Useful Terms for Understanding Breast Cancer

 

Adjuvant Therapy

Treatment performed in addition to surgery.

Archived Tumor Sample

A tumor sample that has been routinely preserved and stored. Tumor tissue is commonly preserved for storage by being treated with a preservative called formalin and then embedded in paraffin (wax).

Aromatase Inhibitor

A medication that reduces the amount of estrogen in the body. Aromatase inhibitors may be used to treat women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer.

Assay

An analysis, examination, or test that determines the characteristics of, or biological activity within, a tissue sample.

Biopsy

A procedure where tumor tissue is removed from the body for laboratory examination to determine whether or not cancer is present. A biopsy can be performed using a needle to extract a small piece of tissue or as a surgical procedure to remove a larger piece of tissue.

BRCA1 and BRCA2

Genes that normally help control cell growth. A person who inherits an altered version of the BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 gene(s) has a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Cancer

A condition in which abnormal cells divide without control or fail to die as part of a normal cell's lifecycle. Cancer cells can also invade nearby tissues and can spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy

Treatment with cytotoxic drugs that destroy cancer cells (fast-growing cells). Chemotherapy may be used in addition to surgery, and is sometimes used in combination with other therapies such as radiation therapy or hormonal therapy.

Clinical Trial

A research study to test drugs, procedures or testing technologies to determine whether these are effective and/or safe.

Core Biopsy

A procedure which uses a needle to remove a small, intact sample of tissue from an identified breast mass in order to examine it and obtain a preliminary diagnosis.

Diagnosis

Identification of a condition, such as breast cancer, by its signs and symptoms and the results of laboratory tests or other examinations.

Distant Recurrence

The spread of cancer to parts of the body other than the place where the cancer first occurred. In breast cancer, the cancer can spread to the lungs, liver, brain or bones.

Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)

DCIS is an early or pre-invasive form of breast cancer that is confined to the milk ducts within the breast, and is considered “stage 0” disease.   

Early-Stage Invasive Breast Cancer

A term that can be used to describe stage I and II, and some stage III breast cancer.

ER (Estrogen Receptor)

A feature (protein) that may be present on certain cells to which estrogen molecules can attach. The term "ER positive" refers to tumor cells that contain the estrogen-receptor protein. These cells are generally sensitive to hormone therapy.

Gene

The functional and physical units of inheritance that are passed from parents to their offspring. The genes found in normal breast tissue can change their “expression," which can give rise to breast cancer.

Genetics

The study of genes and heredity. Heredity is the passing of genetic information and traits, such as eye color or an increased chance of getting a certain disease, from parents to offspring.

Genome

The complete genetic material of a living thing.

Genomics

The study of complex sets of genes, how they are expressed in cells (what their level of activity is), and the role they play in biology.

Hormone Receptor

A protein on the surface of a tumor cell that binds to a certain hormone, activating tumor growth.

Hormonal Treatment (Hormone Therapy)

Medications used to reduce the effect of hormones in the body. In many cases of breast cancer, hormones can fuel the growth of breast cancer. Common hormonal therapies include tamoxifen and a newer class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors. Hormonal therapies are used to treat women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer.

Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 (HER2)

A protein that appears in the cancer cells of some women with breast cancer. A woman whose tumor has greater than normal levels of HER2 is considered HER2 positive. A woman whose tumor has normal levels of HER2 is considered HER2 negative. Cancer cells that have high levels of HER2 tend to grow quickly and respond well to anti-HER2 therapy.

In Situ

Non-invasive cancer in which abnormal cells are isolated within the lobes or milk ducts of the breast and have not spread to nearby tissue.

Invasive Breast Cancer

Cancer that has spread from where it started in the breast into surrounding, healthy tissue. Most invasive breast cancers start in the ducts (tubes that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple). Invasive breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Invasive breast cancer is also called infiltrating breast cancer.

Local Recurrence

The reappearance of cancer in the part of the body where it first occurred.

Lumpectomy

A surgical procedure that removes a localized mass of tissue, including the breast cancer tumor and a small amount of normal, non-cancerous tissue surrounding the tumor.

Lymph Nodes

Small bean-shaped organs (sometimes called lymph glands); part of the lymphatic system.  Lymph nodes under the arm, also known as the axillary nodes, drain fluid from the chest and arm. Some lymph nodes are removed during breast surgery to help determine the stage of the cancer.

Mastectomy

A surgical procedure to remove all or a large part of the breast.

Medical Oncologist

A medical expert who treats cancer throughout the body using chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and other drugs.

Metastatic Breast Cancer

Advanced breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and local lymph nodes to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver, brain or bones or other tissues.

Neoadjuvant Therapy

Treatment given before the primary therapy (surgery is usually the primary therapy).

Newly Diagnosed

A term used to describe breast cancer that has recently been identified.

Node-Negative Breast Cancer

Breast cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Node-Positive Breast Cancer

Breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes (most commonly the axillary lymph nodes under the arms).

Nurse Navigator

An educator and patient advocate who coordinates treatment and follows the patient from diagnosis to after treatment.

Oncology Nurse

A medical expert who manages your care and comfort before, during, and after treatment.

Oncotype DX Breast Cancer Test

The Oncotype DX breast cancer test is a genomic test has been shown to predict the likelihood of chemotherapy benefit as well as recurrence in patients with early-stage invasive breast cancer.  The test has also been shown to predict the likelihood of recurrence in patients with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or non-invasive breast cancer.

For more information about the Oncotype DX breast cancer test, please call
855.5000.ASK (855-500-0275) or learn more.

Pathologist

A medical expert who analyzes the tumor cells in order to characterize a woman’s breast cancer.

Pathology Report

A report ordered by authorized healthcare professionals that describes what was found in tissue removed from the patient’s body. The report is generated after the tumor and surrounding tissue are checked by a pathologist. It usually includes information on the tumor’s grade and stage.

Primary Care Doctor

A medical expert who attends to the patient’s general healthcare needs before, during, and after her cancer surgery and treatment.

PR (Progesterone Receptor)

A feature (protein) that may be present on certain cells to which progesterone molecules can attach. The term “PR positive” refers to tumor cells that contain the progesterone receptor protein. These cells are generally sensitive to hormone therapy.

Radiation Oncologist

A medical expert who treats cancer using localized radiation therapy.

Radiation Therapy

The use of radiation to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used before or after surgery, and is sometimes used in combination with chemotherapy. Radiation is used for local control of the cancer at the site of the tumor.

Reconstructive Surgeon

A medical expert who performs reconstructive surgery after breast cancer surgery to remove the tumor.

Recurrence

The return of cancer after treatment. This can be either local (at the site of the original tumor), or distant (beyond the original site).

Screening (for breast cancer)

Looking for masses or suspicious areas in breast tissue on a periodic basis, usually with mammography.

Social Worker

A member of the cancer care team who helps with psychological, family, and financial concerns as the patient returns to daily life.

Stage I Breast Cancer

The tumor is up to 2 centimeters in diameter and has not spread beyond the breast.

Stage IIA Breast Cancer

The tumor is up to 2 centimeters and has spread to the axillary lymph nodes under the arm, or the tumor is between 2 and 5 centimeters and has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IIB Breast Cancer

The tumor is between 2 and 5 centimeters and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, or the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters in diameter and has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IIIA Breast Cancer

The tumor is larger than 5 centimeters in diameter and has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, or the tumor is any size and has spread more extensively in the lymph nodes.

Stage IIIB Breast Cancer

The tumor is any size and has extended to other tissues near the breast; the tumor may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IV Breast Cancer

Cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other locations in the body, such as the lungs, liver, bones or brain.

Staging

A classification system for breast cancer based on the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, and whether the cancer has spread to other sites in the body (metastasis).

Surgeon

A medical expert who plans the surgery and removes the breast tumor and surrounding tissue.

Surveillance/Follow-Up

An ongoing assessment by a patient´s medical team, once treatment has been completed, to assess the cancer´s remission and to look for any evidence of a cancer´s return.

Tamoxifen

A medication that interferes with the activity of the hormone estrogen to prevent it from fueling the growth of breast cancer. Tamoxifen is used to treat women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer.

Treatment Monitoring

An ongoing and frequent assessment by the medical team, during the time of treatment, to monitor how the patient is tolerating the treatment and how the cancer is responding.

Tumor

Tissue growth where the cells that make up the tissue have multiplied uncontrollably. A tumor can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Tumor Grade

The characterization of a tumor based on how similar in appearance the cancer cells are to normal cells, and on how many of those tumor cells are dividing. Tumor grade is one of many factors that, when used in combination, can indicate how aggressive a patient’s cancer is.

Tumor Stage

This is a number that refers to the size of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread. Tumor stage, expressed as the tumor T score, is one of many factors that, when used in combination, can indicate how aggressive a patient’s cancer is.