Health & Nutrition Cancer terms to know

Cancer terms to know


A cancer diagnosis can be difficult to understand. When diagnosed with cancer, men and women are often told many things about their disease, and the terminology used can be confusing. The following are some of the terms those diagnosed with cancer are likely to hear in discussions with their physicians.


Treatment that removes or destroys all or part of a cancer. Ablation may also be performed to remove or stop the function of an organ.


A benign growth starting in the glandular tissue.

Advanced cancer

This describes stages of cancer in which the cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of the body. Cancer that has spread only to nearby parts of the body is known as locally advanced cancer, while cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body is known as metastatic cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma

The most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma begins in the outer layer of the skin known as the epidermis. Basal cell carcinoma typically develops on sun-exposed areas, such as the head and neck.


Non-malignant and not life-threatening. A benign tumor is not cancer and will not spread to other areas of the body.


The removal of a tissue sample to determine if cancer cells are present.


A group of diseases that cause cells in the body to change and grow out of control.


Any substance that causes cancer or promotes its growth.


A cancer that begins in the lining layer of organs. The American Cancer Society notes that 80 percent of all cancers are carcinomas.


A cancer treatment option that employs drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used to treat cancer that has spread or come back or when there is a strong chance the cancer will come back.

Five-year survival rate

The percentage of people with a given cancer who are alive five years or longer after diagnosis.


The grade of a cancer indicates how abnormal its cells look under a microscope. Different grading systems exist for different types of cancers.


A state in which the immune system is weak and unable to respond the way it should. Immunosuppression may be caused by some cancers or cancer treatments.

In situ

In place, localized and confined to one area. This is a very early stage of cancer.

Invasive cancer

Cancer that has spread beyond the layer of cells where it initially began and has grown into nearby tissues.


An area of abnormal body tissue. This term may be used to describe a lump, mass or tumor.


A non-cancerous tumor made of a fatty tissue.

Localized cancer

Cancer that is confined to the organ where it started.


Cancerous. Tumors that are malignant are likely to cause death if they are untreated.


The spread of cancer cells to one or more sites elsewhere in the body.


A doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


The return of cancer after treatment.


Complete or partial disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer in response to treatment.


Cancer that starts in connective tissue, such as cartilage, fat, muscle, or bone.


The extent of cancer, which is usually assigned a number from I to IV.


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