You will have a lot to learn and many decisions to make if you’re diagnosed with breast cancer.

Don’t get lost in unfamiliar breast cancer jargon; instead, use this glossary as your reference guide for breast cancer facts and information. Breast cancer is a complex and often challenging disease that affects millions of individuals around the world. Whether you have been personally touched by breast cancer or are seeking knowledge to support a loved one, understanding the terminology used in the medical and care industry is crucial. However, we understand that the abundance of medical jargon and technical terms can be overwhelming and intimidating. That is why we have created this glossary, designed to empower you with easy-to-understand definitions and explanations.

If there is a term that you do not see or need more detail on, please use the Dictionary of Cancer Terms provided by the National Cancer Institute embedded on this page.

Breast Cancer Terms

  • Adenocarcinoma: A type of cancer that starts in the glandular cells of the breast.
  • Adjuvant Therapy: Additional treatment given after the primary treatment (such as surgery or chemotherapy) to lower the risk of cancer recurrence.
  • Aromatase Inhibitors: Medications that block the production of estrogen in postmenopausal women, often used in hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.
  • Aspiration: A procedure to remove fluid or cells from a lump or cyst in the breast using a thin needle.
  • Atypical Hyperplasia: A condition in which there is an abnormal increase in the number of cells in the breast ducts or lobules, which may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Axillary: Referring to the armpit area.
  • Benign: Noncancerous; not spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Biological Therapy (Immunotherapy): Treatment that uses substances to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.
  • Biopsy: The removal of a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer is present.
  • BRCA1 and BRCA2: Genes that, when mutated, increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the epithelial cells of the breast.
  • Chemotherapy: Treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells or stop their growth.
  • Cyst: A fluid-filled sac that may be benign or, rarely, malignant.
  • Duct: A tube that carries milk from the lobules of the breast to the nipple.
  • Ductal Carcinoma In Situ: A noninvasive breast cancer confined to the milk ducts that has not spread to surrounding tissue.
  • Estrogen: A female hormone that can promote the growth of certain breast cancers.
  • Estrogen Receptor Test: A test that determines if breast cancer cells have receptors for estrogen.
  • Hormone Therapy (Hormonal Therapy): Treatment that alters hormone levels in the body to stop or slow the growth of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.
  • Localized Cancer: Cancer that is confined to the breast and has not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Lumpectomy: Surgery to remove the cancerous lump from the breast, while preserving the breast tissue.
  • Lymph Nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures that are part of the body’s immune system and help fight infections.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A diagnostic imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the breast.
  • Malignant: Cancerous; capable of spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Mammography: An X-ray examination of the breasts used to detect early signs of breast cancer.
  • Mastectomy: Surgery to remove all or part of the breast tissue.
  • Metastasize: The spread of cancer cells from the primary site to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or bloodstream.
  • Microcalcifications: Small calcium deposits in the breast that may be detected on a mammogram and can be a sign of early breast cancer.
  • Needle Biopsy: A procedure to remove a small sample of tissue using a thin needle for examination under a microscope.
  • Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
  • Radiation Therapy: Treatment that uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Raloxifene: A medication that can be used to reduce the risk of breast cancer in certain high-risk individuals.
  • Remission: The absence of signs or symptoms of cancer. It can be partial or complete.
  • Stage: A measure that describes the extent of cancer within the body, including the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs.
  • Systemic Therapy: Treatment that affects the entire body, such as chemotherapy or targeted therapy.
  • Tamoxifen: A medication commonly used to treat hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.
  • TNM System: A staging system that uses information about the tumor size, lymph node involvement, and presence of metastasis to determine the stage of cancer.
  • Tumor: An abnormal mass or lump of cells formed when cells divide and grow uncontrollably.
  • Ultrasonography: An imaging technique that uses sound waves to create images of the breast.
  • Xeloda: A chemotherapy medication used to treat certain types of breast cancer.

Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Terms

  • Invasive Ductal Carcinoma: The most common type of breast cancer, which starts in the milk ducts and invades surrounding breast tissue.

Invasive Lobular Carcinoma Terms

  • Invasive Lobular Carcinoma: A type of breast cancer that begins in the milk-producing lobules and can spread to other parts of the breast.

Additional Breast Cancer Terms

  • Paget’s Disease of the Nipple: A rare form of breast cancer that affects the skin of the nipple and areola.
  • HER2/neu (Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2): A protein that can be overexpressed in some breast cancers, indicating a more aggressive form of the disease.
  • Triple-Negative Breast Cancer: A subtype of breast cancer that lacks estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and HER2/neu protein expression.
  • HER2-Positive Breast Cancer: Breast cancer that has an overexpression of the HER2/neu protein and can be treated with HER2-targeted therapies.
  • Progesterone Receptor: A protein found on some breast cancer cells that binds to progesterone and promotes cancer cell growth.
  • HER2-Targeted Therapy: Treatment that specifically targets HER2-positive breast cancer cells to inhibit their growth.
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy: Treatment given before primary therapy, such as surgery or radiation, to shrink tumors and increase the chances of successful treatment.
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy: A procedure to remove and examine the first lymph node(s) that receive drainage from the tumor, providing information about the spread of cancer.
  • Adjuvant Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy given after surgery or radiation therapy to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
  • Breast Reconstruction: Surgery to rebuild the breast after mastectomy or lumpectomy.
  • Complete Response: When all signs of cancer disappear after treatment.
  • Partial Response: When cancer shrinks in response to treatment, but some cancer cells remain.
  • Progressive Disease: When cancer continues to grow or spread despite treatment.
  • Recurrence: The return of cancer after a period of remission.
  • Metastasis: The spread of cancer cells from the primary site to other parts of the body.
  • Adjuvant Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy given after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of local recurrence.
  • Radiation Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in delivering radiation therapy to treat cancer.
  • Oncology Nurse: A nurse who specializes in caring for patients with cancer, providing education, support, and administering treatments.
  • Genetic Testing: Testing that examines an individual’s genes to identify mutations or abnormalities that may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Clinical Trial: Research studies conducted to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new treatments or interventions.
  • Survivorship: The phase of cancer care that focuses on the physical and emotional well-being of individuals who have completed their primary cancer treatment.
  • Mastectomy Bra: A specialized bra designed to provide support and comfort for individuals who have undergone mastectomy surgery.
  • Breast Prosthesis: An artificial breast form or implant used to replace a natural breast after mastectomy.
  • Oncology Social Worker: A professional who provides emotional support, counseling, and assistance with practical issues to individuals and families affected by cancer.
  • Patient Navigator: A healthcare professional who helps guide patients through the complex healthcare system, providing support, information, and assistance with appointments, resources, and treatment plans.
  • Support Groups: Groups of individuals affected by breast cancer who come together to share experiences, provide support, and learn from one another.
  • Palliative Care: Specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from symptoms, pain, and stress caused by cancer, aiming to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.

Breast cancer affects individuals in unique and personal ways. It is important to remember that each person’s journey is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosis, treatment, and care. While this glossary provides essential definitions, we encourage you to seek personalized guidance from your healthcare team. They possess the expertise and understanding necessary to evaluate your specific situation and provide tailored recommendations.

Additionally, we want to emphasize the importance of emotional support and community throughout the breast cancer journey. It can be immensely helpful to connect with others who have faced similar experiences, share stories, and exchange information. Support groups, online communities, and local resources can provide valuable insights, practical advice, and emotional comfort. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and reaching out for support can make a significant difference in your well-being.

Remember, knowledge is a powerful tool, and by expanding our understanding together, we can face breast cancer with resilience, strength, and hope.

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