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Abnormal Growths

If you hear this term, your doctor could be talking about many things, from a polyp in your colon to a tumor. An abnormal growth can be benign, which is cancer-free. Or it may be malignant, meaning it has cancer cells. It can also be "precancerous" -- it could turn into cancer.

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Adjuvant Therapy

A treatment you have in addition to your main treatment to lower the chances of the cancer coming back. Sometimes, your doctor will recommend something before your main treatment to help make it more effective. That's called neoadjuvant therapy.

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Angiogenesis Inhibitors

In order to grow and spread, cancer needs a blood supply. These specially designed drugs stop new blood vessels from forming and carrying blood to the tumor. The drugs may not kill the tumor, but they could stop the cancer from moving to other parts of your body.

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Antiemetic

A medicine that helps prevent or ease queasiness and vomiting, common side effects of some cancer treatments. Your doctor may prescribe more than one drug. It's usually pills taken right before or after your treatment. If you're in the hospital, you may get the medicine directly in a vein.

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Biologic Therapy

A treatment that uses a product made from a living source, such as human or animal cells or a microorganism. Some types attack specific cancer cells. Others affect your immune system (revving it up or making it less active) or ease some cancer side effects. Biologic therapies include immunotherapy, gene therapy, and certain targeted treatments.

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Biomarker

Your doctor may order a test to look for certain substances in your blood, other body fluids, or tissues. What they're searching for are called biomarkers or tumor markers. They're usually made by cancer cells. They can help your doctor figure out the best treatments for you, how you're responding to treatment, or if your cancer has spread or come back.

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Biopsy

A small sample of tissue or cells your doctor takes from you to look at under a microscope. They might use a needle (the size depends on what part of your body is getting the biopsy) or a thin, flexible tube designed to hold special tools. The procedure usually hurts very little since they'll numb the area first.

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Brachytherapy

This type of radiation treatment gets put inside or very near a cancerous tumor. Your doctor will use tools such as needles, seeds, or wires to put the radioactive material in the right spot. You may also hear this procedure called implant or internal radiation therapy.

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Carcinogen

A substance that can raise your odds of developing cancer. There are many. Tobacco smoke is one example. So are asbestos and ultraviolet sunlight. The likelihood you'll get cancer because you were around a carcinogen depends on many different things, including how long you were in contact with it as well as your genes.

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Chemotherapy

You've probably heard of this cancer treatment. It kills cancer cells or stops them from growing using strong medicine -- one drug or a combination of them. You usually get "chemo" as an outpatient at a hospital or clinic or in your doctor's office. It's usually injected, but sometimes chemo drugs are swallowed or put onto your skin.

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Clinical Trial

Doctors use research studies to gather data about how new medicines or treatments work in specific groups of people. Some trials look at how well new ways of diagnosing or testing work. The studies can last several years, and they have strict controls.

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Consolidation Therapy

After you've finished your main leukemia or lymphoma treatment and tests don't show any cancer in your body, your doctor may recommend more treatment to kill any lingering cancer cells. Chemo and radiation are two examples of this.

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Cycle

The time between the start of one round of treatment, like chemotherapy, and the start of the next round. The break lets your body rest and recover.

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"-ectomy"

A word that ends with "-ectomy" refers to surgery that takes out some or all of a body part. For example, in a mastectomy, the surgeon removes breast tissue. An oophorectomy takes out an ovary. A nephrectomy removes a kidney. As a cancer treatment the surgeon will remove cancer cells along with some or all of the body part.

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Grade

A description of how a tumor looks under a microscope. This will give your doctor an idea of how quickly the tumor may grow and spread. That, in turn, help them plan your treatment. Low grade means the cells have changes that suggest they're slow-growing. High-grade tumors may spread more quickly. Different cancers have different grading systems.

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Hormone Therapy

Some cancers, like breast or prostate cancer, need certain hormones to grow. This treatment blocks those hormones or changes the way they act in your body. It may slow or stop cancer from spreading, ease your symptoms, or help prevent the cancer from coming back. It's usually used with other treatments. You may get injections or take pills at home, in your doctor's office, or a clinic or hospital.

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Imaging

This generic term refers to several tests that take pictures of your body's organs and structures. One example is a mammogram, which uses X-rays to look for breast cancer. Other technologies use a magnetic field or radio waves. Tests include CT, MRI, PET scan, and ultrasound.

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Infusion

The process of giving a dose of chemotherapy, which can last hours. The drugs usually go directly into a vein. So you don't have to get stuck with needles over and over, you'll probably get a flexible tube called a catheter put through your skin, or a small disc called a port put under your skin. These hook up to an IV tube. They won't be taken out until your treatment is done.

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Lymphedema

Swelling in your arms or legs can happen when fluid builds up. It's possible after your lymph nodes are damaged or removed as part of your cancer treatment. Lymphedema can't be cured, but you can take steps to manage it.

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Metastasize

Sometimes cancer spreads from one part of the body to another. For example, cancer that started in the lung can spread, or metastasize, to the liver, bones, or brain. Those cancer cells will be the same as the ones in the lung, not like cancer cells that started in the new body part.

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Monoclonal Antibodies

These drugs use your immune system to fight cancer. They bind to the surface of cancer cells or specific immune system cells so your body can do a better job of finding and stopping the cancer. They can also help radiation and chemo treatments target cancer cells and avoid healthy ones.

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Neutropenia

A condition where your body doesn't have enough infection-fighting white blood cells. It can be a side effect of cancer treatment.

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Neuropathy

This nerve problem causes tingling, numbness, weakness, or swelling. It usually starts in your arms and legs. Cancer treatment or the cancer itself can bring it on. (So can diabetes and other diseases, infections, and injuries.)

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"-oma"

The ending "-oma" means tumor or swelling, and the first part of the word tells you what kind of cell it's in. For example, carcinoma is a cancer that starts in your skin or the lining of your organs. Sarcomas begin in connective tissue like bone, fat, and blood vessels. Lymphoma and myeloma are cancer in your immune system. Glioblastoma is a tumor in the central nervous system.

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Oncology

The branch of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Cancer doctors are called oncologists. They may specialize in different ways to treat cancer.

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Palliative Therapy

A system of support and comfort to improve your quality of life. It brings together experts in different fields to help you with pain and symptom management, and the mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of cancer. It can begin as soon as you're diagnosed and continue throughout your treatment, as well as afterward and if the cancer comes back. It also includes end-of-life care.

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Protocol

A detailed plan for treatment based on guidelines accepted by experts. "Protocol" could also refer to a clinical trial. In that case, it will outline things like who is eligible, how data will be collected, and the goals of the study.

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Radiation Therapy

This common treatment uses energy like X-rays and gamma rays to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Sometimes a machine will direct radiation from outside your body toward the cancer. Or your doctor may put radioactive needles, seeds, or wires inside you near the cancer. You could get radiation as your only treatment or as part of a treatment plan with other therapies.

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Remission

The symptoms of cancer have disappeared, and your tests are negative. It doesn't mean you're cured because the cancer may still be in your body, and it could come back. Remission can be partial or complete, depending on whether or not all traces of cancer have gone.

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Stage

A way doctors describe your cancer. It's based on things like:

  • The cancer's location and size
  • The type of cell affected
  • The grade, or how abnormal it looks
  • Whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs

Different cancers have different staging systems.

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Tumor

An abnormal mass of tissue or swelling. Your doctor may also call it a "neoplasm." Not all tumors are cancer.