the body are called liver metastases.

Metastatic breast cancer

Breast cancer which has spread to other parts of the body.

Metastatic cancer

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from where it started to other parts of the body.

Methotrexate (Methoblastin)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of many different cancers. These include breast, head and neck, gastrointestinal and gestational trophoblastic neoplasia. It is also used in the treatment of osteosarcoma, acute lymphocytic leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and meningeal carcinomatosis.

Microscopic spread (micrometastases)

This means cancer that has spread, but the areas of cancer cells are too small to be seen on scans or with the naked eye during surgery. Some types of cancer are very likely to micrometastasise and doctors may then assume that the cancer is elsewhere in the body even if they cannot find it. They then give treatments such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or biological therapy to treat the micrometastases. 

Minimal residual disease (MRD)Minimal residual disease (MRD) is the name given, to small numbers of leukaemic cells that remain in the patient during treatment, or after treatment when the patient is in remission (no symptoms or signs of disease). It is the major cause of relapse in cancer and leukaemia.
Mixed cell cancer

Cancer containing more than one type of cell (for example, teratoma and seminoma).

Mixed glioma

Glioma (a type of brain tumour) which contains more than one type of cell.


A combination vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella. You should not have this vaccination if you are having chemotherapy, as the vaccine contains live virus.

Modified radical mastectomy

An operation to remove the breast and the lymph glands under the arm.

Monoclonal antibodies (mabs, magic bullets)

Many copies of a single antibody. These can be made in the laboratory and used for targeted cancer treatment. There are many different types of monoclonal antibodies.

Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)

A condition where plasma cells make too many large protein molecules known as immunoglobulins.  MGUS is often found by chance as it can show up in routine blood tests. It does not cause any symptoms, and does not generally affect your health or need treatment. But if you have MGUS, you will be asked to see a specialist regularly for check ups, because 2 or 3 people out of every 10 (20–30%) develop myeloma.

Mould room

A room in hospital where masks (moulds) for medical treatment are made.

Mouth ulcer

An area of sore, broken skin inside the mouth.


A liquid used to rinse and clean the mouth. It is usually not swallowed.


See Magnetic resonance imaging.


Pronounced myoo-sin-us. Mucinous carcinoma is a type of cancer that begins in cells that line certain internal organs and produces mucin (the main component of mucus)..


MUGA stands for multiple gated acquisition. It is a type of heart scan that shows how well the heart is pumping blood around the body. It uses very small amounts of radioactive tracers to show up the main chambers and blood vessels of your heart. You have an injection first and then the scan with a gamma camera.

Multi disciplinary team (MDT)

A team made up of various health professionals who work together to discuss your case and how best to manage your treatment and care. The team may include specialist doctors, surgeons, cancer specialist doctors, specialist nurses, doctors specialising in diagnosis from tissue specimens (histopathologists), physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, dieticians and any other health professionals or specialists who are involved in your care. 

Multi-centre trial

A trial where patients are recruited from more than one hospital. Some trials include patients from different countries.


Means 'many factors involved'. When this word is used about a disease, it means it has more than one cause. For example, someone may develop a cancer partly because of their genetic make up, partly because of their diet and partly because of other factors in their environment.

Multifrequency bio-impedance

This is a way to measure tissue density, particularly the amount of fluid in the arm.

Multiple myeloma

This is a form of cancer which affects plasma cells in the bone marrow.

Muscle reconstruction

A type of plastic surgery which uses muscle tissue to rebuild a part of the body that has been removed during surgery (for example, the breast).


A change in a gene. Genes are really codes that tell a cell to make a particular protein. If a gene is mutated, the protein it makes will be abnormal. Mutation can also change how a gene works by permanently switching it on or off.


MYCN is a gene that can affect outlook (prognosis) in a childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. Some children with neuroblastoma have too many copies of this gene. This is called 'gene amplification'. Doctors think that children with too many copies of the MYCN gene may not respond as well to standard treatment for neuroblastoma as children who do not have MYCN gene amplification.

Mycosis fungoides

A very rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that affects the skin. It is a type of cutaneous T cell lymphoma and usually begins with red scaly patches forming on the skin. These can be very itchy. In the second stage raised red plaques (patches) can form. The last stage is raised lumps forming on the skin which are tumours. It is a very slow disease and some people do not progress beyond the first or second stages. It is treated with chemotherapy or steroid creams, radiotherapy and ultraviolet light.

Myelodysplastic syndromes

Pronounced my-lo-dis-plas-tic sin-dromes. These are a group of conditions affecting the bone marrow. The bone marrow makes many abnormal blood cells but there are not enough healthy blood cells in the blood. Myelodysplastic syndromes are not cancer but they can sometimes develop into leukaemia.


A type of cancer that develops from the plasma cells of the bone marrow. Myeloma is often referred to by the particular type of immunoglobulin or light chain (kappa or lambda type) produced by the cancerous plasma cell.

Myeloid leukaemia (AML)

 This is a cancer of the myeloid line of white blood cells.

Myeloproliferative disorders

A group of conditions closely related to leukaemia in which one or more type of blood cell is overproduced by the bone marrow. There are three main types. In essential thrombocythaemia, too many platelets are produced. In polycythaemia vera, too many red blood cells are produced. In myelofibrosis, the bone marrow initially overproduces all types of blood cell, but then scarring of the bone marrow slows the blood cell production. 


Cancer of a muscle.

Naevoid basal cell syndrome

An inherited skin disorder that can increase your risk of developing basal cell skin cancer. Also called Gorlin's syndrome.

Naevus (naevi)

The medical name for a mole – the brown pigment patches that most fair skinned people naturally have on their skin.


A test to examine your upper airways and voice box. A tube is put up your nose and down into your throat. The tube contains a light and a camera so your doctor can see inside. May also be called nasendoscopy.

Nasogastric tube

A tube put down the nose into the stomach. Can be used to drain fluid from the stomach, or to give liquid food directly into the stomach.

Nasopharyngeal cancer

This develops in the nasopharynx, an area in the back of the nose toward the base of skull.

Neck dissection

Surgery to remove lymph nodes in one or both sides of the neck.

Needle aspiration

A type of biopsy. A needle is put into the area to be examined (for example, a breast lump) and some cells are sucked out. The cells are then looked at under the microscope.

Needle biopsy

Sample of tissue taken with a needle and looked at under a microscope.

Neoadjuvant therapy (neoadjuvant treatment)

Giving chemotherapy before surgery or radiotherapy to try to shrink a cancer and make the surgery or radiotherapy more successful.


A small tube inserted through the skin into the kidney to drain off urine. The nephrostomy tube is connected to a drainage bag outside the body. A nephrostomy is needed if  urine cannot drain out of the kidney and so collects in the kidney. 

Nerve block

A procedure sometimes used to control pain. The nerves causing the pain are 'blocked' by injecting them with a local anaesthetic to numb them or with alcohol to kill them.

Nerve preservation (nerve sparing)

Treatment that aims to avoid damaging important nerves. For example, in newer types of prostatectomy and cystectomy the surgeon tries to use nerve preservation techniques to reduce the risk of impotence after the operation.


Neuroblastoma is a very rare cancer that affects children, mostly under the age of 5 years. It starts in cells of the body that are left behind from a baby's development in the womb.

Neuroendocrine system

A system of nerve and gland cells that makes hormones and releases them into the bloodstream. There are neuroendocrine cells in the gut, lungs and pancreas. They make different hormones depending on where they are in the body.

Neuroendocrine tumours

Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are rare cancers. The commonest type of NET is carcinoid tumour, which grows most often in the appendix and small bowel, but may occur in other parts of the digestive system, or the lung, pancreas, kidney, ovaries and testicles.


A condition caused by an inherited faulty gene. There are two types –  neurofibromatosis 1 & 2. People with neurofibromatosis 1 have an increased risk of tumours of the optic nerve (the nerve to the eye), the auditory nerve (to the ear) and some other types of brain tumour. People with neurofibromatosis 2 may develop tumours of the auditory nerve, called acoustic neuromas.


A drop in the number of white blood cells called neutrophils. This can happen a week to 10 days after having chemotherapy. Your neutrophil count gradually improves over the following days or weeks. Neutropenia can also be spelt as neutropaenia. 


A type of white blood cell that is very important in fighting infection. Your doctor will regularly measure the number of neutrophils in your blood if you are having treatment with cancer drugs that lower the number of neutrophils made by your bone marrow.


The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is Australia’s peak body for supporting health and medical research; for developing health advice for the Australian community, health professionals and governments; and for providing advice on ethical behaviour in health care and in the conduct of health and medical research.

Night sweats

Heavy sweating that happens at night for no apparent reason. Can be a symptom of some types of cancer, such as Hodgkin's lymphoma or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Nilutamide (Anandron)

Inhibits the action of testosterone. Used in the treatment of prostate cancer.


Chemicals that are thought to be carcinogenic (cause cancer). Used in curing meats, so found in bacon, ham, salami etc.

Nodular melanoma

A type of malignant melanoma, found most commonly in the skin of the chest or back. Can develop quite quickly and is most common in middle aged people.


A small lump or outgrowth.

Non small cell lung cancer (non small cell)

The name for a group of types of lung cancer: squamous cell, adenocarcinoma and large cell lung cancers. These are grouped together because they all behave in similar ways and respond to roughly the same treatments.

Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Drugs that reduce swelling, inflammation, pain and high temperatures (fever).

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL)

A group of diseases that are cancers of the lymphatic system. There are many different types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

Oat cell lung cancer

Another name for small cell lung cancer. Called this because the cells look oat shaped under the microscope.

Occult tumour

An occult tumour is one that is hidden or can't be found. Sometimes this is called an unknown primary tumour. The place where a cancer begins is called the primary cancer. If a secondary cancer is found in the body, but the doctors don't know where the cancer started, they call it an unknown primary tumour.

Occupational therapist

A person trained to help people with any sort of disability to manage day to day activities (for example, dressing, cooking etc).


This is a special type of scan for rare cancers called neuroendocrine tumours (NETs). You have an injection of a very small amount of radioactive material (a radioactive isotope) into a vein in your arm. Then you wait for this to circulate throughout your body and attach to the NET cells. Once the injection has circulated, you have pictures taken using a gamma camera. The pictures show where the cancer is in your body.

Octreotide (Sandostatin)

Inhibits the release of hormones in the pancreas and gut which results in a reduction in gut secretions. It is used in the treatment of carcinoid syndrome, vasoactive intestinal peptide tumours and malignant bowel obstruction.

Ocular melanoma (eye melanoma)

Melanoma that has started in the eye. This is very rare. It behaves differently depending on where in the eye it started and how advanced it is when it is diagnosed. It can begin in the iris, the ciliary body, the choroid, the conjunctiva, or the eyelid. Treatment depends on stage and type of tumour and can vary from simply monitoring the tumour for signs of growth, to radiotherapy, or surgery to remove the eye.


 Surgery to remove part or most of the oesophagus (gullet).



An operation to remove the stomach and part of the gullet (oesophagus).

Oesophagus (foodpipe)

The tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.


One of the two female sex hormones.

Oestrogen receptor (oestrogen receptors)

The area on the surface of a cancer cell that is triggered by oestrogen. The area on the cell surface is like a lock and oestrogen is the key that fits and turns the lock.

Oestrogen receptor negative

Means that no oestrogen receptors have been found on the cancer cells. This may affect the treatment given. 

Oestrogen receptor positive

Means that oestrogen receptors have been found on the cancer cells. This may affect the treatment given.


A type of brain tumour. Glioma which develops from cells called oligodendrocytes.

Omega 3 unsaturated fatty acid

Type of fat found in oily fish. This fat may help to reduce the risk of breast and bowel cancer when included in the diet. This may be because of some effect of this acid. Or it may be because people who have a high fish intake eat less meat. Research is ongoing.

Oncogene (oncogenes)

Literally means 'cancer gene'. A gene that has become abnormal and tells its cell to multiply continuously.


A doctor who specialises in treating cancer.

Open clinical trials

Open means the trial is currently recruiting participants.

Open radical cholecystectomy

An operation to remove the gall bladder, some nearby liver tissue and all the lymph nodes near and around the gall bladder. This operation is also known as an extended cholecystectomy


A strong, painkilling drug that is similar to endorphins. The body makes endorphins in response to pain. Opioid drugs were originally made from opium poppies and can now be man made in the laboratory. Types of opioid include morphine, fentanyl, diamorphine and codeine.

Oral (orally)

Taken by mouth. Used to refer to medicines taken as tablets, capsules or liquid.


An operation to remove a testicle.

Organ rejection

After an organ transplant (for example, kidney or heart transplant) people have to take drugs to stop their body rejecting the new organ. These drugs suppress their immune systems and this can make them more at risk of some other diseases, such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Orphan drugs

Orphan drug products are drugs, vaccines or in vivo diagnostic agents which physicians use to treat, prevent or diagnose rare diseases. Usually the drugs are not commercially viable. Pharmaceutical companies often do not develop and market such products because the financial return is small compared with the costs of development and marketing. When a drug has no sponsor for this reason, it is known as an ‘orphan drug.’ The Australian Program encourages sponsors to market orphan drugs in Australia by reducing costs through waiving fees and by providing exclusive approval. The TGA will waive fees for the application for orphan drug designation, the application for registration and for the initial evaluation of data.


A type of benign bone disease (not a cancer).


Loss of calcium from the bones, making them weaker. Sometimes called bone thinning.


A type of primary bone cancer.


A patient who attends the hospital or clinic for an appointment or treatment without staying overnight.

Ovarian ablation

Using chemotherapy or radiotherapy to stop a woman's ovaries from working. This stops the ovaries making sex hormones and is useful in treating cancers which use sex hormones to grow (for example, breast cancer). Causes an early menopause.

Ovarian cancer

Cancer of the ovaries.

Ovarian removal

Surgery to take out the ovaries. Also called oophorectomy or ovariectomy. This stops the production of sex hormones and is useful in treating cancers which use sex hormones to grow (for example, breast cancer). Causes an early menopause.

Ovary (ovaries)

Part of a woman's reproductive system. There are two ovaries and they lie on either side of the womb in women. They produce eggs and the female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone.

Overall survival

The percentage of people are alive, with or without cancer, after a specified number of years from the onset of illness  (usually 5 years).

Overview (overviews)

Similar to meta-analyses. Putting together the results of more than one trial.


A protein (marker) produced by some women with ovarian cancer.

Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of carcinoma of the colon and rectum.


A tumour supressor gene that, when working normally, helps to stop cells becoming cancerous. The p53 gene is damaged in most human cancers.


A small electronic device implanted in the chest to help the heart beat regularly. If you have a pacemaker, you cannot have an MRI scan, as these scans are magnetic and interfere with how your pacemaker works.

Paclitaxel (Taxol)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of carcinomas of the ovary, breast, lung, head and neck, bladder and cervix.

Paget's disease

There are several different medical conditions called Paget's disease. One affects the skin around the nipple of the breast and looks a little like ezcema. It is mostly (but not always) a sign that there is a breast cancer in the area underneath.

Another type of Paget's disease is a benign (not cancerous) condition that affects the bones. Having this type of Paget's disease means you have a slightly increased risk of developing a primary bone cancer.

Another type is changes in the skin of the area around the anus and genitals. It appears as an eczema link rash. In some people it develops into a cancer over many years.

Pain clinic

Clinic that specialises in treating chronic pain (pain that goes on for a long time and is unlikely to be cured altogether). Usually run by an anaesthetist, sometimes with a doctor who specialises in palliative care.

Painkillers (analgesia, analgesics)

Drugs to control pain.


Treatment given to control symptoms rather than cure disease - for example, palliative radiotherapy can be given to reduce pain.

Palliative care

The active total care of patients whose illness cannot be cured. It includes control of pain, of other symptoms and of psychological, social and spiritual problems.

Palliative treatment

Treatment given to control symptoms such as pain and sickness, rather than to cure cancer.


Being aware of your heart beating strongly. This can be a sign of anxiety or a symptom of illness.

Pamidronate (Aredia)

A bisphosphonate class of drug that maintains bone strength and can reduce bone pain. It also lowers blood calcium levels. It is used in the treatment bone metastases, multiple myeloma and to treat high calcium levels caused by cancer.

Pancoast tumour

A lung cancer at the very top of the lung. It can cause pain, numbness or pins and needles in the shoulder and arm because the tumour presses on the group of nerves at the top of the arm (called the brachial plexus).


An operation to remove the pancreas.

Pancreatic duct

The duct which carries the pancreatic digestive juices from the pancreas to the small bowel.


Inflammation of the pancreas. Chronic (long term) pancreatitis can be a cause of cancer of the pancreas.

Pancreatoduodenectomy (Whipple's operation)

The most common operation for cancer of the pancreas. Half the pancreas is removed along with the duodenum, part of the stomach, the gall bladder and the bile duct.


Examination of the voice box (larynx), back of the throat (hypopharynx) and food pipe (oesophagus) with a long rigid tube (panendoscope). You have this done under anaesthetic. The panendoscope has a camera and light inside it, so your doctor can see the inside of your nose and throat very clearly.

Papillary bladder cancer

A type of bladder cancer. Papillary bladder cancers are growths on the surface of the bladder lining. They are usually easy to remove, but can sometimes grow back.

Pap smear (cervical screening, cervical smear, papo smear, pap test, smear test)

A screening test to detect changes in the cells of the cervix that could develop into cancer. A scraping of cells is taken from the surface of the cervix and examined under the microscope. A positive smear does not mean you have cancer. It means you have cells that, if not treated, might go on to develop into cancer.

Paracentesis (abdominal paracentesis)

A medical procedure to remove a build up of fluid from the abdomen. The doctor or nurse puts a needle into the abdomen. The needle is attached to a tube and a collecting bag. Fluid that from the abdomen (ascites) can then drain away into the bag.


A mild painkiller that can be bought over the counter from chemists. Paracetamol can also help bring down your temperature if you have a fever.

Paraneoplastic syndrome

A group of symptoms due to substances released by a tumour or due to substances the body makes as a reaction to a tumour.

Parenteral nutrition (liquid nutrition)

A liquid, complete food given through a drip into a vein. It can be used when someone is having very intensive treatment and losing a lot of weight. It can be helpful when you are having difficulty eating due to a very sore mouth, bad diarrhoea or sickness.

Partial cystectomy

An operation to remove part of the bladder.

Partial laryngectomy

Surgery to remove part of the voice box (larynx). One vocal cord will be left and you will still be able to speak.

Partial response

To a researcher, this means the cancer shrinking to at least half the original size for at least four weeks. There must not be any sign of growth of the cancer anywhere else in the body.

Passive smoking

Breathing in other people's cigarette, pipe or cigar smoke when you don't smoke yourself. Passive smoking can cause lung cancer and other illnesses in people who don't smoke.

Pathological fracture

A broken bone due to the bone being weakened by disease (for example, secondary cancer).


An expert who examines and identifies cells. The pathologist can tell where a cell comes from in the body and whether it is normal or a cancer cell. If it is a cancer cell, the pathologist can often tell what type of body cell the cancer developed from. 

Peau d'orange

A particular type of dimpling of the skin of the breast which can be a warning sign of breast cancer. This phrase is used because the dimples can make the skin look a bit like the skin of an orange.

Peer review

Your peers are people with a similar level of experience and knowledge as you. Peer review is a system for researchers and doctors to look at each other's work and make sure that research papers submitted for publication in medical and scientific journals are of adequate quality.

Pegfilgastrim (Neulasta)

A long acting recombinant G-CSF which increases the white blood cell count. It is used to prevent and treat low white blood cells caused by chemotherapy. It is also used in the treatment of bone marrow disorders.

Pelvic examination

A pelvic examination in women may be called an internal examination. Your doctor puts one or two gloved fingers into your vagina, while pressing on your abdomen with the other hand. So they can feel for any changes in your vagina, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, rectum and bladder. They may also use an instrument called a speculum to spread the walls of the vagina to examine the cervix. This type of examination can be uncomfortable, but should not take more than a few minutes.

Pelvic exenteration

Surgery to remove the major organs of the pelvis, including the uterus, cervix, vagina, bladder, and rectum. Can be done for recurrent or widespread cancer in the pelvic area, such as cervical, womb, vulval or vaginal cancer.

Pelvic radiotherapy

Radiotherapy treatment given to the pelvis.


Lower cavity of the body, contained inside the hip bones. The pelvis contains the pelvic organs - the bladder and lower bowel and the reproductive organs.

Pemetrexed (Alimta)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Peptic ulcer

Damage to the lining of the gullet (oesophagus), stomach or duodenum caused by exposure to the enzymes in gastric juice. Having a peptic ulcer may increase the risk of stomach cancer.

Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography

A procedure to put in a stent (small tube) to open a blocked bile duct and relieve jaundice.

Percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography and biliary stenting

Putting a tube (stent) in through the skin to unblock the bile duct and relieve jaundice.

Performance status

A way of describing how well you are and which activities you are able to do. The most common scale used is the World Health Organisation scale. It rates fully active as 0 and bedridden as 4.


In women, this is the area of the body between the anus and the vulva. In men it is the area between the anus and the scrotum.

Peripheral neuropathy

Damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system. Can cause pain, numbness, changes in sensation and tingling. Most commonly affects the hands and feet but can affect any nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Can be caused by cancer or some types of cancer treatment (including chemotherapy).

Peripheral T cell lymphoma

A type of high grade non Hodgkin's lymphoma, which affects the T cells of the immune system. Abnormal T cells are found in the blood supply throughout the body. This category of lymphomas has a number of different sub types, including adult T cell leukaemia/lymphoma and anaplastic large T cell lymphoma.


Affecting the peritoneum. The peritoneum is the sheet of body tissue that lines the abdominal cavity and covers the organs inside it.


An operation to remove part of the peritoneum.


The sheet of body tissue that lines the abdominal cavity and covers the organs contained within it.


Inflammation of the peritoneum. The peritoneum is the membrane which lines part of the abdominal cavity and some of the organs in the abdomen. The inflammation is often due to infection and may cause sudden severe abdominal pain, a high temperature, sickness, diarrhoea and abdominal swelling.

Permanent colostomy

An opening of the bowel onto the surface of the tummy (abdomen). A bag is worn to collect the waste matter from digestion that would normally be passed from the body as a bowel motion. This operation cannot be reversed. Often the rectum is removed and the anus is closed up by the surgeon.

Pernicious anaemia

A type of anaemia caused by a reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12 in the stomach. Having pernicious anaemia may increase the risk of stomach cancer. 

PET scan

Stands for Positron Emission Tomography. A type of scan that uses a low dose radioactive liquid to find abnormalities in the body. PET scans are sometimes used to help diagnose cancer.

PET–CT scan

A scan that combines a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan and a CT (Computerised Tomography) scan. PET scans show up cancer cells. CT scans give a clear picture of the inside of the body. Doing the two scans together can give the doctors a more detailed picture.


A small red or purple spot just under the skin, caused by blood leaking from a small broken blood vessel. People whose blood is not clotting properly may have many petechia in an area of the body. Looks like a rash of tiny red dots and is sometimes called pinprick bleeds or a purpural rash. 

Peutz Jeghers syndrome

A rare inherited disease that causes benign (non cancerous) polyps to form in the bowel. It can also cause dark coloured spots inside the mouth and around the lips, eyes and nose. People with Peutz Jeghers syndrome have an increased risk of developing cancer, including cancers of the breast, bowel, pancreas, stomach and ovary. 


Phaeochromocytomas are tumours that start in the inner part of the adrenal glands which are found above each kidney. Pheochromocytomas are often benign (non cancerous). Only about 1 in 10 (10%) are cancerous. Because the inner part of the adrenal gland makes hormones such as adrenalin, these tumours can cause symptoms such as high blood pressure, headaches, palpitations, flushing of the face, nausea, and vomiting.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

Provides those medicines listed under this scheme at an affordable price to all Australian residents.

Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee is an independent statutory body that makes recommendations and give advice to the Health Minister about which drugs and medicinal preparations should be made available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.


Looking at how a drug works and the effect it has on your body.


Testing how genes affect the way people respond to a drug and the side effects they have.


Looking at what happens to a drug in the body. It includes how the body absorbs the drug, how the drug gets to different parts of the body and how the body breaks down and gets rid of the drug. 


A distinct stage in a process. There are four phases of research in clinical trials – phase 1, 2, 3 and 4 trials. 

Phase 0 trial

Phase 0 trials are the first-in-human studies for drugs that have been previously tested in animals. Usually a single drug dose is given to 10–15 people to gather preliminary data on how the drug is metabolised and what effect the drug has on the body. The dose of drug given is below what is thought to have a therapeutic effect.

Phase 1 trials

These are the first tests of a treatment in humans and involve approximately 15–30 people. They aim to see if the trial treatment is safe and to find the best dose. The research team notes major and minor side effects. This helps researchers to work out the best dose and the best way to give the trial treatment. Phase 1 trials are usually only suitable for people with incurable cancer who have had all the known effective treatments for their cancer. People take part in these trials in the hope that the treatment may extend their life or improve their quality of life. Most often though, the reason to enter Phase 1 trials is to help people with cancer in the future.  If a Phase 1 trial shows that the new treatment is safe it will go on to Phase 2 testing.

Phase 2 trials

Phase 2 trials usually involve less than 100 people. The trials aim to see how well the new treatment works against cancer and to monitor for side effects. Phase 2 trials generally involve people who have already had cancer treatment. The chance of the treatment being tested in a Phase 2 trial being effective depends on the type and extent of the cancer and its response to previous treatment. If the new treatment shows promising effects (efficacy) against cancer and is safe then it is tested in Phase 3 trials.

Phase 3 trials

Phase 3 trials involve from hundreds to thousands of people. The trials are usually conducted through doctors’ offices, hospital clinics and cancer centres around the country or even around the world. They aim to test if the new treatment (the intervention treatment) is better than the current best standard treatment. They test treatments in real life settings, not the controlled circumstances under which Phase 1 and 2 trials are usually conducted. Participants in Phase 3 trials are put in either the new treatment group or the standard treatment group at random. People in the trial are monitored carefully to see the effect of the treatment on the cancer, and on the length and quality of life.  If the new treatment works better, it may become the new standard treatment. In general, the new treatment needs to go through more than one Phase 3 trial for the treatment results to be accepted.

Phase 4 trials

‘Phase 4 trial’ refers to the long-term monitoring that sometimes occurs after a drug has been licensed for use and put on the market. Phase 4 trials are to assess any long-term side effects of a new treatment. There are very few Phase 4 trials.

Philadelphia chromosome

A genetic abnormality found in some types of leukaemia. Some of the DNA from one chromosome (no. 9) moves over to another chromosome (no. 22). This type of genetic fault is called a translocation.  

Phlegm (sputum)

Pronounced 'Flem'. Mucus that is coughed up from the lungs.

Phosphorus (P32, radioactive phosphorus)

A radioactive form of phosphorus used as internal radiotherapy to treat some cancers and diseases of the bone marrow.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Cancer treatment using light. An inactive drug is given. When the drug is concentrated in the cancer cells, laser light is shone at the cancer. The drug is activated and kills the cancer cells. This type of treatment is used for skin cancers. It is being tried for bladder, lung, skin and pancreatic cancers.


A person trained to treat illness by physical methods such as manipulating joints and muscles, massage and heat treatment rather than by using drugs.

Phyto oestrogens

Substances occurring in plants that have an oestrogen like effect on the body. Soya beans and soya products contain phyto oestrogens. Research is looking at whether increasing phyto oestrogens in the diet helps to prevent breast or prostate cancer.


A substance that gives colour. There is pigment in our skin, and in the iris (coloured part) of our eyes. It is the cells that produce these pigments that become cancerous in malignant melanoma.

Pineal germinoma (pineal tumour)

A type of brain tumour affecting the pineal gland. Occurs more often in children and teenagers than in adults. It is extremely rare.

Pituitary gland

A gland in the brain that produces many different hormones. The hormones control a lot of body processes - for example, growth, metabolism, and production of sex hormones.

Pituitary tumour (pituitary adenoma)

A type of brain tumour affecting the pituitary gland. Most are benign. One in ten brain tumours are pituitary tumours.


A dummy treatment used in some research trials. One group of patients will get the new treatment and another group will get the dummy treatment. The patients will not know which they are getting and so will not unconsciously affect the results. Placebos are rarely used in cancer trials.


Placebo controlled trial

A trial where the control group (patients who are being compared to patients getting the new treatment) are being given a placebo (dummy treatment).

Placebo effect

Used to describe an improvement in the condition of patients who think they are being treated, but are in fact getting a dummy treatment.

Plantar palmar erythema

Also called 'hand foot syndrome'. It is a side effect of some cancer drugs. The skin on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet goes red and peels. The redness and peeling clears up when the treatment is finished.


In radiotherapy treatment, this is a tiny disc lined with radioactive material. Radioactive plaques are used in radiotherapy to the eye. The plaques are stitched in place over the area containing the cancer. They are left there for several days to give radiation directly to the cancer.


The liquid part of blood that the blood cells are suspended in.


A tumour of plasma cells in either bone or soft tissue. It is very similar to multiple myeloma but only found in one place in the body. Sometimes, people with a single plasmacytoma will go on to develop multiple myeloma some time later.

Plastic surgeon

A doctor who specialises in surgery to avoid or correct damage to the skin. For example, reducing the amount of scarring that may happen because of surgery to treat a cancer of the breast or head and neck.

Platelet (platelets)

A type of blood cell. Helps the blood to clot.

Platelet transfusion (platelet transfusions)

Giving extra platelets by drip into a vein. 

Pleura (pleural membrane)

Two sheets of skin-like body tissue that cover each lung.

Pleural effusion

An abnormal collection of fluid between the sheets of skin (pleura) which cover the lungs. Causes difficulty breathing.

Pleural membrane (pleura)

Sheet of skin covering the lung.

Pleural tap

A procedure to drain off a build up of fluid from between the sheets of skin that cover the lungs (a pleural effusion). A needle is put into the space and the fluid drained off into a bag. Usually done under a local anaesthetic.


Removal of the pleura - the sheets of tissue that cover the lungs.


Sealing the space between the two sheets of tissue that cover the lung (the pleura) with either talc or an antibiotic. This is done to stop fluid collecting in the space (pleural effusion) and causing difficulty breathing.


An operation to remove a whole lung.

Polio (polio vaccine)

Polio is an infectious disease. You should not have a vaccination against polio if you are having chemotherapy.

Polycythaemia rubra vera (PCV)

A type of blood disease. Not a cancer. Too many blood cells are made. It is often treated with cancer treatments such as radioactive phosphorus.

Positive lymph nodes

Used to mean lymph nodes that contain cancer cells. Means there is a greater chance that a cancer has spread and usually a sign that adjuvant treatment is needed, such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy.

Precancer (precancerous, precancerous cells)

The stage before cancer has developed, when cells appear abnormal but are not actually cancerous. If left untreated, they may go on to become cancerous. Treatment can usually prevent a cancer developing, if precancerous cells are detected by screening programs (for example the Australian Government-funded breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening programs).

Premature menopause

Menopause brought on artificially before it would happen normally. This can be due to cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy to the womb or pelvis, or can be a result of surgery to remove the ovaries. 

Prevention trials

Prevention trials involve people who do not have cancer. The trials look to see whether a particular intervention stops cancer from developing.

Primary brain tumour

A cancer which starts in the brain (rather than spreading to the brain from another part of the body).

Primary cancer (primary tumour)

Means the area in the body where the cancer started.

Primary lung cancer

Cancer that started in the lung.

Procarbazine (Natulan)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of lymphoma and brain tumours.


A thin, short tube that doctors use to look into the lowest part of your bowel (the rectum). It has a light and camera on the end and may also have a tool to take biopsies of any abnormal areas. 


An examination of the rectum (back passage) using a tube (proctoscope) put into the rectum through the anus. The doctor can see inside the rectum and take biopsies (samples of tissue) for examination under a microscope.


One of the two female sex hormones.


The likely outlook for someone with a disease. In other words, whether it is likely to be cured or controlled with treatment.


To a researcher, this means that a cancer has grown by at least a quarter in size, or that new areas of cancer have appeared.

Prokinetic agent

Drugs that increase the force of contractions of the smooth muscle.

Prophylactic cranial radiotherapy (PCR)

Literally means preventative radiotherapy to the head. With some types of cancer that can spread to the brain, doctors like to give a short course of radiotherapy to the brain. The idea  is that it kills off any microscopic spread that may already be there. It may also be called prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI). 


A gland found in men surrounding the urethra (tube which carries urine from the bladder to the penis). The gland makes a thick white fluid which mixes with sperm to make semen.

Prostate cancer

Cancer of the prostate gland.

Prostate specific antigen

A substance produced by prostate cells and found in the blood. The level can be measured by a blood test and used as part of tests to diagnose a prostate cancer or check whether treatment is working.


A false body part. Can be internal (for example, a silicon ball inserted into the scrotum to replace a testicle) or external (for example, a false breast).

Proteasome inhibitors

Proteasomes are substances found in all cells that help break down proteins. Proteasome inhibitors are drugs that interfere with the way proteasomes work, leading to a build up of proteins in the cells. This makes cells die. Research has shown that cancer cells are more sensitive to proteasome inhibitors than normal cells.


A detailed plan of a research trial.

Provox valve

A type of valve used to help people speak after they have had their voice box removed (total laryngectomy).

PSA level

The level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. PSA is a protein produced by prostate cells. 


A doctor who specialises in treating mental illness. 


An expert in psychology. Psychology is the systematic investigation of the human mind, including behaviour, thinking and mood. Clinical psychologists give mental health care and counselling.


Trained professionals who work with people, couples, families and groups to help them overcome psychological and emotional concerns.

PsychosomaticRelating to the influence of the mind on the body. Having physical symptoms that are caused or influenced by mental or emotional causes.
Pancreatic cancer

Cancer of the pancreas.

Quality of life

To a researcher, looking at 'quality of life' means looking at how a treatment is affecting your life. For example, can include efect on symptoms or side effects and whether a drug is given as a tablet or injection.


R-CHOP-14 is a chemotherapy regimen given to CD20 positive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. ‘R’ stands for the drug ‘Rituximab’ which is a drug targeted against the CD20 receptor on the lymphoma cells. ‘CHOP’ stands for the chemotherapy drugs ‘cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone.’ G-CSF is also given to keep the white blood cells at a safe level during treatment.

Radiation (radioactivity)

Radiation means giving off any energy particles or waves. In cancer it means radioactivity used as a treatment. This means gamma rays, alpha or beta particles from a radioactive source.

Radical cystectomy

An operation to remove the bladder and lymph nodes. In men the prostate gland is also removed. In women the womb and ovaries may also be removed.

Radical gallbladder resection

An operation to take out the gallbladder, a small part of the liver, the common bile duct, and the nearby lymph nodes. It may also involve taking out part or all of your pancreas, liver, or bowel.

Radical mastectomy

An operation to remove the breast, the lymph glands under the arm and the muscles of the chest wall.

Radical radiotherapy

An intensive course of radiotherapy given to try to cure a cancer.

Radical surgery

Extensive surgery aiming to remove all possible body tissue that could be affected by a particular cancer.

Radical trachelectomy

An operation to remove early cervical cancer. The surgeon removes most of your cervix, but leaves some behind. This is then stitched closed to leave a small opening. You may also have the upper part of the vagina, the area around the lower part of the womb and the pelvic lymph nodes removed. After this operation you may still be able to become pregnant. It is not a suitable operation for all women with cervical cancer.

Radical treatment

Treatment that aims to completely get rid of a cancer.


A substance or object that gives off high energy rays or particles.

Radioactive beads

Radiotherapy using small beads made of isotopes of gold or iodine that give off radiation. The beads are put inside the body close to the area of the cancer. This gives a high dose of radiotherapy to the cancer, but a low dose to healthy parts of the body.

Radioactive drink

A type of internal radiotherapy given in liquid form as a drink – for example, radioactive iodine to treat cancer of the thyroid.

Radioactive dye

A dye which gives off a small amount of radiation. Used during some types of scan.

Radioactive injection

Injection into a vein of a tiny amount of a radioactive substance. This is usually done for a scan, for example a bone scan. But it can also be used to give cancer treatments, such as radioactive phosphorous (P32).

Radioactive liquid (radioactive liquids)

A liquid that gives off radiation.

Radioactive material (radioactive substance)

Any substance which gives off radiation.

Radioactive source (radiation source)

A substance or object that gives off radiation. Radiotherapy machines contain radioactive sources. Internal radiotherapy may use radioactive implants, wires, or small metal balls as the source.


A person trained to give radiotherapy treatment and take x-rays. Therapy radiographers give radiotherapy treatment. Diagnostic radiographers take X-rays to diagnose illness.

Radio immunotherapy (RIT)

This treatment utilizes an antibody labeled with a radionuclie deliver a lethal dose of radiation to the tumor cells.


A doctor who specialises in reading X-rays and scans, and carrying out scans and other specialist X-ray techniques.


A radionuclide is a radioactive form of an atom. Some are natural and some are manmade. They can be used in tiny amounts to create pictures in a bone scan, for example. Or they may be used as a cancer treatment. Iodine 131 is an example of a radionuclide – it is a radioactive form of iodine.

Radionuclide therapy

Internal radiotherapy using a radioactive liquid that circulates throughout the body and targets particular types of cells.


A drug or substance that increases sensitivity to radiation. 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) is radiosensitising, so it is sometimes given with radiotherapy to treat some types of cancer. 


A cancer that responds well to radiotherapy is said to be radiosensitive.


A doctor who specialises in treating patients with radiotherapy. 

Radiotherapy (radiotherapy treatment, radium treatment)

Cancer treatment using high energy waves similar to X-rays. Used to be called radium treatment because all radiotherapy used to be given using radium. Radiotherapy treatments now include external beam radiotherapy, internal radiotherapy using radioactive metals or liquids, and treatments that shape the radiotherapy beam - including conformal radiotherapy and intensity modulated radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy field

The area of the body that is treated with radiotherapy. Usually several 'beams' are used for external radiotherapy, and they overlap at the area of the cancer. 

Radiotherapy implant (radioactive implant)

A radioactive substance put inside the body to give radiotherapy directly to a cancer. Can be used in many different forms, such as wires or small metal beads. For example, iridium wires can be put into the breast or tongue to treat breast cancer or mouth cancer.

Radiotherapy limit

The maximum amount of radiotherapy that can be given to a part of the body, or to any one person. Each body organ has its own radiotherapy limit. Some organs are more sensitive to radiotherapy than others.

Radiotherapy machine

A machine used to give external radiotherapy treatment for cancer (and some other illnesses and conditions).

Radiotherapy nurse

A nurse who works in the radiotherapy department and can advise patients about managing radiotherapy treatment and side effects.

Radiotherapy planning

The process of designing a person's course of radiotherapy treatment.

Radiotherapy side effects

Unwanted effects on the body of radiotherapy. Radiotherapy can cause tiredness. Other side effects usually only occur in the area of the body being treated. The side effects don't usually begin as soon as you start the treatment. They take a while to build up and then slowly disappear a little while after you have finished the treatment. This may take a number of weeks.


A naturally occuring radioactive metal. Gives off radiation. The first radioactive substance used to treat cancer.

Raloxifene (Evista)

A selective oestrogen receptor modulator that can act like oestrogen in some body tissues (eg bones) and oppose the action of oestrogen in other body tissues (eg the breast). It is used in the prevention of breast cancer and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.


By chance.


In clinical trials, the process of putting people into groups by chance, to make sure there is no bias.

Randomised controlled trial

A fair and unbiased test of whether a treatment works. Randomised controlled trials (also called randomised trials, controlled trials and clinical trials) provide the best evidence about the benefits and risks of treatments.The people taking part in the trial are put into different groups at random. They are usually selected for each group by a computer. One group, the intervention group receives the treatment being tested and the other is the control group. The control group gets the most widely-accepted current treatment, called the standard treatment.


Receptors are structures on the surface of cells to which specific proteins attach. This triggers a reaction in the cell. There are many different receptors. Each triggers different reactions in the cell. Some make cells grow and divide into new cells, others tell cells to stop growing or die. Some cancer cells have more receptors than normal cells, which triggers the cancer cells to grow. Some cancer treatments work by targetting specific receptors.

Reconstructive surgery

An operation to rebuild a part of the body that has been removed or damaged (for example, breast reconstruction).


In clinical trials, the trial is open for people to enter.

Rectal examination

A medical examination where the doctor puts a finger into the back passage (rectum) to see if they can feel anything wrong.


The back passage. The end of the bowel where faeces is stored before it passes out of the body through the anus.


Come back (or happen again) – cancers may come back (recur) after they are first treated.

Recurrence (recurred, recurrent)

Cancer that has come back again in the same place after treatment.

Red blood cells (red blood cell, red cells)

Cells in the blood that carry oxygen from the lungs around the body. If you don't have enough red blood cells, it is called anaemia.

Red spidery marks (telangiectasia)

These are a long term side effect of radiotherapy. Extra blood vessels can grow in the skin where radiotherapy treatment has been given in the past.


To become more red. The skin may go red after radiotherapy treatment or due to some cancer drug treatments.


A type of complementary therapy. Reflexologists use pressure points on the feet, similar to acupuncture points, to detect blockages of energy in the body. They aim to correct the blockages by massaging the feet.

Regional chemotherapy

Chemotherapy given to one part of the body only. For example, for secondary bowel cancer in the liver, chemotherapy can be given to the liver through the hepatic artery.

Regional limb perfusion

A technique for giving chemotherapy into an arm or leg. it is an experimental treatment. Under general anaesthetic, the blood supply to the affected arm or leg is connected to a pump which circulates it, with oxygen and the chemotherapy.


An illness that has seemed to be getting better, or to have been cured, comes back or gets worse again.


If a cancer is in remission, there is no sign of it in examinations or tests. Doctors say 'remission' instead of cure because they cannot always be sure that all cancer cells are gone and the cancer won't come back. Generally, the longer the remission, the less likely it is that the cancer will come back.


Looking into something in a systematic and logical way to find out new facts about it. Cancer research looks into new treatments, but can also find out many other things about cancers for example, who is at risk, how to prevent cancer and how to lessen side effects of treatment.


Removed (cut away) during an operation.

Resistance to infection

Our immune system works to destroy infections that enter the body. Some cancer treatments can temporarily lower your white blood cell count and so lower your resistance to infection. 


Not responsive to treatment. If a cancer becomes resistant to chemotherapy, then the treatment will no longer control or shrink it.

Respiratory system

The body system for breathing. Includes the nose, windpipe (trachea), airways and lungs.

Response rate

How much of the cancer the treatment kills. If the cancer disappears for a period of time it is called a ‘complete response’. If half of the cancer disappears it is called a ‘partial response’. If it stays about the same size it is called ‘stable disease’.


A rare cancer of the eye. This cancer can either be inherited or just develop spontaneously.


A type of cancer that starts in the cells of muscles that we control, such as the muscles in the arms

Rigid laryngoscopy

An examination of the voice box, done under anaesthetic. A rigid tube is put down your throat. The tube has a light and camera inside so your specialist can see your voice box clearly. This is usually part of a panendoscopy.

Risk factors

In medicine, a risk factor is something that may make you more likely to develop a particular condition or illness. For example, smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer and sun exposure a risk factor for skin cancer.

Rituximab (Mabthera)

A monoclonal antibody that is directed against the CD20 antigen (protein) found on the surface B white blood cells (lymphocytes).  It is used in the treatment of non-Hogkin’s B-cell lymphoma.

Rodent ulcer

A deep ulcer (hole) in the skin that spreads into and damages the body tissues that surround it. If basal cell skin cancer is left untreated, it can develop into a rodent ulcer.

Rubella (rubella vaccine, German measles, German measles vaccine)

An infectious disease. You should not have a vaccination against rubella if you are having chemotherapy as the vaccine is live.

Standard treatment

The most commonly used treatment for a particular cancer. New treatments are often compared to standard treatments in research trials. The usual, or standard treatment, is the best treatment that is available for the particular type and stage of cancer that you currently have.


Solution of salt in water.


Cancer that has developed from cells of the body's connective tissues. Muscle, bone, nerves, blood vessels, fat and fibrous tissues are all connective tissues.

Scan (scans)

Looking at the inside of the body from the outside to see if there is anything wrong (for example, a CT scan or ultrasound scan).


A tumour of the nerve sheath (fatty covering of the nerves). Can occur in the major nerves of the head or the peripheral nerves (outside the brain and spinal cord). One of the most common sites is the main nerve for hearing (the acoustic nerve). Schwannomas are usually benign (non cancerous), but can rarely be malignant.

Screening (screening program, screening test, screening tests)

Testing the general population to see if a particular disease can be picked up early - usually before that person has noticed any symptoms. This can only be done if there is a reliable and simple test for the disease, as with the cervical smear test or mammogram.


The sack of skin that surrounds the testicles.

Second cancer

Cancer caused by previous cancer treatment. Some treatments cause changes in the body that may lead to a different type of cancer developing some years afterwards. This is not the same as a secondary cancer, which is a cancer which has spread.

Second line treatment

This is the treatment you have if your first course of cancer treatment doesn't work or your cancer comes back after a period of time. 

Second look laparotomy

An operation that is done after chemotherapy (most often for ovarian cancer) to see if the cancer inside the abdomen has gone, or shrunk.

Second opinion

Getting another view on diagnosis or treatment from another doctor.

Secondary brain tumour (metastatic brain tumour)

Cancer which has spread to the brain from somewhere else in the body. The cells in the brain tumour look like the cells from the part of the body the cancer has come from, rather than like brain cells. For example, if the cancer has spread from the lung, the cancer cells in the brain will look like lung cells.

Secondary breast cancer

Cancer that has spread from the breast to another part of the body, for example, the liver or bone.

Secondary cancer (secondaries)

Cancer that has spread from where it started in the body to another part of the body.

Secondary lung cancer

Lung cancer that has spread from the lungs to another part of the body, such as the liver.

Secondary prostate cancer

Prostate cancer that has spread from the prostate to another part of the body, for example, the bones.


Making someone calm and sleepy by giving them a drug called a sedative. You may have this for some medical procedures to make it less stressful. If you have sedation, you may not remember much about the procedure afterwards.


A drug which reduces anxiety, calms you and makes you sleepy. Doctors may give you this sort of drug before certain medical procedures to make them less stressful. If you have a sedative you may be sleepy for a while afterwards and may not remember much about the procedure.


An operation to remove a segment of a body organ, for example a segment of a lung.

Selectron (curitron)

A machine used in internal radiotherapy treatment.

Self catheterisation

Using a catheter to drain your own urine, either from the bladder or from a 'continent urinary diversion' after having your bladder removed.


A type of testicular cancer. It is most common in men between the ages of 30 and 50.

Sentinel lymph node

The 'sentinel' lymph node is the lymph node near a body organ, or part of an organ, which is the first that the tissue fluid draining from that organ reaches. 


A collection of fluid under a wound after an operation.


A hormone found in the brain, platelets, digestive system and the pineal gland (a small gland in the brain). It acts as a chemical messenger, sending messages between nerves (neurotransmitter). It also sends messages to make blood vessels narrower. Some carcinoid tumours make serotonin and high levels in the body can cause diarrhoea, wheezing and flushing.

Sex hormones

Hormones that 'make' us male or female. They control the production of eggs in women and sperm in men. The female sex hormones are oestrogen and progesterone. The male sex hormone is testosterone. Some cancers use sex hormones to help them grow and treatments for these cancers aim to stop the body making sex hormones.


Another word for a mask or mould used to keep the body still during radiotherapy treatment.

Side effects

Unwanted effects of medical treatment.

Sigmoid colon

An 'S' shape bend in the area of the bowel that joins the descending colon to the rectum.

Sigmoidoscopy (sigmoidoscope)

Examination of the inside of the rectum (back passage) and colon (large bowel) as far as the sigmoid colon. The sigmoid colon is the S shaped part of the large bowel on the lower left of the abdomen. The doctor puts a sigmoidoscope (a thin bendy tube) into the bowel through the anus. It can take biopsies (samples of tissue) for examination under the microscope.


A substance used to make body implants (for example, artificial breasts). Also used to make some medical equipment (for example, urinary catheters). It is used because it is very unlikely to cause any reaction in the body.

Silicone implant

An artificial body part put into the body to replace a part that has been removed - for example, a breast shape or false testicle. 

Simple mastectomy

Operation to remove the breast only.


Specialised X-ray and scanning machine used to plan radiotherapy treatment.

Skin cancer clinic

A clinic where people who are at higher than normal risk of developing skin cancer can have their moles checked by a doctor. People at higher risk of melanoma have a lot of moles, or  have 'dysplastic naevus syndrome' – large numbers of abnormal moles. These clinics aim to find and treat early skin cancers. 

Skin graft

Replacing an area of skin with another piece taken from elsewhere in the body. For example, in skin cancer surgery, a wide area of skin is affected and has to be removed. This is then replaced with a piece of your own skin.

Skin markings (skin marks)

Lines drawn on the body with a felt tip pen during radiotherapy planning. These are used to line up the radiotherapy machine every day. Marks can also be made with tattoos. 

Skin nodule (skin nodules)

A lump or raised area on the skin.

Skin reaction

Reddening and sometimes peeling of the skin that can happen as a reaction to radiotherapy treatment. Similar to moderate sunburn. Severe skin reactions to radiotherapy are now quite rare since the use of newer 'skin sparing' radiotherapy techniques.

Small bowel (duodenum, ileum)

Also called the small intestine. It is the part of the digestive system between the stomach and the large bowel and includes the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. Most digestion takes place here.

Small cell lung cancer (small cell)

A type of lung cancer. It behaves differently from the other main types of lung cancer and so is treated differently. It tends to spread at an early stage, so is often treated with chemotherapy.

Small cell lymphocytic

A type of lymphoma. The cells appear small under the microscope. This is a low grade type of lymphoma.

Small non-cleaved Burkitt's

A rare type of lymphoma. The cells have a particular appearance and are named after the person that first classified this type of lymphoma. The cells look small under the microscope and are not split. It is usually treated with combination chemotherapy.

Small non-cleaved non-Burkitt's

A rare type of lymphoma. The cells look small under the microscope and are not split. This looks similar to the cells in Burkitt's Lymphoma, but are not the same, so this type of lymphoma is called non-Burkitt's. It is usually treated with combination chemotherapy.

Social worker

A person who gives people support, arranges care, and helps with claiming financial benefits. Some specialised social workers support people with cancer and their families.

Soft diet

Soft and mashed foods that are easy to swallow and don't need much chewing. These are often recommended when the mouth is sore from chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or when it is difficult to swallow.

Solar keratosis

Changes in the skin due to long term sun exposure. They may be the first warning sign of a skin cancer developing. Usually the area of skin is slightly raised, red or pink and may be scaly.

Solid tumour

A solid tumour is a tumour (benign or cancerous) that has developed in a body organ or tissue. It does not include cancers of the blood system or lymphatic system, such as leukaemia or lymphoma.


A hormone which helps to control the production of insulin by the pancreas and gastrin by the stomach.


A rare type of cancer of the pancreas which produces too much of a hormone called somatostatin, causing diarrhoea and stomach ulcers.

Somnolence (somnolence syndrome)

Feeling extremely tired, drowsy and irritable. This can be a side effect of a long course of radiotherapy to the brain. It may last for some weeks after treatment has finished.

SPECT scan

SPECT stands for 'Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography'. You have an injection of a very small amount of a radioactive chemical, which circulates in your blood and shows up the cancer on the scanner. It is similar to a PET scan.


A device used to hold the vagina open during an internal examination. Allows the doctor to see the cervix clearly.

Speech therapist

A person trained to help people learn how to speak and swallow properly. If you have surgery to your mouth or voice box, you will see a speech therapist as you may need to learn how to speak or swallow in a new way.  

Sperm banking

Collecting, freezing and storing sperm samples to use in the future. Can be done before cancer treatment is given. If the treatment causes infertility, the frozen sperm can be used to father a child as part of fertility treatment.

Sperm count

The number of healthy sperm counted in a sperm sample. This shows how healthy the sperm sample is and can tell whether it is worth freezing the sample for sperm banking.


Nerve block of the splanchnic nerve in the abdomen. This is sometimes done for severe pain in cancer of the pancreas which is not responding to pain killers.


Doctors use the term spread in relation to cancer to means that cancer cells have spread away from where the cancer first started. A cancer can spread to areas next to where it began to grow (local spread) or to other parts of the body (secondary cancer or metastasis).

Squamous cell cancer

A cancer that develops from squamous cells. It is also called squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cells are found in the skin and also the membranes that line some body cavities, such as the airways in the lungs.

Squamous cells

A flat type of cell found in the skin and the membranes that line some body cavities. Many cancers start from these cells.

Stable disease

Doctors and researchers may use the term 'stable disease' to describe a cancer that is not getting better or worse. Tests and scans may show that a cancer is not getting bigger or smaller, but is staying the same size.

Stage (stages)

The size of a cancer and how far it has spread. The stage of a cancer is used to decide the best type of treatment. Different cancer have different staging systems but most systems have about four stages. Stage one is the smallest cancer and stage four (or the highest number) means the cancer has spread from where it started to another part of the body.


Tests and scancs to work out what stage a cancer is - how large it is and whether it has spread. For most cancers there are four stages. Stage one is a small localised cancer. Stage four is a cancer that has spread away from where it started to another body organ. TNM is a more detailed staging system used by doctors. It describes the size of the tumour (T), whether there are lymph nodes containing cancer cells (N), and whether the cancer has spread (M).

Staging laparotomy

An operation sometimes carried out for Hodgkin's lymphoma or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The surgeon opens the abdomen to check how far the disease has spread and whether any organs are involved, such as the stomach or spleen. The surgeon may remove the spleen or any lymphoma tumours that are found.

Standard treatment

The most commonly used treatment for a particular cancer. New treatments are often compared to standard treatments in research trials. The usual, or standard treatment, is the best treatment that is available for the particular type and stage of cancer that you currently have.


Someone who works on trial results to find out whether they have happened by chance, or whether one treatment is really better than another. Statisticians also work out how many people are needed to take part in a trial and put them into groups at random.


Collecting and analysing data to make comparisons and see patterns in research results.


A particular type of diarrhoea caused by difficulty digesting fats. Can be a symptom of diseases of the pancreas or gall bladder.

Stem cell collecting machine (blood cell separator, cell separator)

A machine which separates out blood cells and removes them from your blood. You have a drip put into a vein in each of your arms (or one of the drips is attached to your central line if you have one). Your blood circulates out of one drip, through the machine and back into the other drip. The machine filters out blood stem cells over about three to four hours. The machine is also called a blood cell separator. 

Stem cell harvest (stem cell collection)

Collecting blood stem cells from the blood for a stem cell transplant. Before the collection, you will be given injections of growth factors to help lots of stem cells to develop. When your white blood cell count is high enough, your stem cells are collected using a stem cell collecting machine.

Stem cell transplant

A treatment for some types of cancer, leukaemia and lymphoma. Stem cells are collected from the blood of a patient or a donor. The patient then has very high doses of chemotherapy (and sometimes whole body radiotherapy) to kill cancer cells. The collected stem cells are then given back to the patient through a drip. They find their way back inside the bones and start to make blood cells again.

Stem cells (blood stem cells, peripheral blood stem cells)

Stem cells are the cells in the bone marrow from which red blood cells, white cells and platelets develop. Stem cells can be collected from the blood of a patient or donor to use as part of stem cell transplant treatment for some types of cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma.

Stent (stents)

A stent is a tube used to keep open structures in the body that are becoming blocked off. For example, in cancer of the lung a stent may be used to keep open an airway that is getting blocked by a tumour.


Can mean to thoroughly clean something and kill any bacteria that might be there.  It can also mean preventing pregnancy by cutting or blocking the tubes from a woman's ovaries, or cutting the tubes that carry sperm in a man.


Inability to have children.

Sternum (chest bone)

The bone at the front of the chest where the ribs meet. Bone marrow is sometimes taken from the sternum during a bone marrow harvest.

Steroid replacement therapy

Steroid treatment (usually as tablets) given when the body is not producing steroids naturally.


Substances made naturally in the body. They affect many functions of the body. Steroids can now be made artificially and used in cancer treatment as tablets or injections. They have side effects,such as difficulty sleeping, increased appetite and water retention.


An opening to the outside of the body formed during surgery. Can be a colostomy (opening of the large bowel onto the abdomen), ileostomy (opening of the small bowel onto the abdomen), urostomy (opening of the urine system onto the abdomen after bladder removal) or a tracheostomy (a hole in the neck into the airway).

Stoma appliances (stoma bag, stoma bags)

Bags and seals that are made to use with a stoma. There are many different types and it may take a few tries to find the one that suits you.

Stoma nurse

A nurse who is specially trained and experienced at working with people who have a colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy. The stoma nurse can help you find the right type of stoma appliances for you and help solve any problems or difficulties that you may have in coping with your stoma.


An organ of the digestive system. The stomach digests food and absorbs water.


A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of carcinoid tumours and pancreatic islet cell tumours.


Making a rasping noise when breathing, caused when an airway is partly blocked in some way.

Strontium (metastron, Sr89)

A radioactive isotope used to treat bone cancer. A small dose of a liquid is injected into the body. It finds it way into the bones where it gives a high local dose of radiotherapy.

Subcapsular orchidectomy

Removal of the inner part of a testicle from inside its covering, or capsule.

Subcutaneous breast reconstruction

A type of breast reconstruction. The skin and nipple are left in place, the breast tissue is taken away from underneath, and an implant is put in under the skin to create a new breast shape.

Subcutaneous injection (subcutaneously)

An injection into the layer of fat just under the skin.

Subcutaneous tissue

The tissue underneath the outer layers of the skin.


Part of the voice box (larynx) - the area below the vocal cords that contains the cricoid cartilage and continues down into the windpipe (trachea).

Submuscular breast reconstruction

A type of breast reconstruction where an implant is put under the muscles of the chest wall after the breast has been removed. This creates a new breast shape.

Sunitinib (Sutent)

Sunitinib is a growth blocker that is typically used for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma and gastrointestinal stromal tumour.

Superficial spreading melanoma

The most common type of malignant melanoma. This has an early phase (called the radial phase) where it grows outwards rather than downwards into the skin. So if you catch it early when it has not begun to grow downwards into the skin layers, it is unlikely to recur after it has been removed.

Support group (cancer support group, support groups)

Groups of patients (and sometimes their relatives or friends) who have the same type of disease. They meet together to talk about their experiences and find ways of helping themselves.

Supportive care

Supportive care means treatment and physical care given to control cancer symptoms and reduce the side effects of cancer treatments. Supportive care aims to give patients the best possible quality of life and is often compared to new treatments for symptoms in palliative care clinical trials. It may also be called 'best supportive care'. Some doctors and researchers include social care, psychological care and spiritual support in their definition of supportive care.


Drugs inside a soft, waxy substance that is put into the back passage (rectum).  The drugs are absorbed into the lining of the rectum and go into the bloodstream. This is a fast way of getting drugs into your system and is helpful if eating or drinking are a problem. Glycerine suppositories do not contain a drug but give lubrication to help you pass a bowel motion if you are constipated or need to empty the rectum before an operation.

Suppressor T cell

A specialised type of white blood cell that tells B cells when to stop making antibodies. It is part of the immune response.


Medical treatment to remove or repair body tissue during an operation. Surgery can be done with a scalpel (knife) or with lasers that cut through body tissue.

Surgical biopsy

Removing a piece of tissue during a surgical operation.

Surgical voice restoration

A specialised type of surgery that creates a small hole between the windpipe and food pipe for a voice valve. This helps people learn to speak again after they have had their voice box removed (laryngectomy).


Doctors watching to see if you have signs of cancer before you have symptoms or if an early cancer is starting to grow. Surveillence may be used if you have an increased risk of developing a certain type of cancer or if you have had cancer or a precancerous condition in the past. You have regular tests or examinations to look for signs of early cancer.  

Symptom (symptoms)

Anything noticed by a patient that indicates there is something wrong. Can help the doctor diagnose a particular disease.

Symptom control

Treatment to manage or control the effects of a disease such as pain or sickness.


Means 'to do with the tissues lining the joints'. Synovial fluid is the fluid inside a joint. Synovial sarcoma is a type of cancer that starts in the cells inside a joint. 

Systematic review

A study of the published results of several trials that have tested a particular treatment or therapy. The results of these trials are looked at together to draw a conclusion.

Systemic disease

A disease that affects the whole body. Leukaemias and lymphomas are systemic diseases because the blood system and the lymphatic system are all over the body. Systemic diseases are treated with treatments that can affect the whole body (such as chemotherapy) rather than local treatments such as surgery.

Systemic treatment

Treatment that reaches the whole body. For example, chemotherapy is usually a systemic treatment because it circulates throughout the body in the blood stream. Systemic treatments are used for cancers that have already spread or may spread in the future.

T cell lymphoma

A cancer of the lymphatic system where the cells that have become cancerous are a type of white blood cell called T lymphocytes. 

T lymphocytes (T cells)

A type of white blood cell. Lymphocytes make up a quarter to a third of the white blood cells. There are two types - B and T cells. The T lymphocytes help the B cells make antibodies as part of the immune response. 

T test

Statistical test that helps to show if there is a real difference between different treatments being.

Tamoxifen (Genox, GenRx, Nolvadex, Tamosin, Tamoxen nolvadex, tamofen)

A selective oestrogen receptor modulator that can act like oestrogen in some body tissues (eg bones) and oppose the action of oestrogen in other body tissues (eg the breast). It is used in the treatment of breast cancer.

Tamoxifen retinopathy

A very rare long term side effect of Tamoxifen. The light sensitive cells at the back of the eye are damaged,  which causes problems with vision. This side effect usually goes away when the drug is stopped.

Taste buds

Areas on the tongue which pick up different tastes - salty, sweet, sour and bitter. They can be damaged by radiotherapy.

Taste changes

A side effect of some chemotherapy drugs and of radiotherapy to the head. Some foods can taste metallic. Others may not taste of anything at all. Taste is usually back to normal after treatment is finished. But some radiotherapy treatment can cause permanent loss of taste.

Tattoo (tattoos, pinprick tattoos)

Permanent ink mark on the skin. Tiny pinprick tattoos are sometimes made during radiotherapy planning. These are used to help line up the machine for treatment.


Taxanes are a group of chemotherapy drugs. They block the growth of cancer cells by stopping cells dividing. They were originally developed from the yew tree. This group of drugs includes paclitaxel (Taxol) and docetaxel (Taxotere).

Temozolamide (Temodal)

An oral chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme, recurrent anaplastic astrocytoma and metastatic melanoma.


Means how hot or cold something is. Used commonly to mean a body temperature above normal (98.4oF or 37oC) as in ‘I have a temperature’.

Temporary colostomy

An opening of the bowel onto the surface of the abdomen (tummy) that is not permanent. You have the colostomy while your bowel is recovering from surgery. When the operation site has healed, the colostomy is reversed (closed up) and you pass bowel motions normally again.

Temporary infertility

Infertility that is not for ever. Some chemotherapy treatment can cause infertility while you are having the treatment. But your fertility can come back 6 months or so after treatment has finished. This will depend on the drugs, but also on other things such as your age and whether you are male or female. It is sometimes difficult for doctors to say whose infertility will be permanent and whose will be temporary.

Ten year survival

The proportion (percentage) of people with a particular type of cancer who are still alive 10 years after the cancer was first diagnosed.


A type of testicular cancer most common in men between 20 and 30 years old.

Terminal illness (terminally ill)

An illness which will eventually cause death.

Termination of pregnancy

Intentional or planned end to a pregnancy (commonly called an abortion).


Another word for testicles. Glands in the scrotum which produce sperm.

Testicular cancer

Cancer of one or both testicles.

Testicular microlithiasis

A build up of tiny pieces of calcium in the testicle.

Testicular prosthesis

A fake testicle – a silicon ball put into the scrotum to replace a removed testicle.

Testicular self-examination (TSE)

A process of feeling one's own testicles for lumps or other abnormalities.


The male sex hormone produced by the testicles.

TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration)

The federal government body that approves drugs and treatments before they can be prescribed.


Inhibits blood vessel formation. Used in the treatment of multiple myeloma.

Thioguanine (Lanvis)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of acute myeloblastic leukaemia.


A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of superficial urinary bladder cancer.

Thoracic duct

The main channel of the lymphatic system that returns lymph fluid (circulating tissue fluid) to the blood circulation. The thoracic duct joins the blood circulatory system just above the heart.


Taking fluid out of the space between the tissues that cover the lungs (the pleural cavity).


Doctors use this test to look at your lung or the lining of your lung (pleura) and can take tissue samples (biopsies) or suck out a sample of fluid. The doctor puts a thin tube called a thoracosope through a small cut in your chest wall.


A surgical operation to open the chest cavity in order to operate on the lungs.


A low platelet (thrombocyte) count. This happens when platelets are destroyed in the blood faster than the bone marrow can replace them. 

Thrombocytopenic purpura

A low platelet (thrombocyte) count causing bleeding under the surface of the skin, which looks like tiny red or purple dots. 


The medical term for a blood clot.


A fungus infection which usually affects the mouth or vagina. White patches appear and the surrounding skin is red and sore. It occurs most often in people with a low resistance to infection (eg after chemotherapy) or in areas that have been treated with radiotherapy (such as the mouth).


Thyroglobulin is a protein made by normal thyroid tissue. The thyroid uses it to make thyroid hormones. The level of thyroglobulin in the body can be measured with blood tests. These tests may be used to check whether thyroid cancer treatment has worked and whether there are active thyroid cancer cells in the body.


Noises heard in the ear without any external cause, such as ringing in the ears. Can be a side effect of some chemotherapy drugs.

Tissue expander (tissue expansion)

A type of breast reconstruction. The skin where the breast was is slowly stretched by an inflatable implant until it is the same size as the natural breast.


Putting something directly onto the skin surface. For example, topical medication can be a cream applied to the skin.

Topotecan (Hycamtin)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer and small cell lung cancer.

Total androgen blockade

Treatment with anti androgens and pituitary downregulators at the same time. This completely blocks the production and effects of the sex hormones and is used to treat some prostate cancers.

Total body irradiation (TBI)

Giving radiotherapy to the whole body. This can be part of the treatment necessary for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

Total laryngectomy

An operation to remove the whole voicebox (larynx).

Total prostatectomy

An operation to remove the whole prostate. The lymph glands around the prostate are usually removed as well and then it is called a radical prostatectomy.


Side effects.

Trachea (windpipe)

The main airway that runs from the base of the throat down to the lungs. It divides into the two main bronchi (right and left) that supply each lung with air.


An artificial opening made surgically in the front of your neck, through the skin and into your windpipe. This allows you to breathe after surgery to your neck, throat or mouth. The hole is called a stoma. Air enters and leaves your windpipe (trachea) and lungs, through this.

Tracheostomy tube

A plastic tube placed in your windpipe (trachea) after surgery, to make sure there is a good air supply to your lungs.

Tram flap

A type of breast reconstruction. Part of the rectus abdominus muscle in the abdomen is transplanted to the chest wall and used to create a new breast shape. Sometimes an implant is also used.

Transformation zone

The area at the opening of the cervix into the womb. This is the area where precancerous cells are most likely to be found during a cervical smear test and also where cervical cancer is most likely to start.

Transitional cell(s)

A type of cell found in the bladder. Transitional cell tissue can stretch, as it does when the bladder fills up. Transitional cell cancer is the most common type of bladder cancer in the UK.

Transurethral resection (TUR, TURP)

An operation to remove the part of an enlarged prostate which is pressing on the urethra (the tube which carries urine from the bladder out of the penis). The prostate is chipped away in tiny pieces and removed through the urethra so there is no scar. TURP can be done for benign enlarged prostate or prostate cancer.

Trastuzumab (Herceptin)

A monoclonal antibody that acts against the HER2 receptor on breast cancer cells. It is used in the treatment of breast cancer that overexpresses the HER2 receptor.

Tretinoin (ATRA)

Used in acute promyelocytic leukaemia for induction of remission.

Treatment angle

A term used in radiotherapy planning. Radiotherapy is often given at an angle to the body rather than directly from in front or behind the patient. This is to minimise the dose of radiotherapy to major body organs as much as possible.

Trial centres

The hospitals that are taking part in a particular trial.

Trial structure

How a trial has been designed.

Tube feeding

Giving liquid food through a tube. Can be either a tube from the nose to the stomach (nasogastric tube), or a tube that goes directly into the stomach from the outside (a gastrostomy tube).


Another word for lump. Tumours can be benign (non-cancerous) or cancerous (malignant).

Tumour flare

A temporary increase in symptoms from a cancer after starting treatment. For example, prostate cancer symptoms may increase when treated with pituitary downregulators if anti-androgens are not given for the first few weeks.

Tumour markers

Substances, usually proteins, produced by a tumour or by the body as a response to cancer. Some tumour markers are only produced by one type of cancer, while others can be made by several cancer types. Some markers are found in non-cancerous conditions as well as cancer. The markers can be found by blood tests or by testing tumour samples. 

Tumour necrosis factor (TNF)

A type of biological therapy used experimentally for some types of cancer. TNF is a naturally occuring substance produced by blood cells called macrophages and T cells. TNF naturally attacks tumour cells. When it is used as treatment, it is used in much larger quantities. We do not know whether these larger quantities will be more likely to kill cancer cells. Or whether there could be damaging side effects.

Tumour suppressor genes

Genes which switch off cell multiplication. Tumour suppressor genes can mutate and then fail to switch off cell multiplication which contributes to a cancer forming.

Type of treatment

In cancer trials, the term 'type of treatment' refers to the type of treatment the trial is testing, for example, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy etc.

Tyrosine kinase

Tyrosine kinases are a group of chemical messengers (enzymes) produced by body cells. They are part of the cell signalling system that tells cells when to divide and grow. Genes that control tyrosine kinase can be abnormal in cancer cells. The abnormal TK then sends too many signals to the cancer cell telling it to grow. Drugs that block tyrosine kinase are called 'tyrosine kinase inhibitors' or TKIs. They can help to stop cancers from growing, for example imatinib (Glivec) and erlotinib (Tarceva).

Tyrosine kinase inhibitor

A type of drug that blocks the effects of the enzyme tyrosine kinase.

Ulcerative colitis

A disease of the bowel (colon) causing inflammation, pain, bleeding and watery diarrhoea. The disease is not really curable but tends to come and go. Having ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years increases the risk of bowel cancer, so doctors may suggest regular tests.

Ultrasound (ultrasound scan, ultrasound scans)

Scan using sound waves to build up a picture of the inside of the body. A gel is put on the skin and a microphone passed back and forth over the area to be scanned. A computer converts the reflected sound waves into a picture on a screen.

Ultraviolet (UVA,UVB)

Ultraviolet light is light that we cannot see. But it is an important part of sunlight. Ultraviolet light is divided into UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC cannot get through the ozone layer to reach us. But UVA and UVB can both increase the risk of skin cancer, including malignant melanoma. Sunbathing and using sun beds increases your skin's exposure to ultraviolet light and so increases your risk of skin cancer.


Very immature cells that are not specialised are called undifferentiated. If a cancer cell is completely undifferentiated, it may not be possible to tell what type of cell it originally was, and where in the body it is from.

Urea and electrolytes (blood test)

A test on a blood sample, to check the levels of urea and other electrolytes. Electrolytes are substances such as sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate. The test is often called 'checking the U+Es'. The balance of urea and electrolytes is important for our bodies to work normally. 


Tube which carries urine from the bladder to the outside of body.


This term is used by health care staff to mean having very little warning of the need to either pass urine (urgency of micturition) or have your bowels open (frequency of defaecation). It means having to go to the toilet straight away. 

Urinary system

The system of the body that removes waste products from the blood and makes urine. It includes the kidneys and bladder.

Urostomy (ileal conduit)

An opening onto the surface of the abdomen (tummy). It is used to drain urine after the bladder has been removed. A bag is worn over the opening to collect the urine. This operation is sometimes called an ileal conduit because a piece of small bowel (ileum) is usually used to carry the urine from the ureters to the opening.

Urostomy bag (urostomy bags)

A bag that is made to use with a urostomy. There are one piece and two piece types and many different designs. It may take a few tries to find the one that suits you. Your stoma nurse can help you find the right one. 


The layer of cells that lines most of the urinary system, including the area at the centre of each kidney (known as the renal pelvis), the ureters and parts of the urethra. 

Uterine cancer

Cancer of the womb.

UTI (urinary tract infection)

Urinary tract infection - it means a urine or bladder infection.

Vaccination (vaccinations)

Giving a small amount of an inactivated or weakened form of a disease to give immunity against catching that disease. Some vaccines are live and should not be given to people having chemotherapy. 

Vaginal dilators (dilator, dilators)

Penis-shaped plastic objects used to stretch the vagina after radiotherapy to the pelvic area or cervix. Can help to prevent the vagina becoming too narrow to have sex comfortably. Can also be used to prevent narrowing of the vagina after surgery that has caused nerve damage in that area. 

Vaginal douche (douching)

Cleaning the inside of the vagina by rinsing with water. Sometimes suggested after radiotherapy to the vagina or cervix, to prevent infection.

Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN)

Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) means there are abnormal cells in the skin tissue lining the vagina. The abnormal cells are trapped in the skin and have not spread away from where they started, or begun to grow into the deeper tissues of the vagina. 

Vaginal pack

Gauze wadding put into the vagina. May be used during internal radiotherapy to help keep the applicators holding the radioactive source in place. Also used to prevent bleeding after some types of gynecological surgery. 


A large and important nerve. The vagus nerve helps to control digestion by controlling the release of digestive juices. The vagus can be damaged during surgery to the digestive system, for example, gastrectomy (removal of the stomach).

Valsalva manoeuvre

A way of increasing the pressure in the abdomen. Used after bladder reconstruction to drain the 'new' bladder. You hold your breath, close your throat and try to breathe out. When you do this you automatically push down and the increase in pressure inside the abdomen pushes the urine out of the reconstructed bladder.

VEGF – vascular endothelial growth factor

A substance made by cells, which helps new blood vessels develop and grow. Some cancer treatments target VEGF to stop cancers developing the blood vessels they need. 


A vesicant is a drug that can cause damage if it leaks into the tissue around a tube (cannula) giving the drug into a vein. It can cause pain, inflammation and ulceration which can take quite a long time to heal. Your chemotherapy nurse will keep a close eye on your drip If you have a drug that is a vesicant. Immediate treatment can help to stop the tissue damage.


A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of lymphoma.


A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of lymphoma, acute leukaemia, multiple myeloma, breast cancer and childhood tumours (Wilms’ tumour, neuroblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma).

Vinorelbine (Navelbine)

A chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer and metastatic breast cancer.


A rare type of endocrine tumour of the pancreas which secretes (makes and releases) abnormal amounts of a hormone called VIP (Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide).

Vitamin B12

A vitamin needed for the healthy growth of red blood cells. Found in meat (particularly liver, kidney and heart), eggs, fish, cheese and milk. If you have had your stomach removed (gastrectomy),  you need B12 injections to stop you developing pernicious anaemia.

Vitamin C

An antioxidant vitamin found in many fruits and vegetables.  Antioxidant vitamins may help prevent cancer by stopping damage to body cells. Your body can't store vitamin C. Make sure you eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day for a healthy, balanced diet.

Vitamin D

A vitamin found in butter, eggs and oily fish (such as sardines, herrings and mackerel and salmon) and added to margarine. It is also produced in our skin when we are out in the sun. Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones. It is absorbed in the stomach and you may need to take extra vitamin D if you have had a gastrectomy. 

Vitamin E

An antioxidant vitamin found in vegetable oils, cereals, nuts, green vegetables and eggs. Antioxidant vitamins may help prevent cancer by stopping damage to body cells. If you eat a balanced diet, you are unlikely to be short of vitamin E.

Vitamin K

A fat soluble vitamin which is important for blood clotting. If you have some types of liver or pancreatic disease you may need to have vitamin K injections.


Naturally occurring substances that are necessary for normal growth and keeping healthy. Vitamins must be included in small amounts in the diet because they cannot be made by the body.

Vocal cords

Two bands of muscle that form a 'V' shape inside the voice box (larynx). These vibrate together when air passes between them. The vibrations make the sound of your voice.


The reflex act of ejecting the contents of the stomach through the mouth.

Vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN)

Precancerous changes in the skin cells of a woman's external sex organs (the vulva). If you have VIN there is a risk that it may develop into vulval cancer over many years. It is sometimes called vulval dysplasia, which means abnormal cells. VIN is categorised as mild, moderate or severe dysplasia. It is important to remember that not all women who have VIN or dysplasia will develop vulval cancer.

Wedge resection

An operation to remove a small V-shaped piece (wedge) of an organ. For example, you can have a wedge resection of the breast, lung or liver.


Noisy breathing. A wheeze is a sound typically made when breathing out. It is caused by the airways narrowing or being partly blocked with mucus (or a tumour).

White blood cells (white blood cell, white cells)

Cells in the blood which fight infection and produce antibodies.

Whole cell vaccines

A vaccine that uses the whole cancer cell, not just a specific cell protein (antigen), to make the vaccine. The vaccine is made from a patient's own cancer cells, another person's cancer cells or cancer cells grown in the laboratory.

Wound drain (drain, drainage tubes)

Tube used to drain off the fluid which collects at the site of an operation. The tube comes out of the body close to the wound. Sometimes wound drains are attached to gentle suction to help the drainage.


X-rays are primarily used for diagnostic radiography and crystallography. As a result, the term "X-ray" is metonymically used to refer to a radiographic image produced using this method, in addition to the method itself. X-rays are a form of ionizing radiation and as such can be dangerous. A metal sheet is often worn by the patient when receiving the X-ray to weaken the harmful radiation.

Xerodema pigmentosum

A rare inherited disease that increases your sensitivity to sunlight and so increases the risk of developing skin cancer.


Z-BEAM is a special chemotherapy regimen given before autologous stem cell transplantation in patients with lymphoma. ‘Z’ stands for Yttrium-90 Ibritumomab Tiuxetan (Zevalin) which is a treatment called radioimmunotherapy. ‘BEAM’ stands for the chemotherapy drugs ‘BCNU, Etoposide, Aracytine and Melphalan

Zoledronic Acid (Zometa)

A bisphosphonate class of drug that maintains bone strength and can reduce bone pain. It also lowers blood calcium levels. It is used in the treatment bone metastases, multiple myeloma and to treat high calcium levels caused by cancer.