Throughout your journey, you’ll encounter a variety of words and phrases that will likely be foreign to you. Understanding these terms will help you better understand your treatment and make you an invaluable part of your own care team.

Below is a full list of all items in the Cancer and Hematology Centers of West Michigan’s Glossary. If you’d like to go directly to a certain letter in the alphabet please see the breakdown of the Glossary to the left.


Acute: having rapid onset and running a short but severe course (as opposed to a chronic course, which may take much longer)

Adenocarcinoma: a cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids. Many colon, endometrial and bladder cancers are adenocarcinomas.

Adjuvant therapy: any therapy that begins after surgery, or treatment given after the primary treatment to increase the chances of a cure. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or biological therapy.

Alternative medicine (also called complementary medicine): practices used instead of standard treatments. Alternative medicine includes dietary supplements, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, acupuncture, massage therapy, magnet therapy, spiritual healing, and meditation.

Anaplastic: cancer cells that divide rapidly and have little or no resemblance to normal cells.

Anemia: a condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal.

Anticoagulants: also known as “blood thinners,” these drugs reduces the body’s clotting ability. Heparin is given by vein and warfarin is given orally.

Aspiration: removal of fluid or tissue through a needle.

Asymmetry: lack or absence of balanced proportions between parts of a thing.



Basal cell: a small, round cell found in the lower part (or base) of the outer layer of the skin.

Basal cell carcinoma: a type of skin cancer that arises from the basal cells.

Benign: non cancerous. Benign tumors may grow larger but do not spread to other parts of the body.

Biomarkers: distinctive substances that indicates a particular disease is present.

Biopsy: the removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope or perform other tests on them.



Carcinogens: substances that can cause cancer.

Carcinoma: cancer that begins in the skin or in tissues that line or cover internal organs.

CAT scan: computerized axial tomography scan. A series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles; the pictures are created by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. Also called a CT scan.

Cerebral spinal fluid: the fluid that flows in and around the hollow spaces of the brain and spinal cord, and between two of the meninges (the thin layers of tissue that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord).

Chemotherapy: the use of drugs to kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy regimen: a combination of chemotherapy drugs.

Chronic: a chronic disease is a disease that is long-lasting or recurrent

Clotting factor: a protein needed for normal blood clotting. People born with hemophilia have little to no clotting factor.

Complementary medicine (also called alternative medicine): treatments used in addition to standard treatments. May include dietary supplements, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, acupuncture, massage therapy, magnet therapy, spiritual healing, and meditation.

Cryosurgery: a procedure in which tissue is frozen to destroy abnormal cells. This is usually done with a special instrument that contains liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide. Also called cryoablation.



D&C: dilation and curettage. A procedure to remove tissue from the cervical canal or the inner lining of the uterus. The cervix is dilated and a curette—a spoon-shaped instrument—is inserted into the uterus to remove tissue.

Deep vein thrombosis: the formation of a blood clot deep within a vein.

Dermis: the lower or inner layer of the two main layers of tissue that make up the skin.

Desmoid tumor: a tumor of the tissue that surrounds muscles, usually in the abdomen. A desmoid tumor rarely spreads to other parts of the body (metastasizes). It may be called aggressive fibromatosis when the tumor is outside of the abdomen.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA): the molecule in every cell that controls how that cell grows and functions.



Echocardiogram: a test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. It is performed to evaluate the valves and chambers of the heart.

Embolus: a clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body

Embolization: the blocking of an artery by a clot or foreign material. Embolization can be done as treatment to block the flow of blood to a tumor.

Endometrial: having to do with the endometrium (the layer of tissue that lines the uterus).

Excision: Removal by surgery. An excisional biopsy is a surgical procedure in which an entire lump or suspicious area is removed for diagnosis. The tissue is then examined under a microscope.



Fibroid: a benign smooth-muscle tumor, usually in the uterus or gastrointestinal tract. Also called leiomyoma.

Fibroadenoma: a benign tumor that usually forms in the breast from both fibrous and glandular tissue. Fibroadenomas are the most common benign breast tumors.

Fiducial marker: a small gold seed or platinum coil that is placed around a tumor to act as a radiologic landmark.

Follicular: cancer that develops from cells in the follicular areas of the thyroid; one of the slow-growing, highly treatable types of thyroid cancer.

Free radicals: molecules which damage cells and alter the DNA of the cell.



Gallium scan: a procedure to detect areas of the body where cells are dividing rapidly. It is used to locate cancer cells or areas of inflammation. A very small amount of radioactive gallium is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The gallium is taken up by rapidly dividing cells in the bones, tissues, and organs and is detected by a scanner.

Gastrectomy: an operation to remove all or part of the stomach.

Genetic fusion: a gene that is formed when the genetic material from two previously separate genes are mixed.

Genetic mutation: a change in the structure of a gene.

Granulocytopenia: a lack or low level of granulocytes (a type of white blood cell) in the blood. Often used interchangeably with neutropenia.



Hairy cell leukemia: a rare type of leukemia in which abnormal B-lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) are present in the bone marrow, spleen, and peripheral blood. When viewed under a microscope, these cells appear to be covered with tiny hair-like projections.

Hematocrit: the percent of the total blood volume that is made up of red blood cells in a complete blood count.

Hemangiosarcoma: a type of cancer that begins in the cells that line blood vessels.

Hemoglobin: the substance inside red blood cells that binds to oxygen and carries it from the lungs to the tissues.

Hematologist: a doctor who specializes in treating blood disorders.

Hemoptysis: coughing up of blood or of bloodstained sputum.



Immunosuppression: suppression of the body’s immune system and its ability to fight infections and other diseases. Immunosuppression may be deliberately induced with drugs, as in preparation for bone marrow or other organ transplantation to prevent rejection of the donor tissue.

Immunotherapy: treatment to boost or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer, infections, and other diseases. Also used to lessen certain side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments. Agents used in immunotherapy include monoclonal antibodies, growth factors, and vaccines. These agents may also have a direct antitumor effect. Also called biological therapy, biotherapy, biological response modifier therapy, and BRM therapy.

Intraperitoneal : within the peritoneal cavity (the area that contains the abdominal organs). Also called IP.

Intrathecal: describes the fluid-filled space between the thin layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. Drugs can be injected into the fluid or a sample of the fluid can be removed for testing.



Kaposi sarcoma: a type of cancer characterized by the abnormal growth of blood vessels that develop into skin lesions or occur internally.



Leukemia: cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue such as the bone marrow. It causes large numbers of blood cells to be produced and enter the bloodstream.

Leucopenia: a condition in which the number of leukocytes (white blood cells) in the blood is reduced.

Lobectomy: surgery to remove a whole section of an organ such as the lungs, liver, brain, or thyroid gland.

Lymph nodes: the parts of the lymph system responsible for filtering wastes out of passing liquid.

Lymphatic system: responsible for carrying nutrients to the body’s cells and waste away from the cells.

Lymphoma: cancer that begins in cells of the immune system. There are two basic categories of lymphomas. One kind is Hodgkin lymphoma, which is marked by the presence of a type of cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell. The other category is non-Hodgkin lymphomas, which includes a large, diverse group of cancers of immune system cells.



Malignant: cancerous. Malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Medullary thyroid cancer: cancer that develops in C cells of the thyroid. The C cells make a hormone (calcitonin) that helps maintain a healthy level of calcium in the blood.

Melanin: the substance that gives color to skin and eyes.

Melanocyte: a cell in the skin and eyes that produces and contains the pigment called melanin.

Melanoma: a form of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes (the cells that make the pigment melanin). Melanoma usually begins in a mole.

Mesothelium: the lining that covers the body’s internal organs and cavities.

Metastasis: the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumor formed by cells that have spread is called a “metastatic tumor” or a “metastasis.” The metastatic tumor contains cells that are like those in the original (primary) tumor.

Metastasized: cancer has moved from its site of origination to another part of the body.

Molecular testing: also called assays or profiles, can help your care team identify specific biomarkers that are in a tumor.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): a test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to construct pictures of the body.

MUGA: a nuclear scan that evaluates the heart’s pumping function.

Myelogenous: having to do with, produced by, or resembling the bone marrow. Sometimes used as a synonym for myeloid; for example, acute myeloid leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia are the same disease.



Neoadjuvant therapy: any therapy that begins before surgery.

Next generation sequencing: a technique or method of sequencing large amounts of DNA accurately in a short period of time.

Nephrectomy: surgery to remove a kidney or part of a kidney. In a partial nephrectomy, part of one kidney or a tumor is removed, but not an entire kidney. In a simple nephrectomy, one kidney is removed. In a radical nephrectomy, an entire kidney, nearby adrenal gland and lymph nodes, and other surrounding tissue are removed. In a bilateral nephrectomy, both kidneys are removed.

Neutropenia: an abnormal decrease in the number of neutrophils (the most common type of white blood cells) in the blood.

Neutrophils: white blood cells that fight bacterial infection.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: any of a large group of cancers of the immune system. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can occur at any age and are often marked by enlarged lymph nodes, fever, and weight loss. There are many different types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which can be divided into aggressive (fast-growing) and indolent (slow-growing) types and can be classified as either B-cell or T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.



Ocular melanoma: a rare cancer of melanocytes (cells that produce the pigment melanin) found in the eye. Also called intraocular melanoma.

Oncologist: a doctor who specializes in treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation.



Pancreas: a glandular organ located in the abdomen. It makes pancreatic juices, which contain enzymes that aid in digestion, and it produces several hormones, including insulin. The stomach, intestines, and other organs surround the pancreas.

Pancreatectomy: surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas. In a total pancreatectomy, part of the stomach, part of the small intestine, the common bile duct, gallbladder, spleen, and nearby lymph nodes also are removed.

Papillary: a tumor shaped like a small mushroom, with its stem attached to the epithelial layer (inner lining) of an organ.

Paracentesis: a procedure in which a thin needle or tube is put into the abdomen to remove fluid from the peritoneal cavity (the space within the abdomen that contains the intestines, the stomach, and the liver).

Positron emission tomography (PET): a nuclear scan that uses radioisotopes to create images from within the body, allowing physicians to evaluate organ function, localize disease or tumors and gauge response to therapies

Phlebitis: inflammation of superficial veins (veins that are just below the surface of the skin) that often result in pain.

Platelet: a type of blood cell that helps prevent bleeding by causing blood clots to form. Also called a thrombocyte.

Prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI): a kind of radiation treatment that may be used to kill cancer cells in the brain that may not be visible on x-rays or scans.

Prostate: a gland in the male reproductive system. The prostate surrounds the part of the urethra (the tube that empties the bladder) just below the bladder, and produces a fluid that forms part of the semen.

Pulmonary embolism: a potentially fatal blood clot that travels to the lungs, blocking major blood vessels.


Quadrantectomy: surgical removal of the region of the breast containing cancer.



Radioactive isotope: an atom that emits radiation that can be seen by the radiological equipment.

Radiation therapy: (also called radiotherapy) the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.

Radionuclide scanning: a procedure to find areas in the body where cells, such as tumor cells, are dividing rapidly. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein or swallowed, and travels through the bloodstream. A scanner measures the radioactivity and produces pictures of internal parts of the body. The pictures can show abnormal changes in the area of the body containing the radioactive material. Examples of gamma scans include PET scans, gallium scans, and bone scans. Also called gamma scanning.

Rectum: the last several inches of the large intestine before the anus

Red blood cell (RBC): A cell that carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Also called red blood cell and erythrocyte.

Renal cell cancer: the most common type of kidney cancer. It begins in the lining of the renal tubules in the kidney. The renal tubules filter the blood and produce urine. Also called hypernephroma.

Renal cell carcinoma: cancer that forms in the lining of very small tubes in the kidney that filter the blood and remove waste products

Renal pelvis carcinoma: cancer that forms in the center of the kidney where urine collects

Reticulocyte: young, immature red blood cells that eventually turn into mature red blood cells.



Spirometer: an instrument that measures the amount and rate of air that is breathed in and out over a set amount of times. Used in a pulmonary function test.

Squamous cell: flat cell that looks like a fish scale under a microscope. These cells cover inside and outside surfaces of the body. They are found in the tissues that form the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body (such as the bladder, kidney, and uterus), and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.



Thoracentesis: a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lining of the outside of the lungs (pleura) and the wall of the chest.

Thorascope: a camera on the end of flexible tubing that allows your doctor to look into your chest.

Thrombin inhibitors: thrombin inhibitors are medicines that interfere with the clotting process. They are used to treat some types of clots and for patients who can’t take heparin.

Thrombocytopenia: a decrease in the number of platelets in the blood that may result in easy bruising and excessive bleeding from wounds or bleeding in mucous membranes and other tissues.

Thrombolytics: drugs that dissolve blood clots. Because thrombolytics can cause sudden bleeding, they are used only in life-threatening situations.

Thyroid: a gland located beneath the voice box (larynx) that makes thyroid hormone and calcitonin. The thyroid helps regulate growth and metabolism.

Thyroidectomy: surgery to remove part or the entire thyroid.

Tumor: a group of cells that stick together. Can be benign or malignant.



Ulcerative colitis: chronic inflammation of the colon that produces ulcers in its lining. This condition is marked by abdominal pain, cramps, and loose discharges of pus, blood, and mucus from the bowel.

Uterus: the small, hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis. This is the organ in which a baby grows. Also called the womb.



Vertebral column: the bones, muscles, tendons, and other tissues that reach from the base of the skull to the tailbone. The vertebral column encloses the spinal cord and the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. Also called spine, backbone, and spinal column.

Viral therapy: treatment using a virus that has been changed in the laboratory to find and destroy cancer cells without harming healthy cells. It is a type of targeted therapy. Also called virotherapy and oncolytic virotherapy.



Whipple procedure: a type of surgery used to treat pancreatic cancer. The head of the pancreas, the duodenum, a portion of the stomach, and other nearby tissues are removed.

White blood cell: refers to a blood cell that does not contain hemoglobin. White blood cells include lymphocytes, neutrophils, eosinophils, macrophages, and mast cells. These cells are made by bone marrow and help the body fight infections and other diseases. Also called WBC.



X-ray therapy: a type of radiation therapy that uses high-energy radiation from x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.