Return to Home Page
View Rose Kushner's Interactive Book
The BookAbout RKBCACRose KushnerInfo & ResourcesRecent NewsRecommended ReadingOrder the BookAdditional ResourcesContact Us


Adjuvant chemo- or endocrine therapy: use of anti-cancer drugs in addition to primary treatment to delay or prevent a recurrence.

Aspiration biopsy: removal of cells in fluid or tissue from a cyst or mass by means of a hypodermic needle and a syringe (instead of surgery) for microscopic examination and diagnosis. (Also called fine needle aspiration or FNA.)

Axilla: the underarm area (armpit); or axillary, the adjective referring to the lymph nodes in this area.

Benign lesion: a non-cancerous growth that does not spread to other parts of the body.

Biopsy: removal of suspicious breast material for microscopic diagnosis. Can be aspiration by a needle to remove cells (see above); can be removal of one or more tissue samples by a core needle or surgical removal of part of or the entire lesion.

Cancer: a general term for more than a hundred malignant diseases characterized by abnormal and uncontrolled division of cells. Cancer cells can invade and destroy surrounding normal tissue and spread by blood or lymph fluid (the clear fluid bathing body cells) to start new cancers in other sites in the body. (These are called metastases.)

Carcinoma: another word describing cancer tumors or cancer-like cell growth that, in the breast, begins in the lining or covering of lobules or ducts.

Carcinoma in situ: cancer-like cell growth that has not spread beyond the place where it began inside a breast lobule or duct. (Also called non-invasive breast cancer.)

Chemotherapy: (cytotoxic therapy): treating cancer with drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body.

Back to Top

Clinical trials: studies with groups of breast cancer patients of alternative ways to treat their common form or stage of the disease? or with healthy women, of ways to prevent cancer. Usually half the group gets one treatment that is the current, standard. The other half of the group gets either another alternative treatment or none if there is no standard treatment. If the study treatment is a new drug, the other half of the trial group may get an inactive pill (a harmless placebo) if there is no standard drug to be compared.

Cyst: a usually harmless fluid-filled mass. The fluid can be removed by aspiration with a fine needle and, if bloody or unusual in appearance, examined by a pathologist to be sure no cancer cells are present.

Dissection: surgical operation to cut and separate tissue. In treating breast cancer, the word usually refers to removal of the axillary lymph nodes and vessels.

Duct: tubes in the breast that pass milk from the lobules, where it is made, to the nipple.

Endocrine therapy (hormonal therapy): treating breast cancer with antiestrogenic drugs such as tamoxifen to stop cancer cell growth instead of using cell-killing drugs (chemotherapy).

Estrogen: a female hormone, produced by a woman’s ovaries and adrenal glands. Scientists have shown a strong relationship exists between estrogens and breast cancer.

Estrogen dependent (or positive): cancer cells (or tumor) needing this female hormone in order to grow.

Estrogen independent (or negative): cancer cells (or tumor) that grow without this hormone.

Back to Top

Estrogen receptor (ER) assay: a test to see if breast cancer cells are ER positive or negative.

Gynecologist: a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of women’s reproductive organs. Gynecologists may also have special training in breast disease.

Hormones: special chemicals produced by glands in the body that circulate in the blood stream and control actions of cells and organs. Estrogens are hormones that can affect cancer growth.

Invasive breast cancer: cancer tumors that have spread beyond lobules or ducts where they started into the surrounding tissue of the breast.

Lesion: any abnormality in the body; an abnormal mass or group of cells in the breast that might be fibrocystic and benign, or a cancer.

Lobule: a part of a breast lobe. A woman’s breast has 15 to 20 lobes where milk is produced.

Lumpectomy: a surgical procedure in which only the cancerous tumor is removed along with a margin (or rim) of normal tissue.

Lymph nodes: bean-shaped structures scattered along vessels of the lymphatic system. The nodes act as filters, collecting bacteria or cancer cells that may travel through the lymph system. The armpit (axilla) is the location of strings of lymph nodes in the path of drainage from the breast.

Back to Top

Lymphedema: a side effect of axillary dissection or radiation therapy where damage to the fluid drainage ability of the lymph system causes swelling in the arm.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): a technique in which atomic elements of body cells are made to react to powerful magnets and radio frequency signals. Measurements of the reaction are converted by a computer to cross-sectional images in which internal body structures are clearly shown. (MRI is now being developed as a tool for breast cancer diagnosis.)

Malignant: (cancerous) a growth of cancer cells. (See definition of cancer.)

Mammography (mammogram): X-ray imaging of the breast with equipment designed especially for this purpose. Mammograms can show lesions in the breast too small or too deep to be felt in a manual examination.

Markers: See prognostic indicators.

Metastases: the spread of cancer from the original site of the first tumor to other sites in the body.

Modified radical mastectomy: surgical procedures in which the breast and the lymph nodes in the armpit are removed while underlying chest muscles are left intact.

Neoadjuvant: chemo- and / or hormonal therapy given to reduce the size of the primary tumor before surgery as well as to destroy any metastases.

Oncology: the study of cancer. An oncologist is a physician who specializes in cancer treatment. A surgical oncologist is a specialist in removing cancer by surgery; a medical oncologist treats cancer using chemo- or endocrine therapy; a radiation oncologist treats cancer with high-dose X-rays and radioactive energy sources.

Palpation: examining with hand pressure to feel what is under the skin. A palpable breast lump or thickening is one within the breast that can be felt by pressing down on the surface of the breast.

Back to Top

Partial or segmental mastectomy: a surgical procedure in which only a portion of the breast is removed, including the cancer and a surrounding margin of healthy breast tissue. (This may be the same as a lumpectomy.)

Pathologist: a doctor who identifies or diagnoses diseases such as breast cancer by examining cells and their surrounding tissue under a microscope and subjecting them to various laboratory tests.

Plastic surgeon: a doctor who specializes in rehabilitative surgery ? including breast reconstruction ? as well as cosmetic surgery.

Progesterone: a female hormone, produced by the ovaries only during a specific time of a woman’s menstrual cycle. This hormone is needed to mature the egg and prepare the uterus for a possible pregnancy. Menstruation occurs after the secretion of progesterone stops.

Progesterone receptor (PR) assay: a test indicating whether or not progesterone receptors are present. PRs are generally found if estrogen receptors are also present and are, therefore, a partial check of the accuracy of results of the ER test.

Prognostic indicators (also called markers): characteristics of breast cancer tumors used to predict whether a recurrence is highly probable or not.

Radiation therapy: in the case of breast cancer, after the tumor is removed, treatment of the entire breast using high-dose X-rays to kill any cancer cells left behind. Sometimes tiny amounts of radioactive material in small tubes also are temporarily placed in the breast at the site of the removed tumor. This is implant radiation treatment.

Radiologist: a doctor who specializes in identifying abnormalities and diseases ? including breast cancer ? inside the body, using special imaging instruments such as X-rays (mammography), sound waves (ultrasonography), radioactive tracers (nuclear radiography) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

Radical (Halsted or standard) mastectomy: an obsolete surgical procedure in which the entire breast, the chest muscles underneath and the lymph nodes in the armpit (axilla) are removed.

Back to Top

Reconstructive mammoplasty: a surgical procedure (plastic surgery) to recreate the contours of a lost breast by means of an artificial implant placed under the skin or by transplanting a woman’s own tissue from another part of her body.

Recurrence: return of cancer growth either in the same general area of the breast as the primary tumor (a local recurrence) or as metastases in other parts of the body.

Raloxifene: An antiestrogenic drug that may prove to be similar to tamoxifen in its action against breast cancer cells but it was originally developed to prevent osteoporosis in post-menopausal women

Segmental resection (local excision, wide excision, lumpectomy): surgical removal of a cancer tumor along with some surrounding normal tissue.

Skin-sparing mastectomy: a mastectomy procedure to remove the nipple and as much as possible of the tissue inside the breast. Immediate reconstruction is done by refilling the pouch under the skin with natural body tissue, for example, fat from the abdomen.

Staging: certain tests and examinations, including classification of the primary tumor, lymph node pathology, nuclear bone scans and other tests, to see if the cancer has metastasized before starting any type of definitive treatment.

Tamoxifen: an antiestrogenic drug that blocks the growth of breast cancer tumors whose cells depend on estrogen to divide. Tamoxifen is a cytostatic drug: it prevents tumor cells from dividing but doesn’t kill them.

Thermography: A technique using an instrument to measure the heat radiated from a source, specifically the tissue and blood vessels within the breast.

Total (or simple) mastectomy: a surgical procedure involving complete removal of the breast but not the axillary lymph nodes or chest muscles.

Tumor: abnormal growth of tissue (a lesion).

Ultrasonography (ultrasound): a technique using high-frequency sound waves for imaging the contents of the breast or other parts of the body.

X-rays: radiation used at very low doses to detect abnormalities and cancer (e.g., mammography); or, at very high doses, is used in radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells within malignant tumors.

Back to Top

The Book I About RKBCAC I Recent News I Rose Kushner I Info & Resources I Contact Us

Rose Kushner’s If You’ve Thought About Breast Cancer... REVISED AND UPDATED 2011
Published by Rose Kushner, Breast Cancer Advisory Center
Copyright ©2011 Harvey D. Kushner

The Women's Breast Cancer Advisory Center is a nonprofit organization,
exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The printed edition of the booklet was made possible through an education grant from AstraZeneca
IIllustration © Gloria Marconi
Web Site Design by Jamee Viola