Cancer has a lot of confusing terminology, acronyms, and phrasing outside of our standard, day-to-day conversations. This glossary will cover things like treatment, slang, medicine names and their uses, acronyms, and more – including terminology related to in vitro fertilization treatments, part of the overall cancer journey for many young women undergoing cancer treatment.
This is not an exhaustive list, so if there’s a term you’d like to have included in this glossary, please reach out via the contact form to request an addition. As an aside, I am once again not a medical professional, so if you find a discrepancy or inaccuracy in any of the definitions given below, please reach out to request a wording change.
AC/AC regimen: adriamycin + cyclophosphamide – a combination of chemotherapy drugs notoriously known as “The Red Devil”
AYA cancer patients: Adolescent and Young Adult cancer patients between the ages of 15–39 at time of diagnosis
Biopsy: The surgical extraction of cells or sample tissues to determine the existence, severity, and extent of a disease
Breast cancer: Cancer of the breast. It can be in one or both breasts.
Cancer: A malignant growth or tumor caused by the uncontrolled, rapid growth of abnormal cells
Chemotherapy: Also known as “chemo,” chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses anti-cancer medications (aka powerful chemical infusions) to kill cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy treatments are given intravenously inside of a hospital.
Clindamycin: An oral prescription used to treat bacterial infections
Cold capping: Also known as scalp cooling, cold capping is an innovative treatment used to reduce or mitigate hair loss associated with chemotherapy treatments. Cold capping works by using a cold head covering, either attached to a machine that cools the scalp or by using extremely cold ice packs that go on your head, to keep the head temperature very low so that less chemotherapy reaches the head and thus kills off healthy hair cells.
“The Big C”: A slang phase for cancer
Dexamethasone: An oral steroid you take the day before, day of, and day after chemotherapy treatment, used to reduce pain and inflammation from chemotherapy
DigniCap: A scalp cooling brand system used to reduce or mitigate hair loss in cancer patients
DMX: Shorthand for double mastectomy – the surgical removal of both breasts
Doxycycline: An oral antibiotic drug given to reduce inflammatory skin infections
Herceptin: A cancer drug designed to treat HER2+ receptors
In situ: A group of abnormal cells found only in the place of the body where they first formed
IDC: Invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer
IVF: Also known as in vitro fertilization, IVF treatments are given to women who have trouble conceiving a child naturally. They are also given to AYA cancer patients who may experience increased chances of infertility after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments in their youth while they are most fertile, given the increased risk of damage to the ovaries while undergoing treatment.
Lobules: Milk-producing glands in the breast
Lobular (breast cancer): Cancer that begins in the lobules
Lumpectomy: Surgical removal of a cancerous or noncancerous tumor in the breast. It removes affected breast tissue as well as some normal breast tissue to remove the tumor.
Lymph node: Part of the body’s immune system that helps the body fight off infections and disease. Lymph nodes are located in multiple parts of the body, including your armpits, neck, groin, and between the lungs.
Mammogram: An X-ray picture of the breast
Mastectomy: The surgical removal of one breast
MBC: Shorthand for metastatic breast cancer, also known as Stage 4
Metastasis/metastatic: A term used to describe cancer cells that have spread from where they originally formed to another part of the body. Cancers that have metastasized may do so locally or distantly. The more distant the metastasis, the more difficult to cure.
NED: No evidence of disease. This is the “all-clear” way to say you are “cancer free,” meaning there is no evidence of active disease still in the body
Neulasta: A bone marrow stimulant used to help increase white blood cell counts after chemotherapy. It is administered by the cancer patient themselves via syringe.
Oncologist: A doctor who treats cancer patients
Ondansetron: See Zofran
Oocyte retrieval: Part of the IVF process, the oocyte retrieval is the surgery in which eggs are extracted from a woman’s body in order to be frozen for later use when they are ready to conceive a child
Pegfilgrastim: See Neulasta
PFC: Shorthand for “post-final chemo”
Port-a-cath: A small medical “device” (non-electronic) installed under the skin. A catheter connects the port to a vein, which makes it easier to administer intravenous chemotherapy drugs and get blood drawn
Prednisone: An oral steroid used to reduce inflammation
Radiation: Sometimes abbreviated “rads,” radiation therapy is a treatment that uses radiation to control or kill malignant cancer cells, and is often delivered via linear accelerator (aka hyper-focused radiation beams directly on the cancer site)
Radiologist: A doctor who administers radiation therapy
Scalp cooling: An innovative treatment in which a cold cap is placed on a cancer patient’s head while they are being given chemotherapy drugs. This treatment reduces the temperature of the scalp to a very low temperature to reduce the amount of chemotherapy drugs that can reach the scalp (when those drugs are not treating a head or brain-related cancer) to lessen the likelihood of healthy hair cells being killed off from chemotherapy.
Stage 1 (breast cancer): Cancer that is smaller and localized to one location, meaning it has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body
Stage 2 (breast cancer): Cancer that is still contained to the breast region or nearby lymph nodes
Stage 3 (breast cancer): Cancer that has extended beyond the immediate region of the tumor, possibly affecting nearby lymph nodes and muscles, but not distant organs
Stage 4 (breast cancer): Cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other organs. Some of these may include distant lymph nodes, the lungs, liver, brain, skin, etc. Stage 4 is also known as metastatic breast cancer (MBC). MBC is currently incurable, but manageable over the long term
Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC): Cancer that tests negative for estrogen and progesterone receptors as well as the excess HER2 protein
Ultrasound: A test that uses sound waves to produce pictures of the internal structure of an organ
WBC: White blood cell
Zofran: A dissolvable tablet you place on your tongue, used as needed to treat nausea from chemotherapy