When you hear doctors talk about cancer and its treatment, it can sound like they are speaking a foreign language. It helps to learn some of the most common terms they use and what those words mean. Understanding the lingo can help you work with your doc as you fight your disease together.
Ablation (a-BLAY-shun) is a catch-all word for removing or destroying body tissue. Doctors use different types of ablation for cancer, like drugs, heat, hormones, surgery, or high-energy radio waves (called radiofrequency ablation).
Acute (a-CUTE) describes symptoms that get worse very quickly but don’t last very long. Sometimes, symptoms that start as acute can stick around and last for a while. Then they become chronic (see below).
Atypical (ay-TIP-ih-cul) is a medical word for “abnormal.” Doctors may use this word to describe cells or body tissues that look unusual under a microscope. They might also say your case is atypical if you don’t have the usual symptoms of your type of cancer.
Benign (buh-NINE) means that a tumor is not cancer. It won’t spread to other parts of your body.
Biopsy (BYE-opp-see) is when a doctor removes a small piece of tissue from your body and sends it to a lab for testing. It’s the main way to diagnose cancer. Your doctor may use a needle, scalpel, or other tool to do the biopsy.
Carcinoma (CAR-sin-OH-muh) is cancer that starts in the lining of your organs or in your skin.
Chemotherapy (KEE-moh-THER-uh-pee) is a treatment that uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells or to stop them from growing.
Chronic (CRAH-nik) describes a condition that lasts a long time.
Immunosuppressive (ih-MYOON-oh-SUH-press-iv) refers to treatments that turn down your body’s immune system so it can’t fight infections as well. People who are about to get a bone marrow or organ transplant get these therapies to keep their bodies from rejecting the new tissue.
In situ (in SIGH-too) describes cancer that hasn’t spread to other tissue nearby.
Malignant (muh-LIG-nant) refers to cancer cells that can invade and kill nearby tissue and spread to other parts of your body.