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Cancer Terms Defined for You
For terms not listed below, please refer to the Canadian Cancer Society's Glossary.

Adjuvant Therapy: A cancer treatment delivered after the tumour has been removed. It may be chemotherapy, hormones, radiation or a combination of these treatments. The radiation or chemotherapy would be called an adjuvant therapy.

Alopecia: The loss of hair from the head or the body.

Antiemetic: A drug that stops vomiting. It can also stop a person from feeling nauseated.

Blood Count: The number of red cells, white cells and platelets in the blood.

Brachytherapy: Wires, seeds or needles that have a source of radiation inside them. These wires, seeds or needles are put into a cancer tumour, or into a place where a cancer tumour used to be. They are left there for a period of time.

Cancer: A disease where some cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer cells can destroy other cells in the body and spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). There are more than 100 kinds of cancer. Other terms for cancer are: carcinoma, malignancy and tumour.

Carcinoma: The most common type of cancer. It happens in cells inside the lung, intestines, bladder, breast, uterus, kidney and prostate, as well as in skin cells.

Carcinoma in situ: An early stage of cancer where the cancer cells have not moved into nearby tissue.

Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to treat cancer. Chemotherapy works to kill or destroy cancer cells or slows down how fast they grow. It is often called chemo, for short.

Clinical trial: A research study with cancer patients, to learn about new treatments and to find better ways of giving current treatments.

Cobalt 60: One kind of radiation treatment. Cobalt 60 contains high-energy gamma rays. These rays are sent to tumours deep inside the body, to destroy cancer cells.

Diagnosis: The process of finding out what the problem is and identifying a disease. Getting a diagnosis may involve asking about symptoms and signs; performing a physical exam; and/or ordering lab and other tests.

Dosimetry: The science of measuring the amount of radiation needed to treat cancer.

Hormone Therapy: Treatment that adds, blocks or removes naturally occurring hormones in the body. Hormone therapy is used to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells that depend on hormones to grow. Hormonal therapies include using drugs, surgery or radiation therapy to change hormone levels. Also called hormone treatment and endocrine therapy.

Hormones: Substances produced by some glands or organs in the body and carried by the blood. Hormones are responsible for a number of functions, including growth, strength, and sexual drive.

Hospice Palliative Care: Care provided to people with cancer and other life threatening illnesses to prevent and relieve suffering and improve the quality of living and dying. Hospice palliative care addresses physical, psychological, social, spiritual and practical issues, and their associated expectations, needs, hopes and fears for people and their families. Hospice palliative care is offered in the home, in the community, through outpatient programs or in a residential setting.

Immobilization Device: A piece of equipment to hold a person in place during radiation treatments. In most cases, the equipment is made specifically for the person.

Immune System: The body's defense system. The complex group of cells and organs that defend the body against infection, disease and foreign substances.

Immunotherapy: A treatment with natural or manufactured substances used to boost the immune system.

Injection: A needle or a “shot” that allows fluids or medications to be put directly into your body. There are 3 ways to get an injection: under the skin (subcutaneous); into a muscle (intramuscular) or Into a vein (intravenous).

Intravenous (IV): A needle (or injection) that puts medications or fluids right into your vein. Often called an “IV” for short.

Irradiation: Another term for radiation treatment.

Linear Accelerator: A machine used in radiation treatment. (Commonly referred to as Linac) It uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer.

Malignancy: The medical term used to refer to cancer.

Metastasis: When cancer cells in one place (the breast, for example), spread to other parts of the body such as the liver, bones, lungs or brain.

Neo-adjuvant Therapy: Treatment given as a first step before the main treatment such as surgery, or radiation. Treatment given to shrink a tumour if it is too large to be removed by surgery. Neo- adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone therapy.

Ortho voltage: A machine used in radiation treatment. It treats cancers that are on the surface, or close to the surface of your body.

Palliative Care: Care provided by specialized physicians that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Prognosis: The expected outcome of the disease process, including life expectancy.

Protocol: The detailed plan for treatment that is generally accepted and proven effective. Sometimes called a “treatment protocol”.

R.A.M.Q.: Régie d'assurance maladie du Québec. (Quebec's health insurance plan)

Radioactive Implant: See Brachytherapy.

Radiation Treatment (or therapy): The use of radiation to kill cancer cells. The most common kinds of radiation used are high energy x-rays, gamma rays and electrons.

Recurrence: The return of cancer after treatment.

Remission: The time when cancer is under control and a person is free from signs and symptoms.

Residential Hospice: A care giving facility that provides coordinated multidisciplinary care for people living with terminal illness and for their families and caregivers in a home-like setting.

Simulator: A machine—usually a Computerized Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner—that takes pictures of the cancer site and thus allows the healthcare team to best plan and direct the radiation treatment. 

Stage: A description of the extent of cancer in the body, including the size of the tumour, whether there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes and whether the disease has spread from its original site to other parts of the body. Stages are based on specific criteria for each type of cancer. Stage 1 is an early stage of cancer, when it is very small and localized to one area. Stages 2, 3 or 4 are more advanced cancers. Knowing the stage of the cancer helps doctors decide what treatment would be best for the patient and also to give a reliable prognosis.

Staging: The process of determining the extent of cancer in the body based on exams and tests.
Tattoo:  Permanent marks placed on the skin with ink, using a fine needle,to identify the treatment area.  Sometimes  marks are put on an immobilization device (shell) that is placed around or next to the body.

Tumour: A group of cells or lump that is not normal. If the cells are cancer cells, the tumour is called malignant. If the cells are not cancer cells, the tumour is called benign.

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