Common Terms used with Cancer


adjuvant therapy

chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone therapy used to kill remaining cancer cells left behind after surgery.


a blood condition that occurs when red blood cell count drops significantly, making it difficult for the body to get enough oxygen to its tissues.

"around the clock"

prescription medication to be taken throughout a 24-hour period, not just on an "as needed" basis (see "as needed").

"as needed"

prescription medication to be taken when symptoms are occasional.

attending physician

the doctor in charge of your care.



a non-cancerous tumor. These tumors do not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors usually can be removed and are seldom a threat to life.


a surgical procedure in which a piece of tissues removed by a needle or an incision and sent to pathology to determine if it is benign or malignant (see malignant).

blood studies/blood work

see laboratory tests.

blood transfusion

see transfusion.

bone marrow

material inside bones that produces blood cells.

bone marrow harvest

a procedure done in the operating room under general anesthesia where a needle is inserted into the hip to pull stem cells out of the bone marrow. This procedure is repeated multiple times until enough cells are collected. The harvested cells are then frozen for future use (see stem cells).


case manager

The case manager helps to organize care for patients with complicated medical issues.


a tube passed through the body for evacuating fluids from, or injecting fluids into, body cavities. Made of elastic, elastic web, rubber, glass, metal or plastic.

catheter, indwelling

any catheter that is allowed to remain in place.


a minister with special skills in helping people during times of illness and loss.


drugs that fight cancer; treatment of illness by chemical means.

chemotherapy nurse

a nurse trained to administer chemotherapy.

chemotherapy pharmacist

a pharmacist familiar with mixing, dosing and administering chemotherapy drugs.

clinical trial

a study to evaluate the effectiveness of newly designed treatments.

cold sore

an infection of the lip or mouth caused by a type of herpes virus.


data manager

a person trained to assist physicians and nurses with clinical trials.




a licensed physician undergoing special training in a specific field of medicine.

fixed dose

prescription medications that are to be taken at specified time intervals.



low, intermediate, or high designations indicating aggressiveness in cancer.



physician specializing in the treatment of blood disorders.

house staff

the clinical fellows, interns and residents who will assist attending physicians in providing care to patients admitted to the hospital.


immune system

the system of the body that helps fight infections and cancer.

inpatient attending

the physician assigned to help care for patients admitted to the hospital.


a physician who has completed medical school and is in the first year of specialty training in internal medicine.




laboratory blood tests

blood circulates throughout the body to all organ systems, therefore, blood studies can be used to test the function of many organs including the bone marrow kidneys and liver. It may also be used to check on the status of some tumors.


see laboratory blood tests.


a person whose larynx has been removed.


removal of the larynx, the large upper end of the trachea below the root of the tongue. It is the organ of the voice.


a procedure to remove stem cells from the bloodstream by placing a needle in two different veins in the arms. Blood exits through one needle and is processed through a machine that removes the stem cells needed to regrow the bone marrow. The remainder of blood is returned through the other vein. Treatment given through this process is called stem cell infusion.


cancer affecting only the cells of a certain area.

lymphatic system

the system including all structures involved in the transfer of lymph from the tissues to the bloodstream. It includes the lymph capillaries, lacteals, lymph nodes, lymph vessels and main lymph ducts.



cancerous tumors or cells. They can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs.


an X-ray of the breast to detect growths in the breast.


the periphery or edges of the surgical resection around the tumor. Clear margins imply the tumor has been completely removed.

medical oncologist

physician who specializes in chemotherapy for cancer.


cancer cells carried in the blood and lymphatics to other sites in the body, where they may lodge and grow.

Myelosuppression Unit (MSU)

the hospital unit located on 11 North designed for patients receiving high doses of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation.


an inflammation of the lining of the mouth and throat.



the period after chemotherapy treatment when blood counts drop to their lowest point.


a drug used for relieving pain.

neo-adjuvant therapy

chemotherapy given before surgery or radiotherapy

neoplastic disorders

a cancerous disease.


a blood condition that occurs when the white blood cell count drops significantly, making it difficult for the body to fight infection.


special white blood cells that fight infection.


a person with special training in nutrition who can show patients how to improve their diet to improve their overall health. Anyone calling themselves a nutritionist must have a license to practice from the State Board of Health.


on-call physician

a doctor in the hospital after hours and on weekends.


a physician specializing in the treatment of cancer.

oncology patient care units

class="def">the two hospital units dedicated for patients with cancer. They are 8 South and 11 North.


the surgically formed opening through the abdomen wall that serves as the exit for stool or urine.


pain emergency

severe incapacitating pain that does not respond to regular doses of pain medication.


a specialist in diagnosing abnormal changes in tissues removed in surgical operations and biopsies.

patient services coordinator

the person who checks you into and out of the cancer clinic, answers phone calls and registers patients.

patient care technician

the person who assists physicians and nurses in the cancer clinic.

patient follow-up plan

a record provided by your Treatment Care Team to help you chart future appointments to the cancer clinic.


person responsible for drawing blood from patients for laboratory tests.


the type of blood cell required for blood to clot.

primary tumor site

the spot where cancer first develops.


the expected outcome of a disease and chances for recovery.




cancer treatment that kills cancer cells by aiming an energy beam at the primary tumor site.

radiation oncologist

a physician specially trained to plan and monitor the treatment of patients with cancer who require radiation therapy.

radiation therapy

medical treatment where an energy beam is directed at a tumor.


a physician whose specialty is performing and interpreting various X-ray tests.


the development of cancerous cells in the same area or another area of the body after cancer treatment.

red blood cell

the type of blood cell that carries oxygen.

rescue dose

prescription medication to be taken for pain between fixed doses.

research nurse

a nurse trained to help patients and physicians in the administration of new cancer treatment programs.


a physician who has completed medical school and at least one year of specialty training.



a type of cancer that starts in bone or connective tissue.

social worker

a person trained to provide support, psychological counseling and information about community resources.

specialty clinics

clinics designed to treat specific types of cancer (e.g. breast clinic, prostate clinic, etc.).

stages of cancer

the progression of cancer from mild to severe. Usually indicates if it has spread to deeper tissues or other parts of the body. One method used by doctors to stage different types of cancer is the TNM classification system. In this system, doctors determine the presence and size of the tumor(T), how many(if any) lymph nodes are involved(N) and whether or not the cancer has metastasized(M). A number (usually 0-4) is assigned to each of the three categories to indicate its severity.


the process of learning about the extent of the tumor and whether the disease has spread from its original site to other parts of the body.

stem cells

the "parent" cells that produce the red cells, white cells and platelets, that are found in the bone marrow and in the circulating blood.

stem cell infusion

treatment given through the process of leukopheresis (see leukopheresis).

stereotactic breast biopsy

method of sampling abnormalities found by mammography; an alternative to open or excisional biopsy.

Surgical Oncologist

a surgeon who specializes in cancer therapy.



a blood condition that occurs when the body's platelet count becomes extremely low.


a fungal infection of the mouth or throat which appears as a white coating.


giving blood or a blood component into the bloodstream. (red cells, platelets, ect.)

Treatment Care Team

the group of professionals who will provide for your needs while you are a patient at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.



uses sound waves to find abnormalities in the tissues of the body.


vital signs

the traditional signs of life: heart beat, body temperature, breathing rate and blood pressure.




high-energy radiation. Used in low doses to diagnose diseases and in high doses to treat cancer.



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