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Glossary

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

A

Abortion: the sudden ending of a pregnancy before the fetus can live outside the womb. An abortion can be involuntary (spontaneous abortion or miscarriage) or voluntary (induced abortion).

Adolescence: the period of physical and psychological development from the onset of puberty to adulthood, consisting mainly of the teenage years.

Alkylphenols: a family of organic compounds used in the production of detergents, plastics and some pesticides. They tend to persist in the environment and can have estrogen-like properties.

Anemia: a condition where there is a deficiency of hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen) in the blood.

Anesthesia: the administration of medication during a medical procedure or surgery to control pain. Anesthesia can be local or regional where a part of the body is numbed, or general where it induces unconsciousness and complete pain control.

Anesthesiologist: a doctor who specializes in administering anesthesia during surgery and other medical procedures.

Antibody: a protein that is part of the immune system. Antibodies bind to and neutralize substances that the body recognizes as foreign, such as bacteria and viruses.

Areola: the dark pigmented area of the breast that surrounds the nipple.

Aromatase: an enzyme that helps to produce estrogen in the body. Aromatase inhibitors are a type of hormone therapy that works by blocking the ability of aromatase to produce estrogen, which helps to slow the growth of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer.

Aspiration (biopsy): removing tissue or fluid from a lump or cyst with a needle into a syringe or other suction device.

Asymmetry: an area that is found to be not identical in both breasts (such as tissue density).

Asymptomatic: to be without noticeable signs or symptoms of a disease.

Atypia: abnormal

Axilla (axillary): armpit or underarm area.

Axillary web syndrome: a condition that may occur after a sentinel node biopsy or an axillary node dissection where thick, ropelike structures or “cords” develop under the skin of the inner arm. These cords of tissue can feel painful and tight, limiting range of motion in the arm.

B

Benign: not cancerous. This is also referred to as non-malignant.

BRCA1: a gene which, when damaged (mutated), places a person at greater risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, compared to someone who does not have the mutation.

BRCA2: a gene which, when damaged (mutated), places a person at greater risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, compared to someone who does not have the mutation.

Bilateral: affecting both sides of the body.

Biopsy: a procedure in which tissue samples are removed from the body for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.

Bisphenol A (BPA): an organic compound used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, along with other applications. Research has found that exposure to BPA can disrupt hormone levels in the body. In September 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA a toxic substance. Canada and Europe have banned BPA's use in baby bottles.

Blood clot: a thickened mass of blood. Blood clots normally form to help stop bleeding (e.g. at the location of a cut), but when they form inside blood vessels they can cause serious health problems.

Body Mass Index (BMI): a measure of a person’s weight in relation to their height. This is one way of assessing body weight.

Bone scan: a test that uses small amounts of radioactive material to create images of the bones. It is an important tool for detecting cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the bone.

Brachytherapy: a type of radiation therapy where only a small amount of breast tissue receives radiation treatment in the form of small radioactive pellets or ‘seeds’ that are placed within the breast next to the tumour. Depending on the type of brachytherapy, the radiation source may or may not be permanently implanted.

Breast implant: surgically implanted artificial breasts that are made out of silicone or saline. Women who have had breast cancer surgery by mastectomy may choose to have implants to reconstruct the breast. 

C

Carcinogen: a substance that causes cancer or helps cancer to grow. Tobacco and alcohol (ethanol) are examples of carcinogens.

Carcinoma: a malignant (cancerous) tumor that begins in the layer of cells that line the organs (called epithelial cells).

Catheter: a flexible tube that is inserted into the body in order to remove or deliver a substance to the body, or to keep a passageway open.

Cell: the basic structural and functional unit of all organisms.

Cervix: the lower, narrow part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.

Chemoprevention: the use of drugs or other agents to try to prevent or delay the onset of cancer or its recurrence.

Chemotherapy: a treatment method that uses medication to destroy cancer cells.

Cirrhosis: a chronic disease in which normal liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue.

Clinical breast exam (CBE): a physical examination of the breasts by a health-care provider.

Clinical trial: one of the most common types of experimental studies in humans is the clinical trial. Clinical trials are designed to test new ways to prevent, detect, and treat specific diseases.

Computed Tomography (CT) scan: an imaging technique that takes a series of x-rays from many different angles and combines them to create a detailed 3-dimensional image of the bones and tissues in your body, such as the breast.

Cyst: a fluid-filled sac that is usually benign (non-cancerous). The fluid may be removed for analysis.

D

Dense breasts (breast density): dense breasts have less fat and more glandular and connective tissue. A woman’s breast density depends on her age and genetic factors. Breast density is a risk factor for breast cancer. Having “dense breasts” is a clinical diagnosis that can only be assessed by mammography.

Detection: in terms of health, this means finding disease. Earlier detection means finding disease earlier, when it is small and has not spread to other parts of the body. The earlier detection of disease often leads to better and less invasive treatment options.

Digital mammography: a low-dose X-ray similar to screen-film mammography, equipped with a digital receptor and a computer instead of film.

Dimpling: a pucker or indentation of the skin on the breast.

Discharge (nipple): fluid from the nipple, that is not breast milk or related to breastfeeding. Nipple discharge should be evaluated by a health care provider.

Discharge (vaginal): fluid produced by glands in the vaginal wall and cervix that drain from the opening of the vagina.

DNA: short for Deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is found in the cells of our bodies. It contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and some viruses. Your DNA contains genetic information that is unique to you.

Duct (mammary duct): a hollow passage for gland secretions. There are ducts in the female and male breast.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): the most common type of noninvasive breast cancer. In DCIS, the cancer is confined to the lining of the milk ducts.

E

Embryo: a fertilized egg in the early stages of development.

Endometrium: the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus. It thickens every menstrual cycle and is shed during menstruation if pregnancy does not occur.

Enzyme: proteins that are involved in carrying out the chemical reactions of the body.

Estrogen: a female sex hormone that is produced mainly in the ovaries. A woman’s levels of estrogen fluctuate throughout her life. Estrogen has been linked to the development of breast cancer and may promote the growth of cancer cells.

F

Fallopian tube: the tube through which an egg travels from the ovary to the uterus. There are two fallopian tubes, one that connects each ovary to the uterus.

False negative: some test results miss cancer. This is referred to as a “false negative” result. Regular screening at specific time intervals is the best way to overcome this limitation.

False positive: some test results show signs of cancer that are ruled out when further testing is done. This is referred to as a “false positive” result. About one in ten women may be called back for more testing after their mammogram. Most women who require additional testing will not have breast cancer.

Fibroadenoma: a benign growth originating in the glandular tissue of the breast.

Fibrocystic change: or fibrocystic disease. This describes a type of benign (non-cancerous) breast change.

Fragrance (or parfum): a mixture of aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents used to give the human body, animals, objects and living spaces a scent. Some synthetic compounds found in fragrances cause inflammation, headaches, dizziness or nausea in people who are sensitive to them.

G

Galactorrhea: sudden flow of milk from the breast, that is not associated with childbirth or nursing.

Gene: a segment of DNA that contains hereditary information.

Genetic: related to or caused by the genes.

Genetic counsellor: a health care provider with specialized training and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counselling.

Glucose: a sugar molecule, and a major source of energy for the body.

Grade: a way of classifying cancer that describes how aggressive the cancer is likely to be (i.e., how fast it will grow and spread).

H

HER-2-neu: cells have many different proteins on their surface called receptors. HER-2 is a type of naturally occurring receptor. In normal cells, HER-2 receptors are thought to be involved in cell growth and reproduction. In some breast cancers, there are too many HER-2 receptors and they speed up cancer cell growth.HER-2 therapy is used to treat some breast cancers by targeting receptors that stimulate breast cancer growth.

HER-2 targeted therapy: a treatment method that uses medication to target HER-2 receptors that stimulate breast cancer growth.

Hereditary: a trait, for example eye colour, that is transmitted genetically from one generation to the next. Some genetic mutations are inherited, for example mutations of the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes that lead to a strong increase in the risk of breast cancer.

Hodgkin’s disease (also called Hodgkin’s lymphoma): a cancer that begins in white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system.

Hormone: A natural substance released into the body by the endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, adrenal gland or ovaries.

Hormone disruptors: substances that mimic natural hormones in the body and may disrupt how the endocrine system works. Some pesticides, for example, are thought to be endocrine disruptors. Hormone disruptors are also known as endocrine disruptors.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): is a hormone treatment intended for women who have reached the age of menopause, to reduce its symptoms. It involves taking small doses of estrogen and progesterone (combined) or just estrogen alone.

Hormone system: the body's system of glands, each of which secretes a hormone that regulates the body. The hormone system is also known as the endocrine system.

Hormone therapy: a treatment method for breast cancer that uses medication to block the production of the hormone estrogen, or the way that it works in the body.

I – J

Implants: surgically implanted artificial breasts that are made out of silicone or saline. Women who have had breast cancer surgery by mastectomy may choose to have implants to reconstruct the breast.

Impotence: an inability to achieve or maintain an erection during sexual activity. It is also referred to as erectile dysfunction.

Incidence (rate): the number of newly diagnosed cases of a disease during a specific time period.Incidence helps us to understand the risk of developing that disease.

Incision: a cut made into the skin or other body tissue as part of a medical procedure or surgery.

Infertility: the inability to produce a child. In women, this can mean an inability to conceive or carry a child to term. In men, this refers to the inability to impregnate a woman.

Inflammation: the immune system’s response to tissue damage caused by infection, injury, exposure to toxins, or other types of trauma. Chronic inflammation has been linked to increased cancer risk.

Inflammatory breast cancer: an uncommon type of breast cancer with symptoms that resemble inflammation (e.g. swelling, redness, pain, and an orange peel-like skin texture). Usually there is no lump or tumour.

In situ: “in its original place.” In situ cancers are confined to the original location where they developed and do not invade surrounding tissue or spread to other parts of the body. May also be referred to as noninvasive cancers.

Insulin: a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows sugars, or glucose, from food to enter cells so it can be used for energy.

Insulin resistance: a condition where the body’s cells have a lowered level of response to the effects of insulin. This can lead to pre-diabetes or the development of type 2 diabetes.

Intravenous (I.V.): a method of administering medication where the substance is given into a vein using a needle.

Invasive (breast cancer): cancer that spreads from where it started in the breast (i.e., the breast ducts or lobules) into surrounding, healthy breast tissue.

Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC): the most common type of invasive breast cancer. IDC starts in the milk ducts and can spread into (invade) surrounding breast tissue. It can also spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body (metastasize).

Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC): a type of invasive breast cancer. ILC starts in the lobules of the breast and can spread into (invade) surrounding breast tissue. It can also spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body (metastasize).

Inverted nipple: a condition in which the nipple is tucked into the areola.

In vitro fertilization (IVF): a fertility procedure that involves removing eggs from a woman’s body, fertilizing them in a laboratory dish, and implanting one or more of resulting embryos in a woman’s uterus.

Isoflavone: a type of plant estrogen found primarily in soybeans. Some isoflavones can act like estrogen in the body, but with much less potency.

K

Klinefelter syndrome: a genetic condition in men that increases the risk of breast cancer. Men with Klinefelter syndrome may have larger than normal breasts, a lack of facial or body hair, a rounded body type, and small testicles. The condition is caused when a man’s DNA has one or more extra X chromosomes, causing an increase in estrogen in the body.

L

Lactation: production of milk in the breast.

Latency: the time from the start of a disease to when its symptoms show. A latent condition is present in the body but does not cause symptoms to show in the person.

Lesion: an area of abnormal tissue in the body. Testing may show that the lesion is benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

Lifetime risk: the probability of developing or dying from cancer over the course of a lifetime.

Living will: a legal document that outlines your wishes around the types of treatments and life-sustaining measures you want and don’t want to receive in case you are unable to let your health care team know yourself.

Lobules: small glands in the breast that produce milk.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS): a condition where abnormal cells develop in the lobules of the breast. LCIS is not considered to be a true cancer, but is an indicator that a woman is at increased risk for developing invasive breast cancer in the future.

Locally advanced (breast cancer): breast cancer that is greater than 5cm in diameter or has spread to multiple lymph nodes and/or to other tissues in the area, but has not spread to distant sites in the body.

Local treatment: a treatment method that is applied to and takes effect only in the area of the body where it is applied. Surgery and radiation therapy are local treatments for breast cancer.

Lump: a mass that can be found in the breast or elsewhere in the body. This can also be called a nodule.

Lumpectomy: surgery to remove a breast tumor and a small margin of surrounding normal tissue.

Lymphedema: a condition where lymph fluid (or tissue fluid) cannot easily get out of the arm and back into the circulation, resulting in swelling in part or all of the arm and hand. It can occur after breast cancer treatment following the surgical removal of lymph nodes from the underarm area or radiation treatment to this area.

Lymphatic system: a network of vessels that transports lymph fluid, a clear fluid that comes from your blood and bathes the tissues. It contains water, protein and minerals and white blood cells. The lymph passes through a series of filters, the lymph nodes, before rejoining the bloodstream.

Lymph nodes: small structures that filter lymph fluid for harmful substances. They contain immune cells that can help fight infection by attacking and destroying germs. Cancer can travel through the lymphatic system spread to the lymph nodes.

Lymph vessels: ducts that carry lymph fluid through the lymphatic system.

M

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): an imaging technique that uses powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed, 3-dimensional images of the organs and tissues in the body, such as the breast.

Malignant: cancerous.

Mammogram (also called mammography): a low-dose X-ray of the breast. It is used to take images of the breasts and is an important screening tool for the earlier detection of breast cancer.

Mastectomy: surgery to remove all or part of the breast and sometimes other tissue.

Menopause: a natural part of a woman's aging process, when the ovaries start to make less estrogen and progesterone and the menstrual periods stop. This change typically occurs between the late 40s and mid-to-late 50s.

Metastatic (metastases): the spread of cancer from its original (primary) location to another part of the body. A tumour that is formed by cancer cells that have spread to another part of the body is called a “metastatic tumour” or a “metastasis.”

Mortality (rate): the number of people that die from a disease in a population over a period of time.

Mutation: any change in the DNA sequence of a cell. Mutations can be harmful, beneficial, or have no effect. Certain mutations may lead to cancer or other diseases.

N

Neoadjuvant: treatment that is given before the primary treatment, such as chemotherapy that is given before surgery to shrink tumour size.

Nodule: A small, solid lump that can be located by touch. This can also be called a mass.

Noninvasive (breast cancer): breast cancer that does not spread beyond the tissue where it originally developed (i.e., confined to the milk ducts or lobules of the breast).

O

Observational study: in cancer research, there are two main types of research study: experimental and observational. In an observational study, the researchers observe groups of people engaged in their normal activities, without an intervention controlled by researchers.

Oncologist: a doctor or surgeon who specializes in treating cancer. A medical oncologist specializes in drug therapy (chemotherapy) for cancer. A radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation.

Oncology nurse: a nurse who specializes in the care of cancer patients.

Oncology pharmacist: a pharmacist who has special training in how to design, give, monitor, and change chemotherapy for cancer patients.

Oophorectomy: surgical removal of one or both ovaries.

Osteoporosis: a condition where the amount and quality of bone in the body are reduced. It causes bones to become weak and brittle, making them more prone to fractures (broken bones).

Ovary: a female reproductive organ in which ova or eggs are produced. The ovaries also produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Ovulation: the release of an egg from an ovary.

P

Paget’s disease: a rare form of breast cancer that begins in the milk passages (ducts) and spreads to the skin of the nipple and areola. The affected skin may appear crusted, scaly, red, or oozing.

Palliative care: a branch of medicine dedicated to preventing and relieving pain and suffering.

Papilloma: a benign (non-cancerous), wart-like growth of the lining of a breast duct. Sometimes these can cause a bloody nipple discharge. If you experience this, discuss it with a health care provider.

Parabens: a class of chemicals widely used in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and food industries. Parabens are controversial because they have the ability to mimic estrogen. They have been found in low concentrations in breast cancer tumours. The link between parabens and cancer is not conclusive and more research is needed in this area.

Parfum: a mixture of aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents used to give the human body, animals, objects and living spaces a scent. Some synthetic compounds found in fragrances cause inflammation, headaches, dizziness or nausea in people who are sensitive to them.

Pathologist: a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis of disease by examining cells, body fluids and tissue.

Phthalates: an organic compound used in the manufacture of dyes, perfumes, pharmaceuticals and synthetic fibre and mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility and longevity). They are being phased out of many products in Canada, the US and Europe over potential health concerns.

Placental extracts: controversial ingredient found in some cosmetics and beauty products. These extracts are derived from human or animal placenta: organs that develop in female mammals during pregnancy to provide nourishment to the fetus. The placenta produces progesterone and estrogen, and there is some concern they may act as hormone disruptors when absorbed through the skin.

Precautionary principle (precautionary approach): an approach to preventing harm to human health and the environment when the scientific evidence is not conclusive. When we face scientific uncertainty, we have options and we can act. If we think there is potential for harm, we can choose to take preventive action now – this is what’s known as the precautionary principle.

Pre-menopause: the years or stage in a woman’s life immediately before the onset of menopause (when menstrual periods permanently end).

Prevalence: the number of people living with a disease in a population at a particular point in time.

Progesterone: a female sex hormone released by the ovaries during the woman’s menstrual cycle to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and stimulate milk production in the breast. It is also one of the synthetic hormones used in hormone replacement therapy.

Prognosis: a prediction of the likely outcome and chance of recovery from a disease. A doctor makes a prognosis based on statistics and other information gathered from studies of a large number of people with the same disease. Prognosis affected by the type and severity of the disease, treatments available and other factors such as the age and overall general health of the person affected.

Proliferative: growing or increasing in number. In the human body, cells proliferate or increase by a process called cell division. The same process of division happens in normal cells and in cancer cells. This is how cancer cells grow and spread.

Prosthesis (breast): an artificial breast form that looks like a breast and is worn either inside a bra or attached to the body with special adhesive.

Q

Qualitative research: this type of research tries to provide a picture of the context and complexity of experience, to get at explanations of “how” and “why” things happen. It focuses on the stories that people tell about their experiences, for example of breast cancer treatment. Sources of qualitative research data include individual interviews, focus or group interviews, case studies and observation.

Quantitative research: research based on statistics is usually called “quantitative” because it focuses on counting things. The most basic information about cancer comes from statistics on cancer incidence (rate of new cases) and mortality (death rate). Cancer incidence rates are usually specified by gender and age.

R

Radiation: radiation is energy released in the form of particle or electromagnetic waves.

Radiation therapist: a licensed health care provider who gives radiation therapy to cancer patients.

Radiation therapy: (sometimes called radiotherapy) a treatment method that uses a high energy beam to destroy cancer cells by damaging the DNA of cancer cells so that they can’t continue to grow.

Radioactive: describes something that gives off radiation. Radiation is energy released in the form of particle or electromagnetic waves. Common sources of radiation include radon gas and medical X-rays.

Radiologist: a doctor who specializes in reading tests such as ultrasounds and X-rays. A radiologist may also perform core biopsies and use imaging techniques to guide cancer treatment.

Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT): a type of clinical trial which randomly assigns participants to either the treatment group or control group to reduce bias.

Recurrence: cancer that returns after treatment.

Receptor: cells have many different proteins on their surface called receptors. Her-2 is one kind of receptor. In normal cells, HER-2 receptors are thought to be involved in cell growth and reproduction. In some breast cancers, there are too many HER-2 receptors and they speed up cancer cell growth.

Relative risk: describes how likely a person is to develop a disease when exposed to a specific factor, compared to someone who is not exposed to it.

Risk factor: anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease, such as cancer.

S

Saline: sterile salt water.

Screening: the search for diseases such as breast cancer in people without symptoms. Mammography is an important tool for breast cancer screening and earlier detection.

Stage: a way of classifying breast cancer that describes how far a cancer has spread. It identifies whether breast cancer is at an early, locally advanced or metastatic stage. The stage of breast cancer can sometimes be represented as a number (e.g. between 0 and 4).

Silicone gel: a thick, sticky fluid that closely mimics the feel of human fat.

Stigma: the shame attached to something seen as socially unacceptable.For men with breast cancer, there may be a greater sense of embarrassment about a breast cancer diagnosis because it is often thought of as a woman’s disease.

Survival (rate): the percentage of people who survive a particular cancer for a specific amount of time.

Synthetic chemicals: compounds not found in nature, but developed in a lab. Many environmental health advocates believe that synthetic chemicals may play a role in the development of cancer.

Systemic treatment: a treatment method that is applied to and takes effect in the entire body. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy and HER-2 targeted therapy are systemic treatments for breast cancer.

T

Tamoxifen: a drug that blocks the effects of estrogen on many organs, such as the breast.

Thermography (also called thermal imaging or infrared imaging): is a computerized imaging tool that measures heat distribution at the surface of the breast. While thermography may be appealing to some women because it is a pain-free exam, scientific research has shown that thermography is not reliable for detecting breast cancer.

Triclosan: an antibacterial compound used in household cleaning and cosmetic products, furniture and other goods to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Research has shown that triclosan can stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. The link between triclosan is not conclusive and more research is needed in this area.

Triple negative breast cancer: breast cancer that is estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative, and HER-2 negative. This means that hormone therapy and HER-2 targeted therapy cannot be used to treat these cancers.

Tumour: an abnormal mass of tissue that occurs when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumours may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). A tumour is also called a neoplasm.

U - Z

Ultrasound: an imaging technique that uses sound waves to take a picture of structures in the body, such as the breast.

Xenoestrogens: industrially made compounds, found in pesticides, fuels and plastics, that are thought to mimic estrogen or alter the natural effects of estrogen. ​​​