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Glossary - Breast Health

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Ablative therapy - treatment that removes or destroys tissue.

abscess - a hole filled with pus that forms as a result of a local infection.

Adenocarcinoma - cancerous tumors of the glands, such as in the ducts or lobules of the breast.

Adenoma - benign growths that often appear on glands or in glandular tissue.

Adjuvant therapy - radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy given in addition to surgery for the removal of cancer as a safety factor to kill any cancer cells that cannot be seen.

Adrenal gland - two small glands located on top of the kidneys that secrete hormones.

Advanced cancer - stage of cancer in which the disease has spread from the primary site to other parts of the body.

Allogeneic transplant - the transfer of bone marrow or peripheral stem cells from one person to another.

Alopecia - a partial or complete loss of hair that may result from radiation therapy to the head, chemotherapy, skin disease, drug therapy, and natural causes.

American Cancer Society - an organization that supports research, offers educational materials and programs, and offers many other services to cancer patients and their families.

Androgen - male sex hormone that may be used to treat recurrent breast cancer by opposing the activity of estrogen.

Anesthesia - lack of normal sensation, especially the awareness of pain, which may be brought on by anesthetic drugs. General anesthesia causes loss of consciousness; local or regional anesthesia causes loss of feeling only to a specified area.

Antibiotic - chemical substances that are either produced from cultures of microorganisms or produced artificially for the purpose of killing other organisms that cause disease. Antibiotics may be needed along with cancer treatment to prevent or treat infections.

Antibody - a protein (made by white blood cells) that defends against invading foreign agents, such as bacteria, as part of the immune system response.

Antiemetic - drug that prevents or relieves nausea and vomiting (emesis).

Antiestrogen - substance (i.e., tamoxifen) that blocks the effects of estrogen on tumors.

Antigen - a chemical substance, foreign to the body, that causes the body's immune system to react by producing antibodies.

Areola - dark area of skin that surrounds the nipple of the breast.

Asymptomatic - to be without noticeable symptoms of disease.

Atypical - not usual; often refers to the appearance of precancerous or cancerous cells.

Autologous transplant - a procedure in which a patient's own peripheral stem cells or bone marrow is removed, sometimes treated with anticancer drugs or radiation, and then returned to the patient.

Axilla - armpit.

Axillary dissection - a surgical procedure in which the lymph nodes in the armpit (axillary nodes) are removed and checked under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.


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Benign - noncancerous.

Bilateral - affecting both sides of the body. Bilateral breast cancer is cancer occurring in both breasts at the same time.

Biological therapy (also called immunotherapy or BRM, biological response modifier therapy) - therapy used to help get the patient's own immune system to fight against disease.

Biopsy - procedure in which tissue samples are removed from the body for microscopic examination to establish a diagnosis.

Bone marrow transplantation - a procedure in which a patient's bone marrow that is diseased or destroyed by anticancer drugs or treatment is replaced.

Bone scan - a nuclear imaging method to evaluate any degenerative and/or arthritic changes in the joints; to detect bone diseases and tumors; or to determine the cause of bone pain or inflammation.

Brain scan - an imaging method used to find abnormalities in the brain, including brain cancer and cancer that has spread to the brain from other places in the body.

BRCA1 - a gene, which, when altered, indicates an inherited susceptibility to breast and/or ovarian cancer.

BRCA2 - a gene, which, when altered, indicates an inherited susceptibility to breast and/or ovarian cancer.

Breast cancer - cancer that starts in the breast.

Breast conservation therapy - surgery to remove a breast cancer and a small amount of benign tissue around the cancer without removing any other part of the breast. These procedures include a lumpectomy or a partial (segmental) mastectomy.

Breast implant - a manufactured flexible sac that is filled with sterile saline or silicone gel that is used for either breast augmentation or reconstruction.

Breast reconstruction - surgery to rebuild a breast mound after a mastectomy.

Breast self-examination (BSE) - a method in which a woman examines her breasts and the surrounding areas for lumps or changes. A BSE can be performed once a month, usually at a time other than the days before, during, or immediately after the menstrual period.

Breast specialist - term describing healthcare professionals who have a dedicated interest in breast health.


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Calcification - the gathering of small deposits of calcium in the breast tissue, usually found by mammography.

Carcinoma - cancer found in body tissues that cover or line surfaces of organs, glands, or body structures.

Carcinoma in situ - cancer that is confined to the cells in which it first developed and has not invaded the surrounding tissues (metastasized).

Chemotherapy - drugs used to kill cancer cells.

clinical trials - organized research studies that provide clinical data for assessment of a new treatment or drug.

Cyst - a closed sac in or under the skin that is filled with fluid. Breast cysts are generally benign.


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Diagnostic mammogram - an X-ray of the breast used to diagnose unusual breast changes, such as a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. A diagnostic mammogram is also used to evaluate abnormalities detected on a screening mammogram.

Ducts - narrow tube structures or channels that carry body fluids. In the breast, ducts transport milk from the lobules to the nipple.


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Estrogen - a female hormone.

Excisional biopsy - surgery to remove tissue for examination.


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Fat necrosis - a benign breast condition in which painless, round, firm lumps caused by damaged and disintegrating fatty tissues form in the breast tissue, often in response to a bruise or blow to the breast.

Fibroadenoma - a solid, smooth, benign lump that is commonly found in women in their late teens and early 20s.

Fibrocystic breast disease (also called fibroid breasts or generalized breast lumpiness) - noncancerous irregularities and lumpiness in the breast tissue.


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Hormones - chemicals produced by glands in the body to control actions of some cells and organs.


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Inflammation - the response of the tissues of the body to irritation or injury. The signs of inflammation are redness, heat, swelling, and pain.

Intraductal papilloma - a small, wart-like growth that projects into the breast ducts near the nipple, which may cause a bloody or sticky discharge.

Invasive cancer - cancer that begins in one area and then spreads deeper into the nearby tissues of that area.


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Lobe - a roundish projection of any structure. In the breast, lobes of the mammary glands radiate from the central area to the nipple area like wheel spokes.

Lobule - a subdivision of a lobe in the breast.

Lumpectomy - surgery to remove the cancerous lump and a portion of normal tissue around the breast cancer lump.

Lymph - a clear, colorless fluid containing water and a few blood cells that circulates through the lymphatic system and is filtered by the lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes - small bean-shaped structures that help to filter excess fluid, bacteria, and by-products of infections. Most lymph nodes are clustered in specific areas of the body, such as the neck, lower arm, armpit, and groin.

Lymphatic system - a complex network of capillaries, thin vessels, valves, ducts, nodes, and organs that helps to protect and maintain the fluid environment of the body by filtering and draining lymph.

Lymphedema - a disorder in which lymph builds up in the soft tissues, resulting in swelling. Lymphedema may be caused by inflammation, obstruction, or removal of the lymph nodes during surgery.


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Malignant - cancerous cells that can invade other parts of the body.

Mammogram - a low-dose x-ray of the breast.

Mastalgia - pain in the breast that is generally classified as either cyclical (associated with menstrual periods) or noncyclical.

Mastectomy - surgery to remove portions or all of the breast.

Mastitis - an inflammation of the breast tissue.

Metastasize - when cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.

Modified radical mastectomy - the removal of the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and the overlying skin), some of the lymph nodes under the arm (also called the axillary lymph glands), and the lining over the chest muscles. In some cases, part of the chest wall muscles is also removed.


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National Cancer Institute - the U.S. government agency for cancer research and information.

Needle biopsy - use of a needle to remove tissue, cells, or fluid for microscopic examination.

Neoadjuvant therapy - treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy that is given before the primary treatment.


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Oncologist - a physician who specializes in treating cancer, including surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, pediatric oncologist, gynecologic oncologist, and medical oncologist.

Ovaries - female reproductive organs that produce hormones.


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Partial (segmental) mastectomy - surgery to remove the breast cancer and a larger portion of the normal breast tissue around the breast cancer, but not the entire breast. The surgeon may also remove the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor and some of the lymph nodes under the arm.

Pelvic examination - a physician examination of the pelvic organs: uterus, vagina, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

Peripheral stem cell transplantation - a process in which the stem cells (immature cells from which blood cells develop) are removed and frozen until they are returned to the patient.

Progesterone - a natural or synthetic female sex hormone.

Prognosis - predicting the likely outcome of a disease based on the condition of the patient and the action of the disease.

Prosthesis - an artificial form designed to replace a missing part of the body. Breast prostheses may be worn following a mastectomy.


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Radiation therapy - therapy that uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. (External radiation by an X-ray machine sends the X-ray through the skin. Internal radiation puts radioisotopes into the body.)

Radical mastectomy - surgery to remove the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and the overlying skin), the lymph nodes under the arm, also called the axillary lymph glands, and the chest muscles.

Radioisotopes - materials that produce radiation.


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Sclerosing adenosis - a benign breast condition that involves excessive growth of tissues in the breast's lobules, often resulting in breast pain.

Screening mammogram - an X-ray of the breast used to detect breast changes in women who have no signs of breast cancer.

Simple mastectomy - see total mastectomy.

Stage - the measurement of the extent of the cancer, how much there is, and whether it has spread.

Systemic treatment or therapy - treatment or therapy that reaches and affects cells throughout the body.


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Tamoxifen - a drug used in hormone therapy to treat breast cancer by blocking the effects of estrogen.

Total (or simple) mastectomy - surgery to remove the entire breast (including the nipple, the areola, and most of the overlying skin) and may also remove some of the lymph nodes under the arm, also called the axillary lymph glands.


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Ultrasound - a diagnostic imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the internal organs.


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