Navigating cancer care and its terminology can be a difficult task for many individuals. Health literacy is defined as obtaining, communicating, processing, and understanding health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. Not only is health literacy important for survivors, but it’s also important for individuals who are close to a survivor, or, just want to understand frequent terminology that is used.
Things to consider:
If your doctor uses a word that you do not understand, ask him or her what it means. It may be helpful to ask for handouts and other resources that help explain other questions you may have. The National Cancer Institute has a list of more than 8,000 words in its online database that may help you understand more terms you have questions about.
Frequently asked questions:
- How common is cancer? About one-third of people living in the U.S. will develop it in their life time.
- Who gets cancer? Anyone who is any age can get cancer, although risk increases with age. Nearly nine out of ten people who are diagnoses are over the age of 50.
- What causes cancer? There are three reasons why people may develop cancer. The first reason is by things people do or are exposed to. Risk can increase based on lifestyle choices such as tobacco use or sun expose, as well as radiation and chemical exposure. The second reason is genetics. About 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are linked to genes inherited from parents. The third reason is that no one knows the exact cause of most cases of cancers. It’s known that certain changes in cells can cause cancer to start, but it’s not known exactly how it all happens.
- Can cancer be prevented? There’s no sure way to prevent cancer, but there are things you can do to reduce your chances of getting it.
- How is cancer treated? Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are the 3 main types of cancer treatment.
Frequently used terms:
- Adjuvant therapy: Therapy used to kill remaining cancer cells left behind after primary treatment, usually surgery. Could include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or hormone therapy.
- Advance Directive: Instructions on what kind of care you would like to receive (or not receive) if you become unable to make medical decisions. Includes living wills and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders.
- Biological Therapy: Therapy that uses substances made from living organisms to attack cancer cells. The substances may occur naturally in the body. They also may be made in a laboratory. Some therapies affect the immune Others attack specific cancer cells.
- Biopsy: Removal of a small portion of tissue to see if it is cancerous.
- Carcinoma In Situ (CIS):A group of abnormal cells that remain in the place where they first formed. The cells may become cancer and spread to nearby tissue.
- Chemotherapy: Therapy that uses special medicines to damage and kill cancer cells.
- Colonoscopy: Insertion of a long, flexible, lighted tube through the rectum and into the colon. This allows the doctor to check the lining of the colon for abnormalities.
- Colposcopy: Procedure where a lighted, magnifying instrument (colposcope) is used to look for problems in the vagina and
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM):Therapy used during or after cancer treatment to help relieve the symptoms of cancer or standard treatments. Examples include meditation, yoga, spiritual counseling, acupuncture, and transcutaneous electrical nervestimulation (TENS).
- Hormone therapy: Treatment that adds, removes, or blocks hormones to slow the growth of cancer cells.
- Hospice Care: Hospice care is a special program for patients who are ill and dying, and their families. It is a form of palliative It is meant for people who have 6 months or less to live.
- Immunotherapy: A type of biological therapy. It stimulates or suppresses the immune system to help the body fight cancer.
- Invasive Cancer: Cancer that starts in one area of the body and spreads to surrounding tissue. Also called infiltrating cancer.
- Leukemia: Cancer of bone marrow and blood
- Localized: Cancer that is confined to a certain area and has not spread.
- Lymphoma: Cancer that begins in the cells of the immune system.
- Lumpectomy: Surgery that removes abnormal or cancerous tissue in the breast.
- Malignant: Cancer cells are present in a tumor and may spread to other parts of the body.
- Mastectomy: Surgery to remove all or part of the breast.
- Melanoma: A form of cancer that begins in melanocytes. These are cells that make the pigment It can begin in a mole on the skin or in other tissues with pigment. These include the eye or intestines.
- Metastasis: The spread of cancer cells from where they first formed to another area of the body. Cancer cells break away from the primary tumor. They travel through the blood or lymphatic system to other areas. For example, breast cancer cells may spread to the lymph nodes, or lung cancer cells may travel to the brain.
- Neoadjuvant Therapy: Treatment given to shrink a tumor before the main treatment (usually surgery) is given. Often includes chemotherapy or radiation.
- Nonmelanoma: A type of skin cancer where the cancerous cells are found in places other than the melanocytes.
- Oncologist: A doctor who specializes in cancer and its treatment.
- Oncology: The study of cancer.
- Palliative Care: Therapy that focuses on improving one’s quality of life rather than curing his or her cancer.
- Pathologist: A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells under a microscope.
- Polyp: A growth of normal tissue that sticks out from the lining of an organ, such as the colon.
- Precancerous: Refers to cells that have the potential to become cancerous.
- Prognosis: The expected outcome of a disease and chances for recovery.
- Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Test: Measures the amount of a protein in the blood. The protein is created by the prostate An elevated amount could be the result of infection, an enlarged prostate, or prostate cancer.
- Radiation Therapy: Uses high-energy rays or radioactive materials to damage or kill cancer cells.
- Recurrence: The development of cancerous cells after cancer treatment. Could be in the same area or another part of the body
- Remission: When the signs and symptoms of cancer decrease or disappear, but cancer may still be in the body. Can be temporary or permanent.
- Sarcoma: A cancer that develops in the tissues that support and connect the body. These include fat, muscle, and cartilage.
- Tumor: An abnormal mass of tissue that forms when normal cells begin to change and grow abnormally. It can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). It can also be called a nodule, mass, or neoplasm.